Sunday, November 4, 2012

What Priorities Drive Your Vote?

Do you vote with a purpose?

I am a small business owner and in the last four years it’s been the most hellish time of my life. Literally. The economy has decimated our business primarily due to many of my customers either not having jobs or their jobs are insecure. This is a form of Trickle Down economics that IS very real. The super rich don’t buy much of my products. My customer is Joe Plumber and everyone else that puts on their tool belt, so to speak, each and every day. When the housing crisis hit it was like someone turned off a faucet and turned it off hard. Without jobs, you worry about keeping a roof over your head and paying the bills. You just hold on to what you have and you fight for your life and for your very survival. And when you don’t have a job you don’t buy a lot of chicken.

George Bush gets a lot of blame for the downfall of the economy by those on the Left. I have to admit I think GW screwed up a few things as president but I don’t blame him for the wrecked economy. The housing crash was the single biggest reason for the financial meltdown and Bush didn’t cause that. The template for the downfall actually started with Jimmy Carter back in 1977.

Jimmy Carter enacted the Community Reinvestment Act requiring banks to give loans to lower-income areas and consequently people who couldn’t afford those loans. Bill Clinton ramped up the CRA which actually put requirements on banks on how many of these types of loans they were to make and if they didn’t comply they weren’t allowed to expand other lending or grow their size. In essence, Congress was forcing the banks to be risky. With Clinton’s expansion of the CRA, banks began finding ways make these loans available to others including lending on second homes, in some part to fill their lending requirements.  In no time at all, borrowers were up to their eye balls in debt that left the chance that any little ripple would send them tumbling down and it was only a matter of time before that ripple hit like a tidal wave.

It was during this time that Congress gave Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac permission to back all of these loans by buying them from the banks then grouping them together and selling them on the open market. This, my friends, is where the whole subprime market took off. But it was all ok, right? After all, it was backed by the government. To his credit, George Bush personally went before Congress in 2003 to appeal to them to reign in Fannie and Freddie. But Barney Frank and his Congress buddies would not hear of it.

As more and more people purchased homes the housing market grew like there was no tomorrow...but very soon that tomorrow would come. Many of these borrowers could barely afford their loans and when the gas spike came in the summer of 2007 these risky borrowers began their drive off a financial cliff. Since they were allowed, according to CRA rules, to be in their homes with essentially no money down many began to walk away from these loans they couldn’t afford. This began the burst of the housing bubble as we know it. I am not saying the banks didn’t play a part in it but the go ahead for this dangerous loan cycle all came in the name of giving something for nothing from our politicians.

So at this point you are probably saying gee, thanks for the history lesson buddy but what does this have to do with voting and priorities. I think it has everything to do with giving things away we can’t afford and our elected officials screwing up the market. I think it has everything to do with voting in responsible men and women who understand that this country is worth the risk but not a foolish risk. And it has to do with understanding that there are consequences when you vote the wrong people into office.

I consider myself a Republican but I differ much with my party on several issues. I am not gay but I support gay marriage. I jokingly say I think gay people should be as miserable as the rest of us so why not let them get married.  I don’t like abortion being used as birth control but I think women should have the choice. But I don’t think its government’s job to provide free abortions. I think health care is screwed up in this country but I think the answer was to fix the cost structure first to make it more affordable to others. And I believe there is a time in everyone’s life they need a helping hand but I think we should expect there to be a time limit for the able bodied and during the time we are helping them we should expect that people should be doing all they can to better their situation. To me it has a lot to do with personal responsibility and not the obligation of government to fix everyone’s lives.

President Obama inherited a bad economy. No one debates that. But what he has done to fix it OR I should say not fix it is a disgrace. He is not a man I want to follow for the betterment of this country. For me, it is about jobs and I know firsthand by the policies and presidential acts he has enacted he is not helping but actually hurting. I’m sure he is a man that wants to do the right thing but I just don’t agree with what he thinks is “good” for this country. Even NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg who reluctantly endorsed the president this last week was quoted as saying he is disappointed in how the president has not tried to work with both sides of congress and instead “has embraced a divisive populist agenda focused more on redistributing income than creating it”.

Is Mitt Romney the best man for the job? I don’t think so. But he is the best choice of the two by a long shot for the position of leading this country back to health. He has a successful record of working with both parties when he was governor. I am impressed when I read about what he did to save the finances of the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. This to me is the proof of his leadership skills. And all this venom spewed out about his time at Bain Capital is nothing but partisan mud-slinging. Unless you have been the leader of for-profit organization you don’t know the tough decisions one has to make. He was a savvy businessman that made tough decisions and has successful experience in leading.  This to me says I can trust him more than I can trust Barak Obama. I didn’t say Romney was perfect…just the better choice.

