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  1. 2016 Year in Review: The Divided States of America (DSA, DSA!)

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    The Big Picture

    Globalization is under attack.  It is the revenge of the Nativists.  Across the world, people voted for nationalistic populists who promised to save them by erecting walls and cutting off ties with the rest of the world.  Transnational corporations who have benefited the most from the global economy are the new bogeymen.  It remains to be seen whether this is a temporary setback for globalists or the beginnings of retreat from a world order created out of the ashes of World War II.

    DSA Presidential Election

    A year ago, I predicted the American presidential race would come down to a choice between hope and hate.  After the most divisive election since the Civil War, the result was also divided.  Clinton won the popular vote 48 to 46%, making her the winner in every other functioning democracy in the world except America.  Thanks to the Electoral College, an 18th century relic of slavery and the Founders’ distrust of “We, the People,” Donald J Trump will become our next President instead.  So, I guess hope and hate fought to a draw, except that hate actually gets to govern.

    Trump won on the basis of a new brand of anti-global populism, which also swept the UK with the Brexit vote and brought Duterte to power in the Philippines, to name only two examples.  People have had it up to here with elites living the high life while their lives are mired in perpetual debt.  The populists view globalization as a threat to their economic livelihoods and their cultural identities.  Trump stirred these two strains into a toxin that blamed immigrants and minorities for the economic plight of the white working class. He used the classic principle of divide and conquer to get his followers to turn their fear, anger and hate against Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans, gays and anyone else who is not White Anglo-Saxon Protestant.  In Trump’s DSA, you’re welcome only if you are White.  “Everyone else should get the hell out and go back to where they came from!”   Trump even wants Native Americans to hightail it back across the Bering Strait and take their gambling casinos with them.

    In the greatest con job in the history of America (and that’s saying a lot), Trump convinced just enough people that he was their working class celebrity hero come to their rescue.  This from a man born in the lap of luxury who has never had to work an honest day of manual labor in his entire life!  A man who dodges his tax obligations, hates unions, stiffs his contractors, and sexually harasses his female employees.  This is the man who will save the working class?  Forty-six percent of Americans bought this line.  P.T. Barnum was right: “There’s a sucker born every minute.”   Journalist H.L. Mencken’s observation also comes to mind: “No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.”  Judging by the Billionaire Boys Club that Trump has assembled for a Cabinet, the working class better not bend over, to use one of Trump’s favorite campaign rally lines.

    Are Americans really as divided as our politics suggest?  Let me count the ways:

    1. Democrat vs. Republican
    2. Progressive vs. Conservative
    3. Urban vs. Rural
    4. Free trade vs. Protectionism
    5. Pro-choice vs. Pro-life
    6. Christian vs. Muslim vs. Jew
    7. Raise taxes vs. Cut taxes
    8. Public vs. Private Education
    9. Public Health vs. Privatization
    10. Black Lives Matter vs. Police Unions
    11. Carbon vs. Renewables
    12. Environmentalists vs. Polluters
    13. Organic vs. GMO
    14. Peaceniks vs. Hawks
    15. Conservation vs. Consumption
    16. Developers vs. NIMBYs
    17. Football vs. Soccer
    18. Rock vs. Country
    19. Mini vs. Maxi
    20. Paper vs. Plastic
    21. Boxers vs. Briefs

    We disagree about virtually everything these days and do it more vehemently and profanely than ever before. We have huge bullhorns weaponized by social media and the entertainment industry to dispense our hateful opinions for all to hear.

    To illustrate how divided we are, Americans in California voted for the first Afro-Indian-American Senator in history, banned sales of military-style ammunition and legalized recreational cannabis, while voters in Alabama elected candidates endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, legalized open carry of weapons and banned a woman’s right to abortion.  Californians actually have more in common with Australians than Alabamans, and arguably, the Aussie accent is easier on the ears.

    Perhaps that’s why a nascent Cal Exit movement has started in California in Trump’s toxic wake.  We would become the sixth largest economy in the world and if we could persuade Oregon, Washington and Hawaii to join us, we would rival Germany for the fourth largest economy in the world and become the Chile of North America. Of course, I’m dreaming, but what a fantasy!

    Despite all these differences, however, I notice that when I travel around our nation, as I frequently do for business, the people I encounter daily do not act like my hostile opponent.  For the most part, Americans mind their own business and treat others politely.  It is only when we feel threatened that the deep divisions that sunder us come into play.  Economic anxiety leads to anger which leads to hatred towards a scapegoat which leads us to the Alt-Right and Trumpism.  You might think that the working class would reject an oligarch like Trump, but instead they worship him.  They reserve their real contempt for those they perceive to be below them on the social ladder.  The Russian author Pushkin explained this best when he observed about the serfs of feudal Russia, “The poor are miserable until they find someone who is even more miserable than they are, and then they are happy.”  So Trump supporters are dancing in the streets and committing hate crimes smugly assured that at least they are better off than the people Trump promises to run out of the country.

