26 November 2016

He's Dead

I ate corn flakes with sugar tonight. I did it to remember my abuelitos (grandparents). I don't think that they ever ate corn flakes with sugar, but whenever I was at their house, that was my standard breakfast. And because their home was the only place I ever ate it, it seemed fitting to do it tonight. I wonder how they would have felt today.

This blog exists because I love the Spanish language and culture. I love Spanish because it is part of my heritage, as the son of a Cuban exile. I started an email list to share Spanish phrases with friends in 2002. It has been a long time since I have done a Spanish phrase, but the cause of liberty for Cuba has never been far from my heart.

I woke up early this morning and noticed the headline that Castro had died. I tweeted the following:

I have been thinking about Castro a lot today. I think that this Miami Herald obituary does an excellent job of exploring Castro's life without pretending that he was a good person.

He was not.

Canada's Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, made one of the worst comments on Castro's death that I have read:
It is with deep sorrow that I learned today of the death of Cuba’s longest serving President.Fidel Castro was a larger than life leader who served his people for almost half a century. A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and healthcare of his island nation.While a controversial figure, both Mr. Castro’s supporters and detractors recognized his tremendous dedication and love for the Cuban people who had a deep and lasting affection for “el Comandante”.I know my father was very proud to call him a friend and I had the opportunity to meet Fidel when my father passed away. It was also a real honour to meet his three sons and his brother President Raúl Castro during my recent visit to Cuba.On behalf of all Canadians, Sophie and I offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and many, many supporters of Mr. Castro. We join the people of Cuba today in mourning the loss of this remarkable leader.
To say that Castro "served his people" as "Cuba's longest serving president" is a mind-numbingly stupid comment. As the Herald explained (emphasis added):
Millions cheered Fidel Castro on the day he entered Havana. Millions more fled the communist dictator’s repressive police state, leaving behind their possessions, their families, the island they loved and often their very lives. It’s part of the paradox of Castro that many people belonged to both groups.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/fidel-castro-en/article117186483.html#storylink=cpy
He was not an elected leader but:
He also was a ruthless dictator, the Maximum Leader who reneged on his promise of free elections, executed thousands of opponents, imprisoned tens of thousands, installed a Communist regime and made his island a pawn in the Cold War. His alliance with the Soviet Union brought the world to the brink of nuclear war in 1962.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/fidel-castro-en/article117186483.html#storylink=cpy
Castro did not have "dedication and love for the Cuban people," unless they adhered to:
"...an undemocratic government that represses nearly all forms of political dissent,” the independent group Human Rights Watch observed in 2008. “Cubans are systematically denied basic rights to free expression, association, assembly, privacy, movement, and due process of law.”

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/fidel-castro-en/article117186483.html#storylink=cpy
I'll conclude with some thoughts from the Wall Street Journal:
Castro’s Cuba exists today as a reminder of the worst of the 20th-century when dictators invoked socialist ideals to hammer human beings into nails for the state. Too many Western fellow-travelers indulged its fantasies as long as they didn’t have to live there. Perhaps the influence of Cuba’s exiles will be able, over time, to reseed the message of liberty on the island. But freedom starts by seeing clearly the human suffering that Fidel Castro wrought.

13 November 2016

My Answer

I've been thinking a lot about the turmoil that has followed the election. I've spoken to friends and others, some who are overjoyed and some who are deeply dismayed, and I've felt distressed by the divide. I have not felt either extreme. I'm very intrigued by the positive disruption that Trump may provide and also concerned about some of his proposals, but I don't feel fear or anger or joy. Maybe that's because I picked "none of the above" when the time came to vote. As I wrote the other day, I had accepted that either Trump or Clinton would win, with me supporting neither.


While in Church today, I read these words shared by a former leader of my Church, President Howard Hunter. He related a well-known story from the life of Jesus:
On one occasion while Jesus was teaching the people, a certain lawyer approached him and posed this question: “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus, the master teacher, replied to the man, who obviously was well-versed in the law, with a counter-question, “What is written in the law? how readest thou?” 
The man replied with resolute summary the two great commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.”
With approval Christ responded, “This do, and thou shalt live” (Luke 10:25–28).
I recognize that the fortunate circumstances of my life have provided me with many advantages and freed me from many worries. But that truth does not limit the truth of Christ's words to that lawyer (and all of us). My duty and honor is to love God, and to love my fellow man and woman. This leaves no room for hate or anger. To love is an activity that does not permit such emotional multitasking.

