Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Knockout Game

"I have looked at this from many angles, and each time it makes no sense to me..."

In case you have missed it, our country has recently taken another huge step backwards on the evolutionary scale. We continue to devolve. We are becoming worse than we were in the "wild west" - at least then there was honor. No, the Knockout Game has shown us an entirely new class of thuggery which is now stalking our land.

So what exactly is the Knockout Game? It is simply this - try and "sucker punch" someone so hard, they will be knocked out with that single punch. Sounds like good entertainment. That is, unless you are on the receiving end. Who is getting punched? Young, old, male and female. In some cases it has been deadly where the victim has suffered a severe head injury and died. Oh well - it is just part of the game.

Some think this could be stopped by a few conceal carry permit holders taking a few game players down. Others say they understand the "rage" in the community, and you can't really blame the "game players". Still others think this is the start of the insurrection we have been warned about. I have a slightly different take on this.

I believe it to be three factors - boredom, hopelessness, and most of all, a lack of moral compass. First boredom. Years ago they caught some young butt head who was driving up on people's lawns doing all kinds of damage. When interviewed and asked why he did it, the response was "I dunno - something to do I guess." In other words, he was bored and could not figure something out POSITIVE to do with himself. So he turned to vandalism.

Hopelessness. One of the statistics which the media has done an excellent job of hiding is the unemployment amongst our youth. The U3 unemployment rate for youths ages 16 - 24 is almost 17%.  The July 2013 labor force participation rate for 16- to 24-year-old men was 62.7 percent. What does that mean? In the 1980's, the labor participation rate for young men that age group was in the mid-eighties. And it is getting worse every year. We are getting closer to Europe, where some countries have youth unemployment of 50%. However according to the BLS in August of this year, if you are a black youth in that age group, the unemployment rate is almost 55%. No hope often times yields hopelessness.

Lack of moral compass. This is the toughest one. Many of these youth come from broken or dysfunctional homes. What was once rare in our country, is now all too common. I am talking about out of wedlock births. This is high for all races in our country, but for blacks it is devastating. In 2010, the birthrate for young single black woman was 72%. That is three times higher than it was when MLK was alive - and it was considered a huge problem back then. Many of these young women end up raising young children while trying to be mother and father at the same time. Poverty often goes hand in hand with the family. The result is often times tragic for the young family with the streets being the only victor.

As President Obama's former pastor has said "America's chickens have come home to roost". By lack of courage, we have allowed this problem to fester and grow. I am afraid the Knockout Game is not the net result of this neglect, but only the first symptom. Where we go from here, I don't know. However, I think it is going to be a rough ride for most of us. 

Friday, November 29, 2013

Bold and Important Vision


"Please - no more Walter Middy types..."

I have always been attracted to bold and important vision. This is either a plus or a minus for me - I don't know which. I have also been able to discern the difference between dreamers and visionaries. To me, dreamers are like Walter Middy. As much as I am attracted to boldness, I shy away from dreamers.  Many are all show and no go. Visionaries are like President Kennedy, when in the early sixties he told the nation we would be on the moon by the end of the decade. No idea how it was going to happen, but through collective vision, we did it.

We joined a new church years ago due to many different reasons. However, the main reason was boldness of vision. The Senior Pastor had a boldness such that I had never seen. It was an important time in our faith life, as both my wife and I went from being church spectators to team players. In other words, the boldness of the church allowed us to really find our faith.

Over the years, life was good and our faith grew. Then as suddenly as it started, the Senior Pastor resigned to pursue other ventures. The vision of the church changed. A schism developed, and soon our church split into two separate churches. Hurtful things were said by people who had been trained in grace and mercy. It was a dark time in our lives. We left the church, disillusioned and hurt. We went into an extended "quieting period".

Part of my mourning was thinking back on the visionary Senior Pastor who was no longer there. I was grateful that we had the opportunity to be in his congregation so we could see how exciting and relevant church could be. However, I was saddened to think it might have had a once in a lifetime event.

This fall, after invitations from a friend my wife taught with, we tried a different church. It is a very large church with (at that time) five different campus locations, mostly in the Northeast part of the cities. From the first time I heard this new Senior Pastor talk, I was once again hooked. His vision was even bolder than our former Senior Pastor. The boldness of this church allowed them to grow from a congregation of 350 to over 18,000 in less than 30 years. And we found out, that was only the beginning.

The church is committed to have a campus location in the Twin Cities that is no more than 20 minutes away from any resident. And they want that to happen in ten years or less. They are just finishing a huge campus in Woodbury and have just started a temporary location in Coon Rapids. Everything this church does, it does with purpose, vision and excellence. It really knows how to "do church" the right way. Thousands of lost or broken people from broken lives have walked through the doors of one of the campus locations and found God. People who have tried church before and disliked it, have found a real and relevant worship experience which really matters.

I don't know where this will end up. All I know is this - it is going to be quite a ride. And we are going to be on it. We have signed up to be a part of this "crew" - a part of this vision. It is exciting. It is exciting to look forward to Sunday morning worship once again. It is exciting knowing that we are once again part of Kingdom building, both near and afar.

So on this Thanksgiving weekend, the thing that I am the most thankful for is this - God led us to this church on that day in early fall. We were led there for a reason, for a purpose. It got us reconnected and re-energized once again. It is time to get back in the game again. The stakes could not be higher, and my period of slumber is over.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The day following the feast....