    Modest Reforms

    I realize this is purely wishful thinking, but here are a few of my modest proposals to reform the broken electoral process in the DSA:

    1. Abolish the Electoral College and have a direct popular vote for President, just like every other elected office in America and the rest of the world. What can possibly be wrong with majority rule based on one person, one vote?  What’s the valid argument against this principle?
    2. Guarantee citizens the right to vote
      Believe it or not, our constitution does not include a guaranteed right to vote, despite describing elections.  The reason for this was that back in 1787, only white males who owned property were allowed to vote.  They constituted less than 20% of the population, but had all the power.  Voting rights were left to states to decide, encouraging more of them to abridge voting rights for political advantage, leaving millions of Americans without representation.  Photo ID and restricted voter registration laws, coupled with antiquated voting systems, have thrown millions of citizens off the voting rolls or relegated them to a provisional ballot that never gets counted.  We could make voting as simple as paying a bill, but the politicians won’t do it.  You have to ask yourself why they are so hell-bent on preventing people from exercising the most precious right granted by a democracy?
    3. Get money out of politics.
      The obscene sum of money spent on a two-year presidential election represents real government waste and fraud.  Over a billion dollars to listen to candidates insult each other and the electorate’s intelligence on the public airwaves?  It’s no wonder we abhor politicians.  Elections should be confined to no more than 12 months and dark money and legalized political bribery must be outlawed.
    4. Require politicians to adhere to Truth in Advertising laws.
      Advertisements on the public airwaves must comply with laws that require advertisers to tell the truth about the products they pitch.  This prevents someone from claiming that their snake oil cures cancer.  But politicians exempted themselves from these laws.  Political ads are the only ones on TV that can lie with total impunity, under the fig leaf of free speech.  If political ads had to comply with truth in advertising, we would clean up the worst abuses of our election process.  For that matter, so-called “News” programs should also have to conform to Truth in Advertising instead of propagating fake news and one-sided opinion. Fox News should be required to rebrand as GOP TV (GOPTV) and MSNBC should have to rebrand as the Democratic News Channel (DNC).  At least that way, the public would know what they are watching.

     

    The Economy

    Free trade was a big buzz word in 2016, with a decidedly negative connotation. From both the left and right, free trade came under attack for the loss of American jobs and the sluggish recovery from the Great Recession.  Calls for a return to protectionist tariffs abounded on the campaign trail.

    According to economists, the data says that free trade has been a boon to the global economy, enabling the free flow of goods and creating a burst of development in Asia, Latin America and Africa, which had been left behind in the past.  The problem is that free trade did not benefit nations equally.  Some came out winners, while others lost.  For America, the real problem with free trade, dating back to its origins with Richard Nixon in the 1970s, is that we were not trading goods with other nations, but trading American jobs for cheap imported goods.  Transnational corporations, who largely wrote the free trade agreements under which we operate today, allowed themselves to trade high-paying factory jobs in America for low wage labor in China and then import those cheaper goods back to America duty-free, with only the shipping charges to pay.   This policy has cost America over 15 million manufacturing jobs.

    The result is that America is running a $750-billion-dollar trade deficit with the rest of the world.  No other nation comes close to this deficit, nor would any other nation tolerate such imbalance.  So why does the DSA?  Because it benefits powerful U.S.-based transnational corporations who operate global businesses to maximize profits at all costs by searching for the cheapest sources of labor, the lowest cost producers of raw materials and the most sheltered tax havens, all while bequeathing the disasters they leave in their wake for governments to clean up at the public expense.  It’s called privatizing the profits and socializing the costs.  They actually teach how to do this in some of the leading business schools these days.

    Trump’s call to renegotiate trade deals like NAFTA and TPP and to slap a 5-15% tariff on imports played well during the campaign, but it may never happen.  If we did impose new tariffs, it is certain our trading partners would retaliate with their own tariffs, causing prices of imports to rise and risking a trade war that would send the global economy into another deep recession.

    A better idea would be to impose the social costs of lost jobs on those companies that choose to dump their American workers in search of cheap labor.  Like most European countries currently require, America should force companies who engage in mass layoffs in order to ship jobs overseas to pay the full cost of unemployment insurance for as long as it takes for their laid off workers to find new jobs.  They should also be forced to pay for retraining these workers to help them find new careers.  If companies knew they were financially responsible for the livelihood of their displaced workers, they would rethink their desire to chase slave wage labor around the globe.

    Culture

    As always, cultural trends continued to evolve in 2016.   Here’s a run-down of some of the most significant ones.