So that's my personal answer to this mess, and the standard against which I will judge my actions.

12 November 2016

Arrival

I tend to trust film critic reviews, at least in the aggregate. While I willingly suspend disbelief at the movies, and as a result may be more forgiving than many, when a film has positive reviews I often agree. For this reason, I was looking forward to seeing Arrival.

I was not disappointed. From a technical standpoint it was really well done. There are very good performances from the actors and it is visually enthralling. It is conceptually similar to another recent film that I really enjoyed, but is better. I don't want to say anymore that might give too much away.

One reviewer mentioned that this story was welcome given the tumult of the last week. I can't disagree. Even in the absence of that, there is real human truth in it that would be welcome at any time.

Several hours later, I continue to contemplate it and the deep feeling it prompted. It is a great piece of work, a meaningful expression of the power of storytelling. It's worth your time.

08 November 2016

Perspective

I'm watching early returns, and it's fascinating. At this point, there is a lot of time left and electoral history still favors Clinton. But what if Trump wins- what does it mean?

I didn't vote for Trump or Clinton, and by doing so I indicated a willingness to accept either candidate, while voicing my distaste for both. From the beginning (you can ask my family to verify) I have never feared either candidate. I have been concerned about certain implications, such as the Supreme Court under Clinton or a number of things under Trump, but I have never felt that our country was doomed in either case.

I have little patience for those who will attribute a Trump win, if it happens, to racism. There is an element of this behind some of his support, but it is so myopic to claim it can be attributed solely to that.

A Trump loss could be attributed to the failure of his message.

A Clinton loss should be attributed to the same failing.

Please avoid the urge to paint almost half of your fellow citizens by any broad brush. Don't rely on knee jerk analyses by people blinded by their own prejudice (and I'm speaking of both parties).

Whatever happens tonight, I continue to believe in a brighter tomorrow.

21 October 2016

Counting Votes

By this time, many of us are extremely tired of politics. The level of election fatigue we are experiencing is unprecedented. I've seen people take Facebook breaks, or wish they could mute everything political. I understand this feeling, but I have a different take on it. These feelings present a real opportunity. If enough of us are tired of the way this election has been handled, we should engage MORE, not LESS. Otherwise we will be back in the same situation in four years.

I understand why some would choose to support Clinton or Trump. I believe that you can make a moral and ethical case for why each candidate is the right choice. It really comes down to how you weight different priorities. For many Republicans, Trump represents the best option for preventing a Democratic takeover of the Supreme Court. For many Democrats, Hillary Clinton has the experience, credentials, and temperament to serve as President, representing many of the beliefs that are central to the party.

I happen to have different criteria than either of these positions, and as a result cannot support Trump or Clinton. So what do I intend to do on election day?

I will vote.

Since I find both of these candidates unacceptable, I think it is important to register my distaste with an officially counted vote for President. This limits my choices to one of several small party candidates or a registered write-in candidate. Up-and-coming candidate Evan McMullin is not an option because he is not a registered write-in candidate in Florida.

I will probably vote for Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party. I understand that this is a protest vote and that Johnson has no chance of winning. The Libertarian Party is a bit of a trainwreck, so this is not expressing my new party affiliation. However, my vote does need a home, and this is where it will probably go.

This brings us to an argument that we see often. Expressed by both Democrats and Republicans, it goes something like this:

"The winner will be either Clinton or Trump, so a vote for anyone other than Trump helps Clinton and a vote for anyone other than Clinton helps Trump."

I will vote for someone other than Trump or Clinton, understanding and accepting the statement above as fact. I don't think there is any reasonable scenario where Trump or Clinton is not president. Is it very likely that my vote, as someone who has voted Republican in every presidential election since I registered to vote, will help Hillary Clinton? It is.

But that does not mean that I should vote for Donald Trump.