My priorities are about providing for my family and my employees and myself. With financial strength I can then get back to helping others but at the moment I am holding on for dear life.  Sure I care about the social issues but I really don’t believe that anyone is going to ban abortion or stop helping the poor or disabled. But we are in trouble and in times of trouble you have to put things in order of precedence. Everything else is secondary. Not that these other issues aren’t important but we continue the discussion when we are in better shape, financially.

So my priority is to vote for whom I think will help the country best. My priority is to vote the men and women who will give me the best chance to chase the American Dream, as I’ve tried to do my whole life. But this is my priority and not necessarily yours. I just hope that there are enough people in this election that feel as I do. That America is best served by those that wish to provide the environment to chase the Dream and not the nightmare we have lived the last four years.

So what priority will drive your vote?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Black & White with Shades of Grey

Which of society’s rules are you willing to break?

Not long ago I heard an older and seemly wise man say “if you aren’t willing to have some grey in your life you have no business being in business for yourself”. His philosophy was that there is a whole world out there working against you AND your business and to survive you need to be willing to bend a rule now and then. This got me thinking what is bending the rules? And clearly it’s different for different people. It made me ask myself what is my own line that I won’t cross and how do I justify bending a few of our given rules now and then.

I have people in my life that are rule breakers and I have some that aren’t. The rule breakers tend to justify what they do OR don’t do based on their opinion that they aren’t hurting anyone and as long as they don’t get caught it’s ok. Some of them run pretty fast and loose with what most of think is right and wrong. But to them it’s a means to an end.

Years ago I went to Lake Shasta with some great friends for the week of fun and sun. We rented a house boat and along with the boat came a strict set of rules. One of the biggest rules was to not move the boat after dark. Our first night on the water we barbequed a fresh salmon and after dinner I put the fish carcass in a garbage can and placed the can a few feet up on shore. I was sleeping on the top deck of the house boat that night and I didn’t care to smell old salmon as I was laying in my sleeping bag. After we all fell asleep that night I was awoken to some pretty loud rustling near the front of the boat. A black bear had smelled the fish and had come for a late night dinner from our garbage can. Needless to say, the entire boat woke up pretty fast and tensions were high with a big bear just about 4 feet from the bow of our floating home away from home. It would have been an easy jump for our furry visitor to come aboard and no one wanted that. Being the king of sarcasm I quickly blurted out, “I say we break the rules and move the boat”. That trip was over 30 years ago but all that experienced our adventure now live with that remark. In my life anytime a big rule must be ignored because of a drastic situation the comment “moving the boat” always works and to me, makes sense.

Other people in my life are very black and white. They seem to have this personal code that keeps them pretty constricted to a rigid path. Some do this for religious reasons and others for a personal choice but the road they travel is very straight and they are sure of their need to follow a strict line of right and wrong. Getting caught doing something is wrong is not as big of deterrent as is their need to do the right thing. The idea of taking a grey area tax deduction is out of the question for these folks. Or they would never allow another person to eat off their plate at an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant. Breaking the rules is just not an option for them.

These people will tell you they are law abiding and do what they do so they like the person they look at in the mirror each morning. But thinking about some of these righteous people in my life made me wonder what does it take for someone to break a rule? In what situation are you willing to do something wrong for your benefit or the benefit of others? What has to happen for any of us to drop our self imposed moral code in desperate times and move the boat? What is your big black bear off the bow of your house boat?

Most of us like to think we obey the laws of the land. But who among us do not occasionally drive faster than the speed limit if we are in a hurry? Can you tell me you have never crossed the street before the sign said walk because no cars were coming? Ever drive without your seat belt on because you were just going around the block? We all break the rules now again when we choose to. I think different people justify subtle lawlessness because it might be random or a one-time event. But what is your limit and which rules or society expectations are you willing to break if the need is great enough or you are sure you won’t get caught?

Looking back to high school I had a German teacher that taught me a lesson I will never forget. Herr Wood was not only a foreign language teacher but a philosopher, too. He once posed a question to my class that has been a part of my thinking for most of my adult life. Mr. Wood gave us the scenario of an intersection in the middle of nowhere. At that intersection is a street light and when you arrive up to the light it’s red. You look both ways and you can see for miles. You can see you are the only car at the light and yet you wait. If you continue to wait until the light turns green you are being a good law abiding citizen. But there are no other cars for miles. There is no danger of a crash or even a hidden chance a waiting police officer will write you a ticket. He asked the class at what point does your common sense take over and tells you to pull through the red light? At what point do you stop being afraid of doing the wrong thing?  Are you going to go through life simply doing just as people tell you is the right thing to do or are you going to make decisions yourself about what is right for you? Me, I choose to think for myself and if there is no danger to myself or others I am pulling through the red lights of life.