    E-sports Booming:

    My sons introduced me to this phenomenon with their enthusiastic embrace of playing video games and watching pros play in tournaments in front of thousands of cheering fans.  Steven even joined his university’s e-sports team, which competed in tournaments against other colleges.  Some universities are awarding e-sports scholarships, like they do for traditional athletes.  This is a trend that promises to explode in popularity as millennials embrace this new form of entertainment.

    Exterminating Life on Planet Earth:

    With no fanfare and little notice, several hundred species disappeared in 2016, a growing trend that shows no signs of stopping.  From disappearing bees to extinct fish to alarming declines in large mammal populations like elephants and rhinos, we are witnessing the beginning of another mass extinction on Earth.  The last time it happened, we humans weren’t around, but the dinosaurs disappeared after roaming the Earth for over 100 million years.  If we do not wake up and start to address the causes: global warming, rampant overdevelopment, pollution and animal poaching, we will suffer the same fate as the dinosaurs.

    In 2016, we crossed another deadly threshold when carbon dioxide in our atmosphere reached 400 parts per million (PPM).  For those readers who are not science geeks, the last time the atmosphere contained that much carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat, over an extended period, dinosaurs inhabited the Earth, Canada was in the tropics and sea level was 25 feet higher than today, due to the melting of polar ice caps.  Can you imagine what life will be like when sea level rises 25 feet?  Every major port and most of the metropolitan areas of the world will be under water, displacing billions of people.

    Population Bomb

    The world’s population crossed the seven billion mark in 2016, at least according to the best estimates.  We are actually reproducing like rabbits these days, more quickly than demographers can keep up with the numbers.  In my lifetime, world population has grown from 2 billion to 7 billion. We are on pace to hit 12 billion by 2100.  This rapid increase in population is unsustainable.  We already have cultivated over half the arable land on the planet and have little place to put the five billion people who will join us over the next 85 years.  Back in the 70s, Paul Ehrlich warned of this impending disaster in his book The Population Bomb.  We didn’t listen then and probably won’t listen now either.  Family planning is opposed by too many of our institutions.

     

    Personal

    Training Education Management LLC continued a string of strong years, with steady employment at Southern California Edison couple with work from American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and Association for Talent Development (ATD).  Training and human development are hot right now.  Savvy business leaders recognize that their human capital is their best competitive advantage.  ATD’s annual State of the Industry for 2016 showed healthy increases in investment in training and talent development.  I expect this will continue for at least the next ten years, as 300,000 baby boomers retire every month and are replaced by about 150,000 millennials.  When companies are hiring, they also tend to be training.

    I continued volunteer work through Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), where I counsel budding entrepreneurs at the Redondo Beach Chamber of Commerce and serve on their Economic Development Council.  As Volunteer of the Year for the Redondo Chamber in 2015-16, I have redoubled my efforts to give back to my local community, especially in encouraging youth to consider careers as entrepreneurs.

    On a personal note, my two sons, Vince and Steven, had very good years as well. Vince is working in the video game industry for one of the top firms and developing his own entrepreneurial plans to launch a business focused on a Better Legacy for the future. And to think, I kept telling him as a kid that he was wasting his life playing video games all day!  Steven is a junior at Cal State University Fullerton and manages to be a student, worker and father simultaneously.  Granddaughter Jade is our pride and joy.  She is four going on forty, learning Chinese and English, and can actually carry on a more logical conversation, in two languages, than I ever managed to have with a Trump supporter.  My mother, Harriet Hurlburt, now lives with me most of the year.  It’s been a real pleasure to spend so much time with the person who gave me life and knows me better than anyone else in the world.  Tania and I had the pleasure of visiting Hearst Castle on the central California coast and Santa Barbara this summer.  I also made separate business trips to Abu Dhabi and Edmonton, Canada this year.

    Priceless Moments

    No year in review is complete without a look back at some of the memorable moments we won’t soon forget, even if we wished we could.

    To Hillary Clinton:

    You came so agonizingly close and yet could not shatter the thickest glass ceiling of them all.  As the first female candidate for President, you had to run against a misogynist celebrity, the FBI, the Russians, and even your husband’s twenty- year old infidelities.  Thanks for trying so relentlessly and for going high when Trump went so very low.  My disappointment is that I will probably never live to see a woman become President.

    To Bernie Sanders:

    You gave voice to 40 years of progressive frustration over the corporatization of America and came oh, so close to pulling off a bigger upset even than Trump.  I hope you lead the fight against the privatization of our country; I’ll be right there with you.

    To Donald J Trump:

    Since we share a given name in common, I have a very personal interest in your performance as President.  Depending on how you do, my name will either gain a sudden burst of popularity (no one in America has named a son Donald in 40 years) or it will go down in infamy, never to be used again, like he who must not be named.  Gulp!