"For many, this is one of the best days of the year!"
It started about mid-morning. As with every year, my wife bought one of the biggest birds she could find at the store. I don't know for sure how much it weighed, but I do know it was over 20 pounds. Since the bird was that size, the prep started early in the morning and soon the house was filled with the aromas we wait for all year long.
Our family is like most. Large, and sometimes rowdy. It is a challenge to keep the peace to ensure the day does not turn out to be stressful or unpleasant. There is football on, a fire in the hearth, and some fine wine served. Some churches offer worship in the morning and many charities host meals for those who have nowhere to go to share this special meal.
After the meal is finished, and the dishes rinsed, everybody retires to a comfortable chair to either visit, watch football, or maybe even a cat nap. Pies and coffee are in the offing for later. Once the visit is over, the final cleanup starts and the guests (hopefully) have a safe journey back home. Another wonderful Thanksgiving is now behind us.
Sometimes on Thanksgiving we even think about, or are thankful for, the bountiful blessings we receive throughout the year. That is a good thing. However, the day of which I am the most concerned with is the day after Thanksgiving. Often times, the spirit of giving and fellowship is replaced by dog eat dog, "I get mine" behavior that seems to permeate Black Friday shopping. 
I think it is ironic Black Friday was nicknamed that years ago by retail merchants. Most years sales were usually high enough on the Friday after Thanksgiving to take a mediocre year into the "black" (profitable). However, for those who have been out with the masses on Black Friday, the term could now signify either the color of the day (since most sales start long before the sun is up), or the behavior of some who become selfish and intolerant.
I also think about the growing number of folks who show up at shelters on Thanksgiving Day to receive that special meal. There are usually more volunteers present than you can shake a stick at. Much food is served by many smiling faces. There is a host of friendly people there to greet the visitors. That is until Friday. It is then back to normal for the people who struggle to make it each and every day. The volunteers are back to their lives, and the shelters are once again looking for donations to meet the growing need of clients.
Most shelters will tell you they also get a "bump" in donations and volunteers again at Christmas. However, once December is over, often times things get very rough for the needy. By March, most food shelves start looking like Mother Hubbard's Cupboard. Food drives are scheduled during March to help food shelves replenish. However, it is never enough. Today in Minnesota, one out of five families have trouble putting balanced meals on the table. And that is here. Overseas, in the most impoverished of areas, it is estimated that 4,000 children die each and everyday from starvation or malnutrition.
So today, when I sit at the family table to enjoy our annual feast, I will be thankful for the blessings and bounty my family and I have received this year. However, I will also think about tomorrow and the days following. This year, more than others in the past, my thanks will include more giving back - and doing so on more than just special holidays.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Post Thanksgiving Consumerism....


"And to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required..."
Luke 12:48 ASV

Oh boy. Here we go again. Another start to a holiday season and another lecture from another Pope on consumerism. That Pope Francis - what a kill-joy! We have not even cut into our annual Thanksgiving turkey and he is warning us about excessive consumerism. We need to be concerned about the world's poor, and all that stuff. The only problem is this - he is right.

This morning on the news I saw the annual spectacle of people camped out in the cold just so when the doors open at 12:01 on Friday morning, they can be the first inside to get the latest gizmo. Never mind that most of these folks already have some kind of gizmo - they want the latest and greatest. Meanwhile, half the world away, some man is waiting in an even longer line to see if he could get a jar of rice or a cup of drinkable water for his family. For him it is not a game, it is life and death.

I know - I know. If we have a disappointing "Black Friday" the market might tank on Monday. To that I say boo-ho. Our market is made up of Quantitative Easing garbage anyhow, so who cares. With 91.5 million people out of the work force this year, I will be amazed if they will be able to buy much anyhow. However, for the people who are fortunate to have well paying jobs, this could be a year to really make a difference.

A few years ago, my family had a moment of truth. What did we truly need for gifts during the holiday season. Truthfully, not much. We had been blessed with more than enough, so the "needs" always morphed into the "wants". And many times, the "wants" tuned out to be very shallow.

Since Christmas is about giving, every year we have been trying to give more to those who truly need it - and that number keeps growing. In many impoverished countries, there is not a division between "wants" and "needs" - it is mostly "desperately needs". Life and death needs. Quality of life needs. Nourished or malnourished needs.

This year our family is looking at buying a food producing animal as a gift for some people in Africa. A goat is one of the more popular animals as it produces much needed milk and is easy to care for. We are also looking into wells or water purification systems. Potable water is a huge problem in many Third World countries. We were amazed to find that a deep water well for a village in Africa costs only $15,000. That well would produce potable water for years and save or enhance countless lives.

So to Pope Francis and his "lecture" on excessive consumerism, I say this - thank you sir. Your words ring true. In this world of have too much and don't have anything, we are reminded by very sage words from Luke many years ago. "From whom much has been given, much is expected."

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Oldest Question


As we enter this most Holy of seasons, I am reminded of why we have faith. The following is something I wrote on my former blog almost ten years ago.

Mankind has always been fascinated by what is the oldest “anything”. For example, who was the oldest man, what is the oldest tree, how old is the oldest rock and so on. However, the question which has caused man to ponder the longest is, “Am I the created or the creator?” In other words, did God create man, or did man create God?

Over the centuries, mankind has poured enormous energy into the justification that God does not exist or that God is dead (we don’t need him anymore). Some believe that we created God so we would not feel so alone in the cosmos. Others believe that we created God so it would be easier for us to die. Finally, some believe that we needed a god type entity to be a force in the universe that will explain all the tough questions that our scientists cannot.

Those that believe that God created man believe so because of the flimsiest of reasons – faith. In other words, based on no empirical evidence what so ever, some people believe that they were created by God. A God that no one has ever seen, that exists in a place that no living person has ever been. And this is the rubber meets the road.

Faith teaches us to seek God in ways that are not empirical in nature. Faith allows us to listen and feel with our heart instead of our other senses. Faith allows us to accept our Creator’s will and to surrender completely into that acceptance.
I too, have pondered the oldest question. I have looked at it many times in my life ranging from when my faith burned hot to when my belief was tepid. My conclusion to this question is as follows:

·       I believe that God created the heavens, lit the stars, formed the Earth, filled the seas, and yes, created mankind in His own image.

·       I believe that Satan exists and his mission is to separate man from God.

·       I believe that mankind suffered a fall in the Garden of Eden and we have been a broken people living in a broken world ever since.

·       I believe 2,000 years ago, God sent his Son to Earth, as a man, as a gift, to offer hope and redemption for us all.

