THE MARCH OF THE ROBOTS HAS ONLY JUST BEGUN!

Today, I added “Rise of the Robots”, by Martin Ford, to my Books That I Recommend tab.  Mr. Ford is a technology entrepreneur and a Futurist.  As I begin this post, there are two points that I should make: 1. The terms Robots or Technology both include Robots, Algorithm-reading machines, and other forms of Automation; 2. Moore’s Law, an off-handed comment in 1965, which predicted that technology will double in both speed and capacity every couple of years, has been relevant ever since.  That means that speed and capacity grow exponentially!

Whatever happened to secretaries and office pools, or afternoon newspapers?  Why do some old downtown bank branches have many more teller windows than are ever opened?  Your desktop word processor made clerical workers unnecessary, and who needs the afternoon newspaper when CNN, and the rest of the 24/7 news cycle is more up-to-date?  And, many teller positions became unnecessary, once customers began to use ATMs and on-line banking from their home.

Consider IBM’s Watson Computer that beat Chess Grand Champion Gary Kasparov, and then went-on to beat Ken Jennings, the All-Time Unbeatable Jeopardy Champion—twice.  By 2013, Watson—now twice as fast—has been assisting the Cleveland Clinic and University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Clinic diagnose problems and refine patient cancer treatment plans.  Watson can sift through the 9,000 global medical journals, building its resource database, at light speed.  No group of physicians can match that!

So far, robotics is only considered a threat by those in the industrial sector, where different versions install car doors, lift heavy aircraft engines into place, and apply paint to a varied range of home appliances.  Robots are best-aligned with routine jobs, and are often regarded as potential threats to low-end jobs such as monotonous warehouse or assembly lines jobs.  But, they have mastered various high-end jobs, as well.

Algorithm-reading machines have demonstrated that they can sort through voluminous boxes of documents, weeding-out those that will be relevant to coming court cases, faster than any junior attorney, and more cheaply.  Radiologists too might also feel the threat since computers can read charts just as well as them, and they don’t sleep or ask for a salary.  Writing newspaper articles are already among algorithm-reading machines’ everyday jobs, while composing symphonies are still in the test stages.

Back in early 19th Century England, the Luddites rebelled against the outsourcing of weaving to India; however, in time, these workers found employment in other occupations. This time, jobs at all levels—even burger flippers—are slowly being replace by robots, and in multiple industries.

We often think of Amazon as a retail corporation, which has been causing many retail companies to fold; but, it is also the largest player in cloud computing, and it has a robotics companies that sells its products globally.

Initially, many people thought that some people would still be able to work with, and “supervise”, the robots.  The article (at bottom) describes a woman who is currently doing that at Amazon; however, she realizes that she is actually teaching a robot to do her warehouse job!

In the book, Mr. Ford draws from his own technology background, history and very sound economics.  Over time, as more and more businesses automate, eventually they reverse the outsourcing to lower pay-scale countries, bringing the work back. Basically, many robots work more cheaply than overseas low pay-scale workers!

Many Americans have insufficient retirement funds set aside, and much of credit had been tapped-out in The Great Recession (4Q07-1Q09).  As unemployment increases, college graduates and middle-income employees displace minimum-wage workers.  Also, if banks continue to make bad loans, there could be anther banking crisis.

China cannot become the global economic locomotive, since its economy is 65% based on export.  But, to where?  As the number of workers who are unemployed, or underemployed increases, there will be few consumers left to buy anything other than the bare necessities.  Benevolent business owners who refuse to automate, and keep their current labor forces, they will lose business to the competition, which can undercut them on price.  But even there, without middle-income consumers, who will businesses sell their products to?

Mr. Ford does offer some possible solutions, such as a Guaranteed Income Credit; however, they will take a cooperative bipartisan Congress, and a rational President, to pass any such legislation into law.  Customer-interface businesses, such as plumbers, electricians, and roofers, would be the last to automate.  The most vacant professional positions are nurses, since they provide one-on-one patient care.  But, even these business and occupations cannot prosper in a vacuum!

Now, none of this is going to occur this year, or next, but like ATMs and desktop computers, the range of robots will infiltrate the workforce gradually.  So, if you are currently employed, begin to separate yourself from the pack.  Get your credit straightened out, and build that retirement fund.  And, as I wrote in my last post, add some focus on Technology and Health Care in any investment funds that you might have.