    To American Women:

    I confess I do not fully understand the female mind, as the women in my life will testify. But this year I am utterly baffled that so many White women voters supported a confessed serial sexual predator instead of the first female candidate for President.  Trump trounced Clinton by 30 percentage points among White males, which was completely understandable, but Trump also won the vote among White women by 11 percentage points.  That’s like African-Americans voting for the KKK, Native Americans voting for General Custer, or Mexican-Americans voting for Sam Houston.  In an attempt to understand this, I turned to the wisest woman I know, my mother.  She explained that women don’t stick together like men do and too many married women just go along with whatever their husband wants.  If this is true, I despair that America will ever elect a woman president.

    To Outgoing President Barack Obama:

    Thank you for your service to our country.  You took over during one of the darkest moments of modern times and managed to rescue us from the Great Recession, extract us from the quagmire of Iraq, give Americans universal health care, reestablish relations with Cuba and negotiate treaties to ban nuclear weapons in Iran and to combat climate change across the globe.  You did all this without a single vote from Republicans in Congress, who fought to obstruct everything you attempted.  When the history books are written 100 years from now, you will not only be recognized as our first African-American president, but also as one of our greatest Presidents.  In my lifetime, I think you rank right up there with John Kennedy as one of the two best Presidents I have every personally witnessed.

    To the 2016 Word of the Year: Surreal (adj. strange because of combining elements that are never found together in reality)

    It certainly was a surreal kind of year.  At times, we couldn’t tell reality from fiction, with all the fake news and bizarre pronouncements.  Among the more surreal moments for me was watching the Republican Party choose its nominee based on the size of his hands instead of his brain. (I’m still trying to figure out how I’m going to explain that to my 4-year-old granddaughter).  The Cubs finally winning the World Series after a 108-year drought and the Cavs finally winning their first NBA Championship for Lebron were also pretty surreal moments for sports fans.

    To Pokémon Go:

    The year’s hit game featured the first world-wide adoption of augmented reality, in which digital elements are superimposed over real places, leading hordes of Pokémon players to wander around with their heads buried in their smart phones, trying to catch them all.  Like many innovations, augmented reality came to life as a game, but it has huge potential to change much more as it develops.  Many experts predict that augmenting reality will be a bigger deal than the virtual reality goggles that hip trendsetters were seen wearing in public this past year.  Watch for 3-D holograms to be the next big thing on the horizon.   

     

     

     

     

  2. The Future of Training?

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    A colleague of mine recently asked me to contribute my views on the future of training.  I thought this was a tough assignment, since I have no magic crystal ball to predict the future of anything.  But as I thought about the request, several themes kept rolling around my brain.

    The future of training will be tied to three key megatrends – the future of work, of technology and of our planet.  I will briefly describe each in this post.

    Future of Work

    The nature of work is undergoing dramatic changes that will change the way people earn a living and develop skills over a career.  We are moving from the industrial model of work which has dominated our lives over the past century to a post-modern world of independent freelancing.  While our parents and grandparents went to work in mass lock step formation for corporate behemoths which assembled employees by the thousands in towering offices and cavernous factories, our children and grandchildren are more likely to work for themselves in small businesses that they help found or in a gig economy that treats everyone like an independent contractor.

    The implications for training and development are profound.  Today, most training is paid for by employers who want their people to be more productive on the job.  In the future, companies will not make the same investment in independent contractors who may not stay around long enough to pay their employer’s investment back in increased productivity.  Instead, freelancers will have to develop themselves to keep their skills sharp and competitive.  How that will happen and who will finance adult training and education is an open question at this point in time.  Possibilities include government financing of adult training, much the way that public schooling is now financed, or individual training accounts that grant a sum of money that individuals can use to acquire needed training.

    Future of Technology

    Technology has already dramatically altered the landscape of learning through the rapid introduction of e-learning over the past several decades.  Today, nearly half of all adult training is delivered online over the Internet.  This is expected to increase, although the classroom will never totally disappear.  As technology becomes more pervasive, we will see increased reliance on its accessibility and ubiquity to deliver training just in time to whomever needs it wherever they happen to be.  Mobile learning will become second nature, much like Internet searching is today.  Need to know how to operate a complex piece of equipment or how to prepare for an upcoming meeting?  There will be an App for that and for every other thing that human beings might need to know.  Building this online encyclopedia of human knowledge and skill will occupy instructional designers for a very long time, perhaps forever, as new knowledge is created and catalogued on a scale previously unknown in human history.

    Future of the Planet

    We are living in the era of globalization, where events in one part of the world have ripple effects across the globe.  As the world evolves into a single marketplace, national borders will have less significance.  Indeed, we are already seeing that transnational corporations have evolved into more powerful institutions than the nation-states who gave them birth.  Global brands like Apple and Google already have more money and clout that most national governments  and they grow stronger every day.  Simultaneously, a backlash against globalization is emerging, led by populist nativists who oppose the growing power of the corporate elites.  This struggle will continue for the foreseeable future and the outcome is uncertain, but one thing that is clear is that we will work in an increasingly diverse world that requires cross-cultural skills that do not come naturally to humans.  Our instinct is to trust those that are like us and to distrust those that are different.  If we cannot overcome our instincts, we are in for more bloodshed and war.