·       I believe that Christ was tortured, crucified, died a horrible death and saved us all by doing so.

·       After Christ ascended into Heaven to be with the Father, we were given another gift to sustain us – the Holy Spirit.

·       I believe that God created me, as well as all other people for a purpose and a reason.

·       I believe that my God is truly our Father, and ALL are loved equally and no one is excluded from His love and mercy.

All of these things I believe without one shred of physical evidence. However, I know them to be true more than I know the sun will rise in the morning.

We know that we don’t have to find God – he has already found us. All we need to do is open the eyes of our hearts to witness His glory.

God is truly our Father and we are truly His children. He is the Creator and we are the created. We worship, we praise, and we glorify the Holy One. All hail King Jesus!

Internet Morphing


"Don't blink, or you might miss something important!"

In case you have missed it, something very important has happened this week. It may not seem that way right now, but trust me, in the world of media, it was huge. In 2012, the struggling Yahoo shocked Wall Street by hiring a proven performer away from Google.  In an instant, Marissa Mayer, a former Google exec, became Yahoo's new CEO. She promised big changes, and as we get to the end of 2013, we have just seen the first of them.

This week it was announced that Katie Couric would be leaving ABC News to become the face of the new Yahoo News. Big deal you might say - who watches news on a search engine? Well, the next big thing is right around the corner, and Yahoo wants to be in the driver's seat. Yahoo will still be a search engine, but so also much more.The distinct difference between television and the internet is about to get very fuzzy. In fact, many techno watchers believe in five years or less, they will be one in the same.

The interesting thing on this industry morphing is this is the first "big" thing - but not the first thing. Even though you cannot watch live TV on the internet, services like Netflix allow you to watch delayed programing. And it is very good I might add. Wireless, on your phone, tablet or PC. Whenever or where ever.

However, there has been one internet service which beat Yahoo to the punch. Last year Glenn Beck established Blaze TV with some limited programing. It, like Netflix, it is available for a modest monthly subscription fee. Unlike Netflix, Blaze TV has some live programming - and growing. Over the months, not only has the programming increased in variety, the quality of the broadcast has improved. Clearer picture, less buffering.

Where are we going from here? Nobody seems to really know. However, there is consensus on one thing - we are going somewhere new and unchartered. The bold and innovative leaders in the world of media are getting ready to put their tattoo on this change. For those who are mobile and on the go, this will be a very big thing.

So as our brave new world of media gets even bolder, I am going to finish this up and watch an episode of something on Netflix. I like this change as THIS is change I can believe in!

Monday, November 25, 2013

He Rides Again!


 "Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!"
Lone Ranger
We sure heard quite a bit about "cowboy diplomacy" when both Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were in the White House. Since they both were from western states, and even worse than that, Republicans, many on the Left worried they would go off on their own and do things without prior consultation. However, with both these fine men, that turned out to be nothing but urban legend. Today, we have someone in the White House who is a true Lone Ranger.
What happened this weekend was yet another example of the Lone Ranger acting alone on something of the highest importance. Our closest allies in the Middle East were once again shocked and disappointed. What was it? This "deal" with Iran on their nuclear program. It involved a special "presser" on Saturday night to spread the "good news" to the Proletariat back home.
As they say, the devil is in the details. So, what is this deal? What do we get out of it? What does Israel get out of it? After it was signed, the streets of Tehran were full of smiling faces and people "high fiving" each other. In Tel Aviv on the other hand, people were hurt and furious. Iran was going to get sanctions lifted and may still proceed with nuclear enrichment. Huh? What kind of deal is that for us? Well, even though the Administration was caught in another lie, Iran will continue to enrich. It will just ratchet back to increase what is known as  "dash time". "Dash time" is the time between having weapon grade uranium and then being able to put it into bomb. In the agreement, we picked up six to eight weeks of "dash time." That is it - not much more for Israel, the Saudis or the US of A.

Just like with the Syria mess earlier in the year, just like with the ACA website, this Administration remains the most insular in history. It is the arrogance of power on parade. Our friends no longer trust us, and our enemies laugh at us. We have set the table for Israel, who at one time was our best friend in the region, to take some drastic measures when the six month term of this agreement is up. If Iran reneges on this deal (and many experts outside the Administration believe they will), Israel will be "green lighted" to go clean up the neighborhood.

So as the Lone Ranger and his loyal steed ride off into the sunset, waiting to once again practice insularity, we are left with no champagne to drink as there is nothing to celebrate. Just another mess, to be added on to the pile of messes we have been accumulating for the past five years.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Lost and Found


"I was lost and now am found..."

John sat by himself at the counter of the diner. He took his spoon and swirled it in his cup of coffee. As with most mornings, he felt as if there was a dark cloud hanging over his head. His family had long ago severed ties with him, and most of his "associates" had proven themselves to be users rather than friends. He felt alone. Not even God wanted him, as he had turned his back on God time and time again. Yes, John was lost and alone. He was in a place he did not want to be.

As kids, we knew where they were. Every school, every church and most organizations where kids visited had one. As parents, it is the first place we would go when one of our kids came home without a hat or one glove. I am talking about the Lost and Found Department. When you went there, often times you did not find the item you were looking for. However, it was a marvel to see how many items ended up there.
Some believe in life, we also have a Lost and Found Department. I am not talking about being lost like you forgot to turn your GPS on. I mean lost because of no connections with others. Often when you become lost from friends and family, when the connection is broken, it is difficult to reconnect. It feels as if you have been in the Lost and Found Department forever with nobody looking for you. Some people turn inward - some go from extroverted to introverted. Some even decide that being alone, being lost, makes life not worth living.
For those in the Christian faith, there is a mountain of good news. Even for the most lost, those who have been wandering in a spiritual wilderness for more years than can be remembered, they can still be found. The Father of Lies will do anything to separate you from God, to knock you off your path, to blind your way. However, here is where the good news comes in. Your Heavenly Father always knows exactly where you are, and invites you to come home. He never gives up, never accepts you as lost. No matter what you have done, where you have been, the door is always open and the welcome mat is always out.
In John's darkest days, he might wonder how this is possible. It is possible by grace alone. By grace alone we are saved, we are invited to come home. In the hymn Amazing Grace, the most remembered stanza is as follows:

Amazing Grace, how sweet, the sound
That saved, a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I'm found
Was blind, but now I see

To that, all I can add is "Amen!"