Our society needs laws and order. Without order there is chaos. Rules, laws and commandments have been put in place to guide us towards stability and harmony. And, I do believe I have a high sense of right and wrong in my life. I am the type of person to chase someone down that has dropped their wallet or leaves an item behind in a restaurant. I once found a sack of money outside a bank that wasn’t mine with what I guessed was over $15,000 in it and I put it in the night deposit because it was the right thing to do. But I also don’t think every speed limit must be obeyed when I decide there is no clear and present danger at that time. I use my own mind, heart and conscience to decide when a rule can be bent and when it must be obeyed. To me, this is part of being an intelligent being. I am making the decision for myself and deciding based on my own sense of right and wrong. And I am very comfortable with my choices.

So next time you pull up to that intersection and you can see for miles that no one is coming what will you decide to do?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

In Defense Of Valentine's Day!

What’s wrong with being “that guy”?

Years ago I heard a friend say I was “that guy”…the type other men hated on Valentine’s Day. I do flowers. I plan dinners. I write my feelings on cards. But I don’t do this to make me better than other men. My motivation is something natural and much more personal. I am driven by the need to make this day special because it’s important to ME.

I’m not sure why but I have always been one to want to show my love. It might have been the strong influence my mother had in my life. It could be I saw how my father missed the opportunity to tell my mom how much he really loved her. It could just be the way I am wired. But whatever it is I have always enjoyed being that guy to show the one I love how special they are to me. And I think Valentine’s Day might have been created just for me.

A couple of weeks ago my mom called me to see how I was doing. We hadn’t spoke in a while and it made me feel good to hear that she was calling just to say hello and to tell me she loved me. Growing up with a very strong and often harsh father was tempered by the love and affection of a mother that was kind and caring. There was never a time when I didn’t know she adored us kids and she loved us unconditionally. The confidence this gives a child is something that has lifelong effects that helps to build strong, healthy lives. My mother has always done that for me.

On the phone this day, she told me a story that was new to me. My father passed away a year ago and before he died he made a confession to a friend of his. He shared to this friend that my mother was the “best thing that had ever happened to him”. My mother mentioned the obvious that my dad wasn’t very good at expressing his love, not only for her or us kids, too. Her voice cracked as she said that she wished she had heard him say this expression of his love with her own ears. But she told me she knew she was that to him. She knew she was the best part of his life. Still, there was regret at the fact he never told her, in his own words, how much she meant to him and how much he loved her. She then took the time to remind me that I should never miss the chance myself to tell those that I love just what they mean to me. At first I thought she was preaching to the choir but then I realized there is more I could be doing.

Over the years, I’ve made the most of Valentine’s Day. In our early years, I would plan a special dinner with Laura, never forgetting flowers or a gift. To me, details were important because the details themselves were an expression of my love for her. February 14th is so important to me that I even proposed to her on this day 28 years ago. I concocted up a story about how I needed to drive to Seattle to deliver something for my father but if she went with me we could “go to dinner or something”. Of course, I had pre-planned a special evening at the most romantic restaurant in town, complete with engagement ring, violin player and a gorgeous view of the city lights. I have tried to never miss a chance to make the most of this day. As the years went on we would include our daughters and this day evolved to be more family friendly. The way I see it, this is the day to not only say “I love you” but to take time to show it.

When it comes to my relationships I think I am always been a little sappy. Some might call it romantic or touching but whatever the description but I enjoy showing my feelings through open signs of affection. Giving a card, flowers, candy or a small gift have always come easy for me. And to me, it’s just an automatic that on Valentine’s Day you do something. I always enjoyed planning something special for Laura to show her she means the world to me. But I realize I can do better.

In my mind I think I have been pretty good about telling those in my life that I love them. And I think I have done a good of remembering to use Valentine’s Day to show that. But sometimes we aren’t nearly as wonderful as we think we are. Sometimes, we get lost in what we think we have done vs. how our loved ones see and hear and feel us. And sometimes we live in the past, remembering the romantic things we did previously but not lately. I realize this is true for me. I am afraid I have missed some opportunities to share with my girls what they mean to me and how my life is richer because I have their love. So February 14th is the perfect opportunity for all of us, but especially me, to stop, think, and take that time to say I love you and to pledge to myself to be better.

As much as this day is about professing your love for that special person I have just recently understood the importance of living that love each and every day. Don’t get me wrong; I still think this day is THE DAY to celebrate and to be sappy. But all of us, including me, need to do a better job of saying and showing “I love you” every day. Let’s not wait for one day to share our love but rather make our expression on this day the biggest and grandest of the year.

I still want to be “that guy”. But I think over the last few years I have been off my game. My desire is still there. My love is still there. I just need to remember to show how I love her every day. Not just in the middle of February. I do love a challenge.

Is it too late to order a horse and carriage?