    To complicate things further, we are in the process of destroying our planet through pollution and destruction of all other forms of life except ourselves.  As the consequences of global warming become more dire, we will be faced with the prospect of learning to live in harmony with nature or seeing our very existence on this planet threatened by mass extinction.  I’d like to think that education and training can help us overcome the existential threat to our species, but I’m also pessimistic about our willingness to recognize and confront the future before it consumes us.  We tend to have perfect hindsight, but can’t seem to see what is right in front of our noses.

    What do you think?  Will education and training save us or will we wake up too late to save ourselves and our planet?

     

  3. Today’s Thought

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    “Just when I figured out the meaning of life, they changed it.” George Carlin, American comedian

     

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  4. Today’s Thought:

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    If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves.

    Maria Edgeworth, Anglo-Irish author

  5. Today’s Thought

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    “Never mistake knowledge for wisdom.  One helps you make a living; the other helps you make a life.”
    Sandra Carey Cody, American author.

  6. Peace and Friendship

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    Today’s Thought: “Peace and friendship with all mankind is our wisest foreign policy and I wish we may always pursue it.” Thomas Jefferson, 1st Democrat U.S. President and Author of the Declaration of Independence.

  7. 2015 Year in Review: Evil vs. Good

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    The Big Picture

    2015 was a year that epitomizes the epic human struggle between evil and good. Syria, refugee migration, anti-immigration backlash, ISIS, Paris, San Bernardino. The headlines screamed terror and death, so the people ran in fear and panic. The stampede of refugees from war-torn areas of the Middle East and Africa set off more panic among those asked to receive the flood in Europe and North America. The world became so unstable that the Pope referred to the situation as “piecemeal World War 3.” For every act of terror/mass shooting, there were the inevitable recriminations – both sides blaming the other and nothing ever being done to address the root causes. The global economy weakened, the recovery looking a little long in the tooth and everyone speculating on how long the good times could last (and who said these times are good anyway?). Pop culture reflected our angst. The two biggest movies of the year were Avengers and Star Wars, both paeans to war.

    Politics

    The world withstood a troubling year. Creeping civil wars in Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, etc. killed thousands, mostly civilians caught in the crossfire, and prompted millions more to flee. The flood of migrants hit the shores of Europe, creating massive social problems there. The spread of ISIS and other radical Islamists alarmed the West, bringing the U.S. back into combat in Iraq. Tragically, the terrorists visited horror on the streets of Paris and many other places. The response has been angry and punitive, but the problem is not going away. Indeed, overreaction only encourages more aggression.

    On a brighter note, 200 nations came together to sign a landmark agreement to tackle climate change, signaling a ray of hope for the future of the planet. Now, we’ll see if these nations live up to the promises they have made. The Iran nuclear deal will forestall another nuclear power in the Middle East, at least for now. The world will be watching both agreements closely.

    The presidential election in the U.S. starts two years early these days, so we are fully engaged by now. It has been quite a contrast to watch the two parties this time around. The Democrats have had a mostly polite debate about social and economic policy and strategy to deal with the world’s problems. Bernie Sanders has tugged Hillary Clinton to the left. They now agree on about 90 percent of the policies needed to rebuild the middle class in the U.S. The Republicans have had a slugfest of 17 candidates trying to outshout each other in order to be heard above the din created by Donald Trump. The rhetoric has been inflammatory, inciting fear and hatred among the party faithful. They have fingered plenty of people to blame for our problems, from Mexicans to Muslims, but offer few concrete ideas on how to fix them, besides building huge walls and starting another unfunded war or two. Hating all forms of government, hard right White supremacists are screaming for blood. Just in time for Christmas, they have a new motto: “Death on Earth; Ill Will to All.” Ironically, it is ISIS’ motto too.

    For those having trouble keeping track of 20 candidates, you can forget the personalities running for U.S. President. The real contest is between two fundamental forces of human nature: Fear and Anger versus Hope and Compassion. The contrast could not be more obvious, the choice more clear. We shall see which side of our nature Americans choose. For me, hope trumps fear. Yes, I fear being gunned down in public, like most Americans do, but I also fear my car being broadsided and my airplane crashing and my doctor telling me I have inoperable cancer. Yet, despite all those fears, I still drive and fly and live my life with the hope that tomorrow will bring a better day. And if tomorrow does not come for me, I’m OK with that too, knowing I have lived life to the fullest. As Franklin Roosevelt taught us in the darkest days of the Great Depression, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

    Economy & Business

    Business Cycle

    After six straight years of impressive gains, the stock market took 2015 off, leaving investors about where they started the year. Although China and Europe experienced slowing growth, the U.S. economy managed to eke out modest 2% growth. That’s barely enough to keep things afloat, although the Federal Reserve saw enough strength to start raising interest rates at the end of the year. Still, a sense of foreboding overshadowed the global economy as we all await what’s next and contemplate the possibility of an end to the bull market and a return to recession, or even worse, another financial crash.