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Another Broken System


"In our land of good and plenty, some people spend their money on just buying 'Good and Plenty' candies..."

The other week I was standing in line at the grocery store waiting to have my order rung up. The woman in front of me had an interesting looking grocery cart - it was divided in two piles. When the clerk started to ring her up, she started taking out the first pile. Once it was rung up, she took out her EBT card. The clerk told her a couple of the items she bought did not qualify. No big thing - she put them back in the cart to be rung up with pile number two of "food". I use the term "food" loosely here, as not much in pile number two had any nutritional value.

When the clerk finished ringing up pile number two, the lady took out a wad of cash and paid for the rest. To many unsuspecting, tax paying citizens this might have looked like an oddity. However to the clerk ringing her up, it had become the new normal. You see, the woman buying groceries in one of the countless thousands in this state who have learned how to "game" the system.

More curious than ever on how we handle our food assistance programs, I went on the USDA website to find out more about SNAP. SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The website defines it as such:

SNAP offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities. SNAP is the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net. The Food and Nutrition Service works with State agencies, nutrition educators, and neighborhood and faith-based organizations to ensure that those eligible for nutrition assistance can make informed decisions about applying for the program and can access benefits.

Sounds good. Plus they have a picture of a young mother with kids in tow looking through fresh vegetables at the grocery store. Hawaii, I am afraid, is not like the brochure. Both my wife and I are interested in highly committed to food ministries. Nobody, in this country, or abroad should go to bed hungry. We have a long way to go. However, our SNAP Program is ripe with fraud and misuse. The system is so easy to game, one would almost have to be foolish not to try.

Another interesting point. More and more non-food stores have signs in their windows stating "EBT Cards Welcome Here". Huh? I thought the SNAP Program was to provide a domestic hunger safety net (per the USDA website).

So thinking about the woman who was ahead of me in line, are we really doing her any favors? Are we helping her kids? I have wondered which pile of food would be the one most used. As a society, we have done a very poor job with this program. We have not helped taught people how to shop to stretch their dollars, how to shop to get the best nutrition for their money, how to shop to make sure the money and month run out at the same time. We just give money away with very few strings attached. And that is why our SNAP budget in the Ag Bill is way, way out of control.

My wife and I will continue to support food ministries in the area and beyond. Once the SNAP Program totally crashes, the people that have used that program are going to need real help from honest charities.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Auditorium....


"Sometimes history finds us if we are prepared for it or not..."

It was fifty years ago today. Seems only like yesterday. I was in the 9th grade at the former Robbinsdale Junior High School. For some reason which I cannot remember, we all gathered in the auditorium to watch a movie on something educational. I do remember it was boring. That is all I can remember. Of course, for boys my age, most movies in school were boring. About half way though the movie the principal, a very good man named Mark Woodward, came into the auditorium and the movie stopped. With a very somber face he addressed the class. "The President has been shot in Dallas. We have just received word that he died from his wounds."

We were ushered back to our classrooms from the auditorium. Most of us were speechless. To me, President Kennedy was not only a war hero, he was a dreamer. He laid out the challenge for the country to accept. We were going to land on the moon before the end of the decade. The man who backed the Russians down in Cuba, had told us we were going to the moon. Everyone believed we would do it.

The next day, the nation went into a mourning period. We were home from school and with our families. We watched CBS in order to listen to "Uncle Walter". Many of us at that time trusted Walter Cronkite - he was the Godfather of network news. We thought  what he said was true - it was beyond question. At home, we saw the aftermath of the assassination. We saw the capture of Lee Harvey Oswald. We saw Oswald get gunned down on is way to jail by Jack Ruby. It was the first time that history revealed itself while we sat in our living rooms with our families.

It was a long time ago. We saw the White House change after Lyndon Johnson was sworn in standing next to a blood soaked former First Lady. We saw the Viet Nam War rip this county apart. We saw not only a different President in Lyndon Johnson, but also a different First Lady in Lady Bird Johnson. However, what we did see more than anything else was the beginning of the end of innocence. None of us knew that that at the time. In the next few years we would lose Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King. Looking back, we do know this - fifty years ago was a time which took us from Camelot to something far more sinister and evil. It was a time which changed us forever.

So to President Kennedy, I say this - your tenure was short, but your impact was huge. What else you could have done for this country will never be known. All I know is this - for what you did as an Officer on PT 109 in World War II, for what you did as a Senator, and for what you did as President, you will always be honored. When I was a young boy who looked to the stars, having you tell us we were going to the Moon was like living as Tom Swift in a modern world.

Thank you JFK. You were not a perfect man - none of us are. But your were a man of courage and vision. For that we will always remember you with fondness.

Our Cold War just become Hottter


Stupid is as Stupid Does
  Forrest Gump

What in the world was he thinking? Does he not know how bad things are right now, and what a move like this will do? I am surprised that the President did not take Dingy Harry over his knee and spank him. Instead, he encouraged him to do this. Any chance, any small, sliver of a chance of getting ANYTHING done this second term, just flew out the window.

Many citizens will not stand for this. I will not. Advise and Consent is a critical part of our governance. To take that away from the Senate, will allow a simple majority of Left leaning Senators to put all kinds of fruitcakes in high judicial posts like the DC Court of Appeals. Our Judiciary will become a de facto extension of the Senate. This is NEVER what our framers had in mind. Advise and Consent was a critical part of ensuring our system of Government would work fairly.

Dingy Harry had threatened to do this before. He has backed down when Mitch would give him some concessions. This time he did not. This is not a shot across the bow. This is war - a direct hit. Between the Presidents "extra Constitutional actions" and the Senate's "nuclear option", there is no hope for marriage counseling. The Rubicon has been crossed.