The Republican Party has traditionally been a fair reflection of many of my political views. But the party is not my religion, it's politicians are not prophets, and its platform is not my doctrine. And during this electoral season, especially with Trump as nominee, the Party has moved away from me (and as a result, me from it).

I owe nothing to the Republican Party. I certainly owe nothing to Donald Trump. My vote is not something to be blindly bestowed on whichever candidate my party selects. The candidates job is to win that vote, through a combination of policy and demonstrated leadership. And neither major candidate as done so. I would be happy to discuss my specific concerns with anyone, but that's not the main purpose of this post.

As I said in an earlier post, I do not want Hillary Clinton to be President of the United States. But I am willing to accept that occurring if it means that a more effective and representative party emerges. For that to happen, Donald Trump has to lose, and badly. He will have himself to blame.

The Republican party needs to become something capable of winning presidential elections, or it needs to go away. I choose to use my vote to express that, and to me that counts for something.

07 October 2016

Reaping the Whirlwind

I wrote about why I didn't support Donald Trump back in March. That hasn't changed. I don't feel vindicated by the information that was published today about lewd comments Trump made years ago.  It is not surprising. Something like this was inevitable. So why should I feel good about being right? I find it depressing and completely predictable. And there is probably more to come.
It is too late at this point for the Republican Party to do anything about it. Elevating Pence to the top of the ticket? For what purpose? It's too late, and I'm no fan of Pence, whose acceptance of the role demonstrated poor judgement (or vain ambition). Why set him up to run in 2020? Just because he knows how to behave in public? No thanks.
2016 may well mark the end of the Republican Party as I've known it, or to the loyalty I've felt to it. This is saying something for someone who has often said he was "born Republican." Do GOP elites think that doing something drastic NOW will atone for this mess? To paraphrase a great spiritual leader, when it comes to repentance "the bandage must be as wide as the sore." The Republican Party must suffer through this to the bitter end.
I don't want Hillary Clinton to be President of the United States, but at this point she should win. And we deserve the result. I believe in our system, I believe in the Constitution. I believe in our country. I'll keep working hard, taking care of my family, and enjoying the rich relationships that continue to make life here beautiful and worthwhile. I have a lot to be grateful for.

03 October 2016

What I Believe, Part 1

I believe in Free Trade. I believe that the net benefits of free trade outweigh the costs. I think this has been demonstrated academically, and it makes intuitive sense. Pablo Fajgelbaum of the University of California, Los Angeles, and Amit Khandelwal, of Columbia University (from The Economist, and cited in this post from Tyler Cowen): 

...in an average country, people on high incomes would lose 28% of their purchasing power if borders were closed to trade. But the poorest 10% of consumers would lose 63% of their spending power, because they buy relatively more imported goods. The authors find a bias of trade in favour of poorer people in all 40 countries in their study, which included 13 developing countries. 
There is a negative impact on low-tech firms, but the firms that survive become more dynamic: 
An in-depth study of European industry by Nicholas Bloom, of Stanford University, Mirko Draca of Warwick University and John Van Reenen of the LSE found that import competition from China led to a decline in jobs and made life harder for low-tech firms in affected industries. But it also forced surviving firms to become more innovative: R&D spending, patent creation and the use of information technology all increased, as did total factor productivity. 
Neither major-party candidate in the presidential election is very supportive of free trade, with Trump being in favor of eliminating some existing trade deals like NAFTA. Mary Anastasia O'Grady explains how much of what Trump has said about NAFTA is incorrect:
Mr. Trump gave a quick nod to one genuine U.S. disadvantage during the debate when he talked about cutting U.S. corporate tax rates to spur investment at home. But his main message was that under NAFTA Mexico is “stealing” U.S. jobs. In fact, an interconnected North American economy has made U.S. manufacturing globally competitive. U.S. companies source components from Mexico and Canada and add value in innovation, design and marketing. The final outputs are among the most high-quality, low-price products in the world. U.S. automotive competitiveness is highly dependent on global free trade. According to the Mexico City-based consulting firm De la Calle, Madrazo, Mancera, 37% of the U.S.’s imported auto components came from Mexico and Canada in 2015. This sourcing from abroad is important to good-paying U.S. auto-assembly jobs. But parts also flow the other way. U.S. parts manufacturers sent 61% of their exports to Mexico and Canada in 2015. 
As a parent, I want my children to succeed. But I want this to happen in a way that prepares them for the real world, a competitive and dynamic world that owes them nothing. We don't help our industries by sheltering them from competition, and we may harm our own citizens in the process. Trade restrictions are almost always worse for American industry than it is for the industries from the countries we seek to deal with. One way to level the playing field is to stop playing favorites.