    Gig Economics

    One area of growth was in the so-called “gig” or “sharing” economy. This new phenomenon, spurred by mobile technology, is most obvious in ride-sharing services like Uber and temporary rental companies like Airbnb. Both promise part-time income to those who don’t mind using their own vehicles and homes. Much has been written and debated about whether this trend is a positive or negative. On the one hand, enthusiasts tout the freedom the gig economy provides to “independent contractors” who set their own working hours and often earn better than minimum wage. On the other hand, critics point out that being independent means receiving no benefits, having no job security and having to provide your own “tools of the trade,” including using your own car and house and being responsible for their maintenance. I’m sure earning a little income on the side is a nice benefit to those looking for part-time, flexible work, but I also seriously doubt that anyone back in elementary school dreamed about growing up so they could drive strangers around in their own car or rent out a spare bedroom to total strangers. It strikes me as the “desperation economy.” The main problem with the gig economy is that the big bucks go to the company owners and investors who run these enterprises, while little trickles down to the freelancers doing the work, at their own expense. And we wonder why we see widening income inequality?

    Society & Culture

    Gay Marriage

    The U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on the controversy surrounding gay marriage and surprisingly decided in favor of progress for a change. They noted that barring same sex couples from marrying and more importantly, enjoying all the legal rights bestowed on married couples, was a clear case of discrimination and unequal protection under the law. In most states, the news was met with little public display, but in backwoods Kentucky, it was viewed as an abomination, a local county clerk refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples until held in contempt of court.

    Policing the Poor

    The Black Lives Matter movement continued its aggressive tactics of confronting police shootings of unarmed blacks and other minorities. In Baltimore, things turned ugly after the death of Freddie Gray, who died in police custody after being forcefully arrested for a “crime” for which he was never charged. Nearly every day, a new case of police shooting appeared on the news. In fact, on average, the police killed one person every day in 2015 and wounded two more every day. With the growth of video cameras, more of these killings are captured and broadcast for the world to see. As the nation witnessed more acts of violence, including an average of one mass shooting per day, we have to ask ourselves what kind of country resorts to criminalizing nearly every form of human behavior and relies almost exclusively on the police to solve social problems like poverty, homelessness, drug addiction and domestic violence. There is a name for societies that criminalize human behavior and imprison large segments of their population – they are called police states.

    Radicalization

    One of the most puzzling social phenomena is the choice of some young Muslims to throw their life away in service of an ideology that wants to drag the world back to the eighth century. Why would anyone choose a suicide mission on behalf of such a reactionary philosophy over the possibility of living a long life and pursuing their dreams? Terrorism experts have offered their opinions about the allure of jihadists like ISIS and Al Qaeda, but few have provided convincing evidence of how the process of radicalization works.

    Having been raised as a child in an evangelical cult and then later, becoming radicalized in college, I have some personal insight on how radicalization actually works. The key is to get people to stop thinking rationally for themselves and instead convince them that they should follow the dogma of others without question. It starts with discontent, finding something about one’s existence or the state of the world that causes personal disillusionment and anger. For me back in the 1960s, it was the twin evils of segregation and the Vietnam War. I became deeply disillusioned with my government’s conduct of the war and reluctance to confront racism and decided that I needed to take personal action. I found others on the left that shared my views and ultimately convinced me to stop thinking for myself and follow the party line. It was only after I spent time in jail for my activism that I realized I was just being used as cannon fodder in a conflict that would never end.

    For modern-day jihadists, the spur of discontent usually starts with the endless Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the perceived mistreatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. It has been further exacerbated by the U.S. invasions of Muslim nations and the total breakdown of civil societies in Iraq and Syria, replaced by ancient tribal and ethnic rivalries resurfacing in the vacuum left by the collapse of national governments. The young would-be jihadists are taught that the U.S. is the evil Satan, bent on destroying Islam and killing Muslims all over the world. Having stirred up their anger to the point of action, the leaders of radical movements then go on to the next stage – indoctrinating their disciples in the dogma of their severe version of the faith, brainwashing them into thinking that the best thing they could possibly do is become a martyr for the cause. They are promised eternal life if they prematurely end their physical life in an act of violence intended to inflict as many casualties as possible. At some point, the radicalized choose death over life and carry out their suicide missions with mechanical efficiency. In their brief moment of fame, they gain more notoriety than their miserable existences could ever hope to deliver in a lifetime. In their minds, they go out in a blaze of glory instead of slowly expiring in a dreary, dead-end life going nowhere. Trade unionists used to call this belief in deferred rewards in the afterlife as “pie in the sky when you die.” Marx called religion the “opiate of the masses,” designed to placate working people with promises of a fabulous after-life and keep them from rebelling against the wealthy.