Many have wondered why Reid would do this. Some speculate due to Obamacare (as well as a host of other issues), the Senate will probably change hands in the 2014 election. That means Obama needs to "make hay when the sun shines". In other words, if he wants to "pack" the DC Court of Appeals, he needs to get going. As Judicial watchers know, the DC Court of Appeals is right behind the Supreme Court in importance to Congressional challenges. Pack it with a bunch of "Lefties", and it just becomes a wing of the Democratic Party. Advise and Consent was suppose to protect us from that.

Every news station I watched (yes, even the vile MSNBC) played clips of then Senators Biden, Obama and Reid warning of the nuclear option when Bush was President. It was almost funny to watch. The word hypocrite does not quite do this justice. Somebody told Reid on the Senate Floor that "I guess where you stand on this issue depends on where you sit". Well Mr. President, your lackey in the Senate has just opened Pandora's Box. Good luck to you in the rest of your term. Good luck in getting help from the minority in fixing your failed ACA. Finally, Mr. President, good luck in the history books. They are about to be most unkind to what you have done , and how you have divided our country.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Group Hug?


"We will either all hug and make up, or our health care will die a death of a thousand cuts..."

It happened again this morning. I was watching the very biased Morning Joe show on the vile MSNBC network, when one of the Progressives said the following, "The biggest disaster of this health care roll out is this law effects everyone in the country. To screw this up so badly, will set progress on health care back 5 to 10 years." Wow! I could not believe my ears! This is the choir now rebelling against not only the choir director, but also the minister.

There is now developing consensus that this thing is more screwed up than Hogan's Goat. It was a mistake from the get-go to ram this sweeping, very controversial piece of legislation through Congress without the support, the help and the amendments from any Republicans. Now the President needs Republican help, and needs it badly. This roll out, as well as what is predicted yet to come, is nothing short than a "death by a thousand cuts."

As in any relationship, sometimes saying "I am sorry" are the three toughest words in the universe. It is time for everyone to realize the train has come off the tracks and we can either marvel at the carnage, or we can pitch in to help. Not everyone is going to agree with this, but it is how I feel right now. To do nothing and watch this thing continue to kill our health care systems as well as our economy will help none of us.

Therefore, I believe the way forward is as follows:
  • This one is going to hurt a bit. The President needs to address the American people and admit he made a mistake - a big one. He needs to immediately stop all Obamacare initiatives and put them on hold.
  • There will be a panel formed before Christmas with members from the Administration, Democrats from the Senate, and Republicans from the House. They will first agree on what they can agree on. There have always been some things in the bill which everyone liked.
  • There are some huge holes which need to be address before going forward. The web site is small potatoes. The big ticket items are 1) People being informed they are getting "more for more" when you don't want or can't afford "more." 2)  A "doc fix" now that word is slipping out doctors will have more patients and get less reimbursement from the government - net result - a projected doctor shortage. 3) The cost containment measures that were left out need to be revisited - such as tort reform and interstate insurance sales. 4) A "true up" on the REAL ten year cost of this thing - we all know now this thing taint free or even close to it.
Now, we can continue to fight over this thing until the cows come home, and watch the train wreck get worse. Or we can all have a slice of humble pie, admit our mistakes, and have a group hug. Having a group hug does not mean we sign up for a bad deal - it means we agree to negotiate a better deal than we have now.

Some might enjoy seeing the President twist in the wind with his numbers going south faster than ducks in November. My biggest fear is if we do not fix this thing and fix it soon, we will all be twisting right next to him.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Cookin' da Books!


"Did I really say that? You must not have heard me correctly..."

Well knock me over with a feather! I never saw this one coming! Actually I did, along with millions of others who happen to pay attention to what is really going on. What am I talking about? The revelation made this week the unemployment numbers were "jimmied" right  before the election.

First off, part of the fault is not of the Administration - it is ours. The fact we still use the most meaningless statistic on unemployment (that be the U3), is a shame on us. We should have been using the U6 for years. Most economists use the U6, as it tells a more factual story about the economy. That being said, the Administration still toyed with the U3 to make it come down under 8%. It seems there is an urban legend that many take serious - no President can be re-elected if the U3 unemployment rate is 8% or higher.

When the Administration announced the U3 had come down from 8.2% to 7.8% weeks before the election, the response by the public was split. For those who enjoy drinking Kool-Aid, as well as the "low information" crowd, the response was "See, told you so!" For those who pay attention to the metrics in the market (like Jack Welsh, the former CEO of GE), the response was "No way!" However, as we saw from history, the first group of people ruled the day, and the President was re-elected.

So how is our unemployment rate now that we almost a year into the second term? The U6 is still hovering around 14%. True, it has improved almost 3% since the start of the Great Recession. However, compared to most of the Bush years when it was slightly under 10% (still not good), it is terrible. However, the real story is not even in the U6 rate - it is in two other metrics.

First, our labor participation rate continues to drop. It has gone from troublesome to almost catastrophic. We now have 91.5 million people out of the work force. And it is still growing. We hear nothing on this issue from the "book-cookers". Second, the type of jobs being lost and the type of jobs being replaced are more dissimilar than similar. More service sector, more hospitality, less manufacturing. Low or no benefits, part time over full time, and lower wages. The economy has gutted the middle class so much that we are in fact becoming a bifurcated economy of rich and poor.

It has been a bad second half for the Administration. Lies, deceit and half-truths have caught up with them on many issues, including this one. As a young man, I was told the worst thing you could ever lose was the trust of others - once it is lost, it is almost impossible to regain. I think the Administration is about to learn that lesson.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Choices that matter...


"In the 1970 Bhola cyclone which struck Bangladesh, 500,000 people died in the incredible storm surge triggered by 115 mph winds..."