12 July 2016

Belonging

I wrote this a few weeks ago but neglected to upload it to Blogger. I'm traveling back to my family after a short business trip to Toronto and the thoughts feel as relevant as ever. Here goes:


A few weeks ago I listened to an interview of author Sebastain Junger by Tim Ferriss. Junger spent time talking about his new book, Tribe, which I have begun to read. In the interview, and what I've read so far of the book, Junger spends time considering the implications of how our social structures have changed, and not for the better. We lack the kind of community connections that have fostered societal accountability and unity. This lack of tribe, or community, has led to some people feeling so alienated and disconnected that they commit terrible crimes, such as mass shootings, which are truly anti-social at their very core. I am looking forward to spending more time on the book in the next few weeks.

Today's thoughts on the subject were prompted when I decided to close my eyes on a flight (we're on a family trip) and listen to some of the music from the tv show LOST. The song, "Life and Death" (actually an arrangement by Paul Cardall inspired by music from the show),  made me think about what that show was about, really, and why it was so impactful for me.

Much of our initial interest in the show (speaking of myself, Lacy, and other friends who followed it from the beginning) was in the mysteries it proposed. They were very enthralling, and answers were teased out over time in bits and pieces. Eventually, the connections and relationships between the characters were what truly sustained the show, at least for me.

For some people, the final season of the show was a waste. They devoted an entire season to off-island narratives that we came to understand were a depiction of some after-life, in-between place where people go to find the ones they love and belong with and to. It was an interesting choice, and I understand why some people were frustrated by questions left unanswered.

I thought it was perfect. As I sit here on an airplane with the most important people in my life, I feel deep gratitude for the relationships that we have. In addition to them, my other family, my good friends, and other loved ones constitute the wealth of this life. Why wouldn't that be the most real thing that mattered for the disparate characters from lost? In the end, I don't think I'll be too concerned about historical patterns in the stock market or other temporal matters. A tribe, a family, these relationships, are what remains when our loved ones leave us, and what we take when we go.

A central tenet of my faith is the eternal nature of our souls and the continuation of family relationships. It won't really matter exactly what we did together, just that we were together. And that we gave our time, our most precious commodity, our real wealth, to the people that we love.

It's tempting to focus on things that have no connection to these most important connections. I have no emotional energy to devote to the presidential race or to other similar issues, at least not at the expense of the people that I care about. It's not apathy, and it doesn't mean ignoring the need to help others. Doing so enriches our most important connections. What I mean is putting my resources where they will have the greatest impact and do the most good.

Today's random thought, brought to you by music from the tv show LOST.

01 April 2016

Line by Line

As the election season rolls on, we have to make reassessments.
Perhaps our earlier convictions are modified by events.
Republicans, facing an important election, need to consolidate support.
In this blog I have expressed unwillingness to support Donald Trump.
Looks like I was wrong.

Friends of mine may doubt my sanity, but I don't think I could vote for Hillary.
On the other hand, Trump will probably moderate a lot when he wins the nomination.
Others may doubt this, but I have to disagree.
Looking at his background, Trump is the guy to right the ship.
Seems pretty clear at this point.


31 March 2016

A Wandering Path

I was very moved by this article- http://features.texasmonthly.com/editorial/the-reckoning/. It is a lengthy profile of a woman, Claire Wilson, who was shot by sniper Marc Whitman at the University of Texas in 1966.

Her life, and how it was affected by that horrible tragedy, is full of sadness and beauty. I was especially impressed by the faith she found afterward.
As a person of faith, I'm heartened by the strength and comfort she found in seeking a relationship with  God in her life. I have tried to do the same during difficult times in my life, though I don't think my trials come close to what she has experienced.
I'm glad that I could learn her story, and in some small way mourn with her. That is the commitment I have made as a Christian, "to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort."
I pray that she can find continued hope and peace.