    The fact that religious devotees are the targets of radicalization is not coincidence. Religion requires a suspension of logic and a leap of faith. Organized religions rely on “wise men” to interpret the orthodoxy for their followers, be they imams, pontiffs, pastors, monks or rabbis. These individuals wield enormous influence and mind control. When they preach a religion of hate, their followers are inspired to commit acts of hate. Every religion can point to verses in its holy book that justify hatred and bigotry toward others. If you don’t like gays or blacks or Jews or fill-in-the-blank with your favorite scapegoat, there’s a verse somewhere in your holy book that validates your belief. Magically, you are not a racist; you are simply exercising your religious freedom. It doesn’t take much to extend this rationalization to cover massacring your enemies in the name of your version of an Almighty.

    If we hope to stop terrorism, we must confront its root causes rather than react to the aftermath of the attacks. We must address the disillusionment of young people who see no future for themselves and the discontent with the political status quo that propels people to act violently. We must address the appeal of jihad, pointing out the fallacy of committing suicide for a reactionary theology whose aim is to make the world a worse place for people, allowing a theocratic elite to run roughshod over personal freedom and human dignity while they enrich themselves from others’ labor. We must confront the radicals directly on the battlefield when all else fails, but we must do so in a way that isolates the radicals and does not drive even more Muslims into the arms of the jihadists. Killing thousands of Muslim civilians in carpet-bombing retribution for attacks on the West only worsens the problem and feeds the narrative that the Muslim and Christian worlds are at war.

    Finally, we must confront our own society’s fascination with violence and guns and ask ourselves whether any citizen outside law enforcement really needs to own a military assault weapon. Easy access to these weapons of war enabled two extremists to kill 14 people and injure another 21 in a matter of minutes. What are the legal owners of these weapons planning to do with them? They are not used in hunting and are overkill as a means of self-defense. Those who claim the only way to ensure safety is to put a gun into everyone’s hands would do well to study the history of Tombstone, Arizona, a 19th century lawless mining town where everyone was armed. The famous cemetery recorded 350 homicides for every death by natural causes. And they were only using six-shooters in those days. Modern military assault weapons have only one purpose – to kill human life quickly and efficiently. It’s time we limited them to their original purpose – the field of battle – and limited access to those who truly need them.

    Personal

    Unlike the rest of the world, I had a banner year devoid of drama. I count my blessings for good health, steady work, abundant friends and loving family. My mom lives with me most of the year, having grown allergic to Rochester’s icy winters. Both Vince and Steven are in college, working on their futures. Steven got married this year to Abby and daughter Jade is a delightful toddler who is lapping up the world around her with amazing alacrity. My two rock steady clients – So Cal Edison and ANSI – kept me fully employed. I still found time to take on a few side gigs, including trips to Bangladesh, India, Egypt and United Arab Emirates. Tania and I enjoyed two trips to Dubai. I also got to visit several U.S. states, including: Oregon, Texas, Tennessee, Maryland and Virginia. I fulfilled one of my bucket list items when I got to play Pebble Beach Golf Course.

    Priceless Moments

    We had plenty to cheer and to jeer in 2015. Here are a few of my favorite things to remember.

    To Ebullient Parisians:

    Your courage and savoir faire in the face of brutal attacks set an example for all of us. Terror only works if we allow ourselves to become terrorized with fear.

    To Kim Davis, Rowan County, Kentucky Clerk:

    You claim a higher authority (God) told you to hate gays and refuse to issue them marriage licenses, but your own marriages and divorces to four different men are violations of the seventh commandment – “Thou shall not commit adultery.” To quote another line in your holy book, “He who has never sinned should cast the first stone.”

    To Bernie Sanders, Presidential Candidate (D):

    The corporate media may ignore you or dismiss you as a socialist, but you have awoken the working classes to the state of their exploitation. Win or lose, your message has rung loud and true – America is a country of, by, and for the billionaires. We need to start making it work for everyone again.

    To Donald J. Trump, Presidential Candidate (R):

    We may share first and middle names and birthright in the Empire State, but that’s all. I think you are too smart to actually believe the empty promises and hateful rhetoric you are feeding your crowd of irate supporters, but you know that they are eating it up. Better watch out, Mr. Trump, because the monster you are creating may turn on you, just like Frankenstein did.