Back in 1971, after checking into my duty station in Winter Harbor, Maine, the news media was still talking about the mess in Bangladesh. Even in a region that suffers numerous catastrophic weather events, this storm was one for the ages. While the storm struck in November of 1970, the relief efforts by the world community were inadequate to fully ameliorate the suffering of the people.

Consequently, a year after the storm stuck, not much had been done. The people in the region were still living in the rubble, disease and filth caused by the storm. Concerts were organized, and charities redoubled their efforts. Due to technology in 1971, we could see the suffering in Bangladesh, up close and personal, every evening when we had our beer and popcorn down at the service club.

A few of us from my watch section could handle it no further. We found out there was a charity collecting money for relief efforts located in Bangor, about an hour's drive from the base. The next time we had time off between watches, we drove over to Bangor to learn more. We vetted the charity as well as we could, determined it was legit, and headed back to base with the goal of collecting at least $100 (quite a bit back then) to help.

As we collected from different people in the club after work hours, two things really stuck in my memory. First, we went up to a E-6 with many hash marks on his sleeve. When we told him what we were collecting for, his response was simple - "I pay my taxes, so I have given." The next evening, we approached a newly minted E-5 who had just come into the club. We barely got the story out of our mouth when he pulled out his wallet and all he had was a $20 bill. Without knowing us from Adam, he took out the $20 bill and gave it to us. He said, "Those people need this more than I do."

Who was right on this issue? Well, they both were. Yes, we do pay taxes and the United States often times the first on the scene for major world catastrophes. However, our government can't do everything. The fact that a year after the storm, people were still suffering under a newly formed, dysfunctional government was inexcusable. Charities had people on the ground, ready to get fresh water, food and shelter to people who really needed it. They just needed help with the resources to do so.

Last Sunday in church, our pastor talked about the freedom we experience when we give. Not just to church, but to people everywhere who have needs. Not just overseas, but people who have been impacted by this economy here at home. The message really spoke to my heart. Even though every year I try to be more generous as a giver, I have a long journey ahead.

I know that in my life, I have been blessed beyond belief. Tangible and intangible blessings. Someone once said in life we go through three phases. In Phase One, the first 30 years is spent learning; in Phase Two, the second 30 years is spent earning; in Phase Three, the final 30 years should be spent giving back. Now that I am in "Phase 3", every year I try harder to follow this recipe.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The "Do-Nothings"...

"It is okay to do nothing, as long as look cool while doing it..."

Someone once asked me if I had trouble coming up with topics to write about. My simple answer was "no" - in fact, there is so much to write about today, I have trouble doing only one or two articles a day.

I get a kick out of hearing people talk about Congress as the "do-nothing" Congress. I think quite often they do too much. Besides all of which, the Administration has told us repeatedly they will use Executive Actions to get things done - in other words, government by fiat.

Lets discuss the real "do-nothings" in Washington - our Administration. For the purposes of this posting, I will address only one issue - energy.
  • Through practically NO HELP at all from he Administration, for the first time is decades our country is now producing more oil than it imports. If our "do-nothings" in the Administration had granted leases on more public land, more offshore drilling, AND authorized the X-L Keystone Pipeline, think of how much better our energy picture could be right now. 
  • Today in the paper was an article about a subject we have not seen as of late - the temporary storage of spent nuclear rods. The "Wizards of Smart" in the Administration have given us a puzzle with no solution. First, they want to regulate the coal fired power plants out of business. That is where we get about 1/4 of our electricity. Next, they refuse to finish the long term storage facility at Yucca Mountain. All our nuclear reactors are stuck with temporary storage solutions - a disaster waiting to happen. Besides, no new reactors are being built. So, with a diminished coal industry, and a hampered nuclear industry, our electrical needs keeps growing like crazy. No solution to this problem from the "do-nothings" - except to pour good money after bad into inefficient, bird killing windmills.
  • Planes, trains and automobiles. Our airlines are doing okay for right now. The "do-nothings" have not screwed this one up yet. How about trains? The American people have spoken with a loud voice - WE DON'T WANT THEM!. They are great for hauling freight, but not people. Hello? Remember Amtrak? Anybody need a better example? I will give you Northern Lights Express that Congress is going to help pay for. A train from the Twin Cities to Duluth. A train to nowhere. We don't want it . We always have been, and will continue to be, a nation of cars and hi-ways. The "do-nothing" social engineers hate that system and will continue to try and "change us".
I hope the next time we have a major election, more people really pay attention. We need real solutions to real problems. Recently, all we seem to get are solutions in search of  problems. Instead of "do-nothings" in the Administration, lets replace them with followers of "do the right thing" mantra. Anybody can do nothing, but we need somebody to do something (the right way).

Sunday, November 17, 2013



"God will put different people in our lives at different times for different reasons..."

I passed him every day. I knew there was something lonely and lost about him. I had been "panhandled" dozens of times, so my radar was always out. However, this man was different. He never asked, never begged. There was never a cardboard sign, never a cup. Yet, by looking at him, I knew he was in need. In need of what? Most everything.

Every day that I passed him without saying or doing anything, it bothered me. In recent years, I have been trying to soften my heart, relieve myself of many lifelong stereotypes. Then one Tuesday when I was heading to a client's office, I saw him again. I slowed my gate so I could talk to God, if only for a minute. I said, "Lord, I know you are putting this man in my path for a reason. I am sorry I have passed him so many times without even the most simple of acknowledgements. Give me the words today Lord, so I may at least greet this man."

As I came up to the bench he was sitting on, I stopped. "Hello." He looked up at me with sunken eyes and did not respond. I said, "My name is Jim. Would you mind if I sat with you for a bit?" He looked up at me and said, "You a preacher?" I responded, "No, just a business guy. I work downtown with different clients." I knew right then I was going to lose the battle. I did not know what to say. Telling him about my clients was the wrong way to start out. Just then I noticed something on his left forearm. It was a small tattoo with a simple "USN" on it.