Consider picking-up Rise of the Robots at your Library, or buy the paperback version.  Hopefully, we might see a new day–one of cooperation and common sense–in Congress.  There are solutions; but, it would help to have the whole thing sorted out ahead of time

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SINCE PEOPLE LIVE LONGER TODAY THAN IN PREVIOUS GENERATIONS, OUR MONEY WILL NEED MORE GROWTH IN ORDER TO LAST AS LONG! (Part Two)

This is the second part of yesterday’s discussion.  Since life expectancy has gradually lengthened over the past decades, retirees, or those soon to be, should not be too conservative with their investments. Forty years ago, the rule of thumb was that the bond portion of your portfolio should approximate your age. But, that’s no longer the case.

Today, if a person lives to be 65 years old, thy have a reasonable chance of living past 80, on average.  That means that you will have to stretch the money you have set aside, to supplement Social Security and pension, if any, over a greater length of time.  Also, as all seniors know, Health Care Inflation is a good bit higher than the normal Consumer Price Index. Besides investing more in stocks, consider those industries where the consistent growth has been.

As you can see in the Break-down of the S & P. Index by industry, the three largest “industrial sectors” are: Information Technology; Financials and Health Care.  Also, as noted in Part One, five of the ten largest companies in the index are in the IT/Technology Industry, with only two—Apple and Microsoft—being just over 40 years old.  All the others are much younger.

Now, let’s assume that your current portfolio is nicely balanced, between stocks and bond, and the percentage invested in the various industries matches the S & P reasonably well.  Now, consider how your life has changed from some years ago: less trips to the bank, since you use an ATM at the supermarket and on-line banking; keep up with friends and family by Email; order prescriptions and other things on-line; changed a doctor’s appointment on their web site, greater use of cable network on shows on-demand, etc.  In that sentence, I specifically cited IT/Technology and Health Care products.  And, that’s just the beginning!

Medical science and the overall Health Care industry have made strides in developing new medicines, hospital equipment and other health care needs.  Sure, they’re expensive, and Congress hasn’t been helping; but, so what if it keeps you around longer?  Do you have any options?

IT/Technology and Health Care seem to have been consistently good performers over the years. (I will show you an interactive chart on this.)
The Financial Industry, the second largest industry, has not been as consistent. Besides being somewhat volatile, it has to deal with the booms and busts of both the domestic and global marketplace, and it rightfully must he heavily regulated.  And, don’t forget its role in The Great Recession (4Q07-1Q09).

A certain portion of the other seven industries do belong in your portfolio, and how much depends upon your risk tolerance.  Consumer discretionary, and the like (retail), are being sucked dry by Amazon.  Boeing comes out with a new jumbo jet every fifteen years, or so.  Coke and Kellogg’s haven’t transformed, other than new marketing jingles.  And the last four display their relative importance to the economy by their place at the bottom of the list.

Index Break-down by Industry Size
Information Technology 22.26%
Financials 14.55

Health Care 14.49
Consumer Discretionary 12.27
Industrials 10.27
Consumer Staples 9.05
Energy 6.04
Utilities 3.15
Real Estate 2.91
Materials 2.84

Now, suppose that you wanted to enliven your portfolio—adding a bit more growth to match your longevity—exchange-traded funds (ETFs) are securities that duplicate a particular stock or bond index.  Sector SPDRs are the oldest brand of ETFs, and the company offers one that would only include those companies in the S & P 500 Index, that are in any of the particular industries.  For instance, add a slice of IT/Technology (SYMBOL: XLK) and/or Health Care (XLV). Or, someone else might prefer Financials (XLF), or some of the others.

On the Sector Tracker interactive site, you can check the performance of the various Sector SPDRs over various time frames (small white boxes toward the top).  On the Sector SPDR web site, you can select any of the sectors by just clicking on the blue box, in the upper left. From there, you can down load the Prospectus, the Fact Sheet—which I find quite helpful—and other literature on each ETF.  I have attached Fact Sheets for the IT/Technology and Health Care SPDRs.

Be sure to due your homework, consult with whomever you seek investment advice, and give some serious consideration before adding these ETFs, and by how much. Leave a Comment if I can be of any help.  Check your portfolio regularly, if you can, to monitor whether it still meets you needs, as structured!

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ROBERT MUELLER: THE FILES ARE MOUNTING UP!

Satire from The Borowitz Report–from The New Yorker

Mueller Rents Giant Warehouse to Store Evidence Against Trump

Photograph by SWNS / Alamy

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Robert Mueller is renting a massive warehouse facility in suburban Virginia to accommodate the approximately forty cubic tons of evidence against Donald Trump that the independent counsel’s investigation is generating on a daily basis.

Employing over two thousand workers in a warehouse the size of seven football fields, the Mueller investigation has become the fastest-growing sector of the U.S. economy, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Working twelve-hour shifts, the members of Mueller’s evidence-storage team rarely leave the warehouse, where the punishing task of filing mountains of evidence against Trump proceeds around the clock.