16 March 2016

Fear not

The outcome in today's Florida's primary was very frustrating.


I'll say what I've told my kids in the past few days:

I believe in our institutions. 
I believe in checks and balances.
I believe in goodness.
I believe the American people are more alike than it seems, especially when you strip away false dichotomies and political semantics.

No matter what happens in November, and who wins, I will go to work, exercise, enjoy my family, attend my church, and serve my community. 

I love my country. I am so fortunate to be an American, right now, today. My best days are ahead of me.

02 March 2016

Trumpin'

I spent last night in Tallahassee, FL, about a 10 minute walk from the State Capitol. I had a feeling in my short time walking near the statehouse that I have also felt in Washington DC. Government, it's buildings, monuments, it's scale, is impressive. But it also depresses me a little. 

Walk down the streets surrounding the Capitol and you find, not only government buildings, but lobbyists, trade groups, and hundreds of other organizations that feed like remoras off of government. I'm not saying we don't need such things. There are causes that I care about that rely on such entities to accomplish important things.

But I wish we didn't need them. I wish government played a simpler, more straightforward role, instead of so much of it being self-perpetuating. Wouldn't it be nice to start over? To dissect the apparati of government, both official and ancillary, and just keep what we "really" need? I truly believe that similar feelings fuel a lot of the fervor for Donald Trump. Of course there are elements of racism and bigotry among his supporters. Prejudice is common, and comes in many forms. But it's clear that a lot of people are just sick of bloated and unresponsive government. They want more, hence the love of Trump (and to some extent Bernie Sanders). It's not about policy. Peggy Noonan explains it really well here.

I have empathy for these folks. But I also believe in politics, and compromise. I will never get everything that I want politically. Maybe I shouldn't (don't tell my wife, but I'm not always right). I have found movements like the Tea Party (and people like Ted Cruz) unpersuasive because their unwillingness to comprise builds greater division and ultimately less productive outcomes.

In case I need to say it, I don't support Donald Trump. I believe he is the wrong choice for president of the United States. However, it does seem likely that he will be the Republican nominee.
I am among the many who have been surprised by Donald Trump's political success. I thought he would hit a (lower) ceiling, or that he would say something inflammatory and lose support. Of course, he has said many, many inflammatory and offensive things, with only positive impact on his levels of support.

You don't have to search hard for commentary on Trump and his "unfitness" for office. I've enjoyed a few, including this one:

Is Trump a Fascist? (Douthat, Dec 2015) 

I've heard some say that Trump's rhetoric is an electoral tactic and that he will change if elected. That might be true. I think Trump is an opportunist (not an evil thing by itself) and I don't know that he believes everything that he has said. But I believe that voting for someone because they might end up being less hateful and extreme is a terrible rationale.

Politics matters, and I agree with David Brooks' column from several days ago. Politicians change. They say what they need to say to get votes, but in the end we usually end up with the person we thought we had supported. Maybe they disappoint us, as Bush did with domestic fiscal policy or Obama has with his executive orders, but they were still clearly the people they had been when they ran for office. 

Would I want to work with or for Donald Trump? No. Would I feel comfortable as the counter-party in a business deal? No. So in addition to everything else he has said and done, for that factor alone I would not support him.

I've been supporting Marco Rubio since an event I attended in June 2015 (photo proof below). 



He's not a perfect candidate (there isn't one), but of all the candidates he is the one that I feel most comfortable supporting. I am a Republican, and Sanders' economic fairytales and Clinton's ethical track record make them both unacceptable for me. There are other Republicans I could support, such as Kasich, but Rubio seemed best positioned and I thought his youth was a strength. Although he is often identified with the Tea Party, I watched his senate campaign closely. I noticed that he did not refuse Tea Party support, but he also did not claim the Tea Party title for himself. His stance on immigration is politically problematic, but meaningful immigration reform is impossible without some level of compromise. There's that politics thing again.

He has to win Florida to have any chance at the nomination. I don't know if he will. If he doesn't, it will mean that Trump did and the nomination may seem inevitable at that point.