"I see by your tattoo you have spent some time in the Navy. I spent four years as an Operation Specialist. I was on two different ships and got out in 1992." He looked at me for a moment without speaking. Slowly, he held out his hand to me. "Biff. They call me Biff. I spent four years in the Navy off the shore of Nam as a Quartermaster Third Class. I was discharged in 1969 and then re-upped for a stint in the Marine Corp. I never finished my four years in the Corp as I got sideways with some of the brass."

I looked at him and wondered how many times he had been able to really talk, really share with someone. "Biff, even though you served before I did, I am always looking for Navy vets to be shipmates with me. I would be honored if you could be one of them." Again Biff looked at me for almost a full minute. "I don't think I can do that. You see, in Nam, I saw things - bad things. And then I did some bad things too. I done good in my tour as a squid, but my time in the Corp ended poorly. The Corp did not want me. I came home and got into drugs and drinking, and soon my family did not want me. I could not keep a job, and the VA was of little help. Only on the streets have I found people who accept me for who I am."

"Well Biff, I accept you for who you are. We all make mistakes in our lives and I know from history as well as talking to other vets, Viet Nam was a very confusing time - especially for our troops. There is a coffee shop just around the corner. I would love to share a cup and a donut with you." He looked at me with those sunken eyes and said, "I can't Jim. I got no money, and trust me, you don't want to be seen with me." I looked at him and smiled. "Stow it sailor. I have never heard of a couple of squids who can't engage in sea stories after a lousy cup or coffee!" A faint smile appeared on Biff's face. "Okay Jim - lets do it."

That was the first encounter I had with Biff. As time went on, our encounters became more trusting and comfortable. I found out his real name was not Biff - it was Norm, short for Norman. He hated that name. Years ago, one of his street pals told him he looked like the character "Biff" from the movie Back to the Future. The nickname stuck, even though Biff had never seen the movie.

As the Thanksgiving holiday approached, I summoned the courage to ask Biff a question I knew he would wrestle with. I wanted to share Thanksgiving with Biff and my family. We were sitting at what was now "our spot" to have coffee, a donut, and chat. That is when I asked the question. His face lost all expression and he said, "No, no Jim. I can't. I don't fit. I don't want to ruin it for your family. Besides, I told you - I done bad things in my life." I looked at him and said, "Biff, you are what Thanksgiving is all about. I am thankful every day that you and I met, and we became friends. I have told my wife and kids about you and they would love to meet you. My home is your home shipmate - you will always be welcomed there."

I could see Biff's eye starting to get moist. "Are you sure it is okay with the Missus?" I smiled and said, "Biff, if I showed up without you on Thursday, I would be sharing the dog's dinner outside. My wife makes a mean turkey and I am anxious for you to try it." He grabbed my hand and held it tight. Tears began to come down his cheeks. "Jim, I have not been to someone's home for Thanksgiving in over thirty years."

Thanksgiving came, and I drove downtown to pick up Biff. Somehow, Biff had managed to trade or borrow to get a fresh, clean shirt. He had showered at the shelter, and had a look of excitement that reminded me of children on Christmas morning. We chatted at the way to my house with Biff being more talkative than I had ever seen him. When we pulled into the driveway, my wife and kids were outside to meet us. My wife came up to Biff so I could introduce her. Biff held out his hand for my wife to shake it. She then grabbed Biff, and gave him the biggest hug you could imagine. "I am so happy you are here Biff. This will be our best Thanksgiving ever!"

We went inside, sat by the fireplace, and talked. We had a couple hours before the "bird" was done, so it was a chance to relax and enjoy each other's company. As the minutes passed, I could see a side of Biff I had never seen before - joy. He was happy and relaxed. The most important thing was he felt safe with his new friends. When the turkey was done, I had Biff help me cut it. Since I only had this task to do this once a year, I was having trouble doing a decent job. One big piece fell on the floor and the dog got an unexpected bonus. Since it was me who dropped the piece, Biff started to chuckle. The chuckle soon turned into a hearty laugh, and Biff could not stop. Once Biff started laughing, I started. Soon the whole family was in stitches, enjoying what a mess I made out of our poor Thanksgiving turkey.

As we sat at the table, I decided to take my second risk of the day. "Biff, would you like to join us in grace? We would like to thank God for this meal as well as all the blessings we have received this past year. In particular, we would like to thank God for bringing you into our lives." The smile and happiness left Biff's face. "No, no grace for me. You go ahead. I will wait for you to be done." I was puzzled at Biff's response. "Do you not believe in God Biff?" He looked at me for a minute and responded by saying, "I do believe in God, but I don't think he believes in me." I looked at him and asked, "Why Biff, why would you think that?" Biff stammered, and then said, "I told you Jim, I done bad things. Things that can't be forgiven or undone." I paused to collect my thoughts, as what I would say next had to be the right words. I looked at him and said, "Biff, we are Christians - followers of Christ. We are not so because we are perfect - we are so because we are not. One of the things we learned from God's Word is this - there is nothing so bad we have done in our lives where God would love us less, and nothing so good we could do where God would love us more."

Biff smiled and held out his hands, so we could join as a family in grace. I said the blessing and before I could say "Amen", Biff asked if he could also say some words. "Thank you Lord, for my new friends, my new family. And thank you Lord, for my blessings also." With that we said in maybe too loud of a voice, "Amen!". We ate our fill, talked, and enjoyed the day like it would never end.

That was the start of a wonderful relationship with our adopted family member, Biff. More and more meals were shared. Biff would often spend Saturday night with us, and yes, even go to church with us on Sunday morning. He became like an uncle to the kids, like a brother to my wife and myself. Biff still lived downtown in a shelter - he would not have it any other way. We had a steady date of me picking him up on Saturday afternoon, having dinner, Biff spending the night, going to church, having Sunday dinner, and then back to the shelter before dark. It was something I looked forward to each and every week.

One Saturday in March, I went to pick Biff up at our spot. He was not there. I drove around looking for him. I finally went to the shelter to see if he had overslept. I asked at the front desk if they could find out if Biff was still in his room. The man behind the desk looked at me and asked if I was family. No, I said. Not family, but a close friend. "Sir, Biff died in his sleep on Tuesday. We called the coroner and they came and claimed the body. We did not think he had any family, so the county took care of the burial."