    To Rachel Dolezal, Former President of the Spokane, WA National Association for the Advancement of Colored People:

    Thanks for introducing the world to racial ambiguity, a new psychological neurosis characterized by extreme confusion about one’s racial identity. I can certainly see why you identify with African-American culture, since there is much about it that I too admire. But to try to pass yourself off as black when your parents are as white as new fallen snow and then to actually pull it off for decades is a piece of acting worthy of Oscar consideration. When is the movie coming out?

    To Caitlyn Jenner, aka the former Bruce Jenner, Olympic Gold Medalist:

    That was quite a coming out party you had at the Espys this year. Talk about a tough act to follow. A man in a dress gets them every time. I can only wish you more happiness as a woman than you had as a man. Of course, the fact that you lived with the Kardashians for years could cause anyone to question their identity. At least you’ve ended up better off than poor Lamar Odom.

  8. Today’s Thought:

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    “Doubt can be ended by action alone.” Thomas Carlyle, Scottish author.

  9. Conflicted Humanity

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    We have been bombarded with news of human conflict lately, from road rage to police shootings to wars ravaging the Muslim world. It appears as if we are losing our human decency, but the fact is human beings have been conflicted from the beginning of our existence as a species. The particular reasons for conflicts vary over time and space, but they typically boil down to different beliefs or interests colliding. Each of us has our own worldview shaped by our unique journey through this thing we call life. When we encounter a person with a divergently different worldview, conflict ensues. Each side believes it is right and seeks to emerge from the conflict victorious. Of course, that means the other party must be wrong and lose. When they don’t get their own way, the parties escalate the conflict, often by threatening each other.

    Unfortunately, threats only make the conflict worse. Once we feel threatened, we go into a defensive mode that I think of as the 4Fs:

    Friend or Foe? Fight or Flight?

    First, we have to decide whether this conflict is with a friend or an enemy. For example, we may have a disagreement with our spouse about how to spend our monthly income, but we strive to maintain our relationship by searching for a mutually acceptable outcome through dialogue. Conversely, if a strange man comes up to us on a dark night and demands money, we instinctively take him as a potentially threatening foe.

    Once we have surmised the nature of the threat, we must then decide whether to stand and fight it, or to flee as fast as we can in the opposite direction. This is a complex calculation, with much risk for error. We may stand and fight a bigger foe and get our butts handed to us. We may flee from a flea and give it the power to dominate us. Many times, the risk of a wrong response causes us to do nothing, thereby hoping to avoid the threat altogether. In my work as a human resource consultant to organizations,

    I help people find a third way to resolve their conflicts – negotiation. It requires a willingness to engage in dialogue and find a mutually agreeable solution with the help of a third party. I try for a win-win solution in which both sides believe they are getting the best deal they can live with. Sometimes, it involves meeting halfway in a compromise. Other times it means coming up with an entirely new solution that neither party had identified initially, but both can embrace. It does not always work out amicably. The two parties may be so far apart and the actors so stubborn, no middle ground can be located upon which to build a win-win solution.

    As complicated as this is on an individual level, it becomes infinitely more so when societies and nations are collectively involved. As a nation faces a perceived threat, it must also weigh the same 4Fs in determining its response. We use diplomacy to resolve conflicts with friends. We flee conflicts in which we have no compelling interest or don’t think we can win by avoiding involvement from the start. When we decide to fight, we use military and economic weapons to attack our foes. This has been true throughout human history.

    Yet, our sense that human conflict is worsening rings true. What has changed is not the nature of conflict itself, but the negative consequences of our fight and flight responses. When nations respond incorrectly to perceived threats, the results can be horrifyingly destructive. Our sophistication in killing human life has reached a point where governments have thousands of methods at their disposal. Whereas in the past, a gentlemen’s duel might have ended two lives at most, we now slaughter life by the thousands. Thus, many more innocents are affected by today’s conflicts. The other factor that will only become more pronounced in the future is the sheer volume of conflicts that are occurring. As humans from diverse backgrounds come into contact more frequently, the chances for conflicts increase. These are fanned by modern media, which report on them around the globe in real time and provoke others to join the fray. In our global society, we simply cannot avoid people who are different than we are, with competing belief systems and interests. This could lead to a spiral of conflict and a state of permanent war that renews the threat of an all-out nuclear conflagration wiping out life on earth.

    Instead of proceeding down a path of mutually assured destruction, we must find a better alternative. We need to respect and tolerate our differences and work out our conflicts peacefully as global citizens through negotiation. We must learn to find in our enormous diversity the source of our own humanity. So if nations want to avoid the destructive consequences of conflict, they should stop seeing each other as enemies. Friends resolve their differences through peaceful negotiation; foes resort to war. We share one planet. It belongs to all of us. Get over trying to conquer it. That’s so 20h century.

    After the police beating of Rodney King sparked the worst riots in Los Angeles’ history, he famously challenged us with a simple question: “Can’t we all just get along?” Apparently not, at least until we learn to negotiate our conflicts.