I don't like politics, and often don't like politicians, but by voting for someone I am expressing a wish to hire them for the job in question. Politics is the job, and I wouldn't hire Trump. I hope you don't either.

P.S. I have little patience for people who threaten to leave the country if Trump is elected. I have faith in our institutions and the separation of powers. If you don't, perhaps a move to Canada is a good choice. In my opinion, it's a cowardly one.

16 February 2016

Envision Alachua

I attended a meeting this evening on a major proposed change to the Alachua County comprehensive plan, spearheaded by Plum Creek through its Envision Alachua initiative. I had hoped to be able to speak to the County Commission, but as the 71st person to sign up it became clear it would not occur tonight. I hope to be able to make comments on Thursday.


I'm not an expert on these issues, so I doubt anything that I write here will be very profound.
The Envision Alachua initiative has been through an incredible public process, included many revisions and changes, and the proposal is now being considered for transmittal to relevant state agencies for review and approval.

I support the Envision Alachua plan. I believe it to be a viable plan for providing economic growth opportunities and the potential for more geographical economic balance to our community.

I live and work in the wealthiest part of Alachua County. We have some of the best schools, lowest crime, and highest home values, all focused in the western part of the county. This seems unlikely to change, and to some extent the rich will get richer. But what about the rest of the county? I don't believe that my good fortune absolves me of concern for the rest of my community.

What will it take to provide the eastern side of Alachua County with the opportunities enjoyed by those who live in the west? What about communities like Hawthorne, which are clearly dying, if we don't think creatively about future economic growth and development?

In Plum Creek, Alachua County has an interested private landowner that is willing to meet broad requirements to develop lands they own, providing significant conservation lands in exchange for concentrated development. It has been mentioned that the openness and thoroughness of the Envision Alachua initiative is almost unprecedented.

The main controversy is that the proposed development area will exist outside of existing urban clusters, as determined by the current comprehensive plan. Much of the opposition to the proposal is because it is against the rules that the county created as part of its state-mandated comprehensive plan. So Plum Creek is asking the county to amend those rules for the specific sectors it has identified. These sectors are where the development will occur, large areas in currently rural parts of the county.

Other opposition seems to come from concerns that Plum Creek will sell their land to developers once the sector plan is approved. So what? This is the right of a landowner, and just because Plum Creek is large, and a publicly traded company, they have become some kind of corporate boogeyman upon which the fears of some can be projected.

For economic opportunity to balance across the county, we need eastern development to serve as a magnet for jobs, commerce, and families. This plan presents that opportunity. And Plum Creek can't do that independently. Of course they will sell parts of their land to home builders and other entities interested in developing those parcels.

Nothing is guaranteed. I'm a business owner, and although we plan for the long-term, we understand the need to adapt policies and strategies for what actually occurs. They have done a remarkable job of planning, allowing for the real-world adaptation that will be necessary in the future. Much of the opposition of county staff comes from Plum Creek's inability to state with certainty things that can't be adequately foreseen, like transportation and infrastructure needs, not to mention the timing of jobs and commercial activity.

I wish I could post David Coffey's remarks, given at the conclusion of Plum Creek's presentation. He expressed so much of what I feel Envision Alachua represents: definite conservation of land, improved economic opportunity for the most depressed area of the county, and the chance for long-term growth which could provide economic viability for Alachua County for the remainder of my life and much of my children's lives.

15 September 2015

Don't Yearn for Bern

I have plenty of reasons to select a different candidate to support than Bernie Sanders. On some level I admire his ideological consistency, as it seems he has not altered his beliefs to seek higher office. So good for him, but not good enough for me.


The greatest reason that I see for supporting other candidates is his spending plan and the impossibility of paying for it.  The Wall Street Journal has a nice analysis of the spending proposal and the dramatic deficit it would create.

http://www.wsj.com/articles/price-tag-of-bernie-sanders-proposals-18-trillion-1442271511

There are ALWAYS unintended consequences of government action. We should carefully examine the potential pitfalls of any legislation, and Sanders' proposals are full of them.

He will continue to find support among progressives who felt let down by a president they consider too moderate, too friendly with Wall Street and corporate America.