I stood there in shock. This could not be - not Biff. "Sir we did have some personal effects that the county did not take. If you are a close family friend, please feel free to take them with you." I walked out to my car and began the long, lonely drive home.

When I got home, I shared the news with my wife. We hugged each other and cried. We had lost such a good and valued friend. As we went through Biff's personal effects, we came across a letter in an envelope. On the outside of the envelope it simply said "Shipmate Jim".

The letter was short and I could tell it was Biff's hand that wrote it. It said:

My dear friend and shipmate Jim. I am writing his letter just in case something would happen to me and I could not tell you face to face. Thank you for accepting me into your family, into your life. And thank you for letting me know that God is still my friend, and still loves me. I can never repay you and your family for what you have done. All I can say is thank you - from the bottom of my heart.

Your friend and shipmate-
Norman (Biff)

This tale is fiction, but it does not have to be. There are many "Biff's" out there who have been thrown away by family and society. Everyone needs to know they have value and worth. More than that, everyone needs to know, no matter what they have done, or where they have gone, they are loved.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Giving to the max...


"Can we truly help the least of us?"
Wow. I love juxtapositions, and last week we had a whopper. First off, the week finished off with the annual Give to the Max Day. By the way, this year's event was very successful, collecting a record $17M. The other thing which happened this week was the release of the Governor's last year's income tax return. In his own words, he was embarrassed by the disclosure. The $1,000 he gave was a fraction of one percent of what he earned.
Why do I bring these two things up at all? What is the point? My point is simple and twofold. First, we should never need a special day to remind us to give. It should be as natural as going to the gas station to fuel up your car; as natural as going to the grocery store to buy food once a week. Giving is not only a natural thing for us to do, it is also biblical. Second, we should never be embarrassed or proud of how much we give to any charity. This week, someone sent a letter to the newspaper containing a very good point. (If I may paraphrase), If you want to see the politics of a person, look at their income taxes. Democrats give very little as they believe government is the only agency that needs to help. Republicans give quite a bit more as they believe just the opposite.
Back to our Governor just for a minute. Let us pretend that he had a very modest giving pattern. For example:
  • Even though most churches teach the biblical teachings on tithing, lets suppose he gave one percent instead of ten percent to his church. One percent of $380k is $3,800.
  • As the titular head of our State's National Guard, many of whom have gone into harm's way of late, the Governor could support the Wounded Warrior Project at $19/mo. That would have given him another $228.
  • Being the Governor of the state which houses one of the most successful hunger relief charities in the world, he could give 1% to Feed My Starving Children. That would have been another $3,800, and saved hundreds of young people from starvation or malnutrition.
  • As a man of conscious, not wanting to see anyone go without during the Christmas season, a gift of only $1,000 to Operation Christmas Child would have impacted over fifty young lives of people overseas who have literally nothing.
Again, giving is a personal decision. My purpose in pointing this out was not to shame, but rather to illustrate how easy it is to give to a great many organizations which desperately need our help. As most were taught at a very young age, "From whom much has been given, much is also required."
So, to the success of Give to the Max Day, I say "Bravo!" To those who think the government can take care of all of societies and the world's unmet needs, I say only this - the ACA web portal. The government, just by the nature in which it operates, does very few things well. The bigger the effort, the less desirable the results. Many charities on the other hand (not all, they need to be vetted), have over a 90% efficiency rating.
Should we give until it hurts? No - give until it feels it is the right thing for you.

Friday, November 15, 2013



"Even though we don't believe in God, he always believes in us" 


I have often thought as we travel life’s journey, we will meet many different people that will effect out lives in different ways. One of those people was a young man named Gary that I met while stationed in Okinawa in 1970.

Gary was from Nebraska and graduated from the University of Nebraska (Big Red). He graduated with a degree in Chemistry, and after graduation knew the draft board has hot on his trail. Rather than going to Viet Nam, he decided to enlist in the Navy and serve four years as a Cryptology Specialist. Gary was sent to Okinawa and that is where our paths crossed.

Gary was a great guy. He was tall, athletic, good looking and smart. Looking at him, talking to him, one would think that Gary was the type of guy that would be suitable to marry your daughter. Gary did have one major flaw however – he was a rock hard atheist.

Gary and I would have many discussions about politics, history, science and yes, faith. Even though my faith was young and immature at that time, I was very uncomfortable talking about the nihilistic version of God that Gary embraced. I never did figure out if Gary was raised with faith and then lost it in the halls of academia, or if he never had it from the start. I do know that Gary had developed many good arguments on why God did not exist.

Gary use to tell me one thing over and over again that I would try to argue with. He would say “Believing in God just makes it easier for us to die”. Using my immature theology, I would argue with him. “That’s not true Gary”, I would say. “It is much more than that”. And that is as far as I could take it. I did not want Gary to be an atheist, but I did not have the words to share that would have dissuaded him from that path. Also, I never asked God to touch his heart. In short, I did not do much at all.

If I were to have the same discussion with Gary today, I would have responded differently. When he told me that believing just made it easier for us to die, I would agree with him. Believing in, and following God does make it easier for us to die as we know what is waiting. But there is another side to the story. I would also tell Gary that having a relationship with Christ makes it easier to live. Not that we will escape the trials and tribulations while on Earth – we just won’t have to face them alone. We will know a peace and a joy that we did not know before Christ came into our lives.

I have thought many times about Gary and his atheism since that time in Okinawa. I could not imagine what life would be like to say to God, “Sorry, I don’t need you, I don’t want you, and I don’t even know if you exist”. To me, being an atheist would bring a spiritual loneliness that would make life seem empty and pointless. I hope and I pray that Gary has found our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Even though Gary was not looking for God at that point in time, God knew exactly where Gary was. Gary may have given up on God, but God never give up on Gary.