“It’s like a city all its own,” one warehouse worker said. “There are people working in the Michael Flynn section who’ve never met the people working in the Paul Manafort section.”

While the warehouse workers are well paid, there have been issues with burnout. “The team in charge of filing all of Donald Trump, Jr.,’s different explanations of his meeting with the Russians had to take time off,” one worker said.

As gargantuan as the storage space appears to be, an aide to Mueller said that the investigation would soon be seeking a second, even larger warehouse. “We need a place to put all the Jared stuff,” the aide said.

  • Andy Borowitz is the New York Times best-selling author of “The 50 Funniest American Writers,” and a comedian who has written for The New Yorker since 1998. He writes the Borowitz Report, a satirical column on the news, for newyorker.com.

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SINCE PEOPLE LIVE LONGER TODAY THAN IN PREVIOUS GENERATIONS, OUR MONEY WILL NEED MORE GROWTH IN ORDER TO LAST AS LONG! (Part One)

Traditionally, people have been advised to have a balance, between stocks and bonds, in their retirement funds, with the bond component gradually increasing over time.  And that hasn’t changed; but, the rate at which bonds increase should be slower today.  Over the past decade, inflation has been virtually nonexistent; however, it will return at some point and, as most senior citizens know, health care inflation never really went away!

This post is intended to lay the groundwork for my next one, which will offer some ideas as to how to include a more growth-oriented component to your portfolio.  It is not meant to offer investment advice, per se, but to provide some ideas as to a forward-thinking way of adding to the growth in your portfolio.

These ideas are primarily intended for the hands-on, fairly open-minded investor.  Before you act upon the: study them; confer with whomever you see investment advice from and, if you do act, perhaps do so gradually.

Let me explain the stock market through the Standard and Poor’s 500 Index, which is composed of 500 large company stocks.  Since there are 4,333 publicly traded stocks in the U. S.—between the exchanges and the rarely traded “Pink Sheets”—the 500 stocks in the     S & P, at 11.5% of the total, is a substantial statistical sample. The stocks represent ten different industries, as cited below:

Index Break-down by Industry Size

Information Technology 22.26%
Financials 14.55                                                                   Health Care 14.49
Consumer Discretionary 12.27
Industrials 10.27
Consumer Staples 9.05
Energy 6.04
Utilities 3.15
Real Estate 2.91
Materials 2.84

The stocks represented in most indices are weighted, according to their “equity capitalization,” or relative market value.  Please note that the ten largest companies, in the S & P 500, represent 18.85% of the whole Index, and five of the top ten are in Technology:

Ten Largest 10 Companies:Apple Inc. 3.61%
Microsoft Corporation 2.56
Amazon.com Inc. 1.85
Facebook Inc. Class A 1.72
Johnson & Johnson 1.72
Exxon Mobil Corporation 1.65
JPMorgan Chase & Co. 1.56
Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Class B 1.55
Alphabet Inc. Class A 1.33
Alphabet Inc. Class C 1.30

Total for Top 10 Holdings 18.85%

Over the years, most investment advisors have shown clients the Break-Down by Industry and, perhaps, suggested a little more (“overweighting”) or a little less (“underweighting”) in several of the industries.  Those incremental changes, never more than a percent or two, were mostly to show that they added value; but, in the long run, the recommended strategy was pretty much to maintain the status quo.

Let me emphasize the preponderance of Technology in the S & P 500 Index of the largest companies in the nation, and keep in mind that only Apple and Microsoft are over 40 years old, and just barely, while the rest are much newer companies.  And, while Amazon is considered a Retail company, it owns a robotics company, and it is also the largest source of cloud computing—two of the hottest areas within the technology sector.

The Technology and Health Care industries have been the two consistently best performers in the Index. The Financial industry is the second largest; however, it has to deal with: the ups and downs of the domestic economy, it must rightfully be heavily regulated, it has to respond to the booms and busts of the global marketplace and, for the most part, the financial sector adds very little to the overall economy!

In my next post, I will suggest why the investor, who is willing to take-on moderate risk, should consider adding more Health Care and Technology to their investment portfolios.

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OUT OF THE LOOP!

Although we had our power back on, following Hurricane Irma, within 36 hours, we just began access to TV, our landline and WiFi about NOON today.   So, I hope to have my blog back in action, possibly today, or perhaps tomorrow.  The WiFi is extremely slow, however, since everyone must be trying to get back at the same time.

In the interim, I wish to share this Feel-Good Story, from the Huffington Post.

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The Week My Husband Left And My House Was Burgled I Secured A Grant To Begin The Project That Became BRCA1
14/09/2017 17:19 | Updated 2 days ago

Dr Mary-Claire King
American Cancer Society Professor at the University of Washington in Seattle
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The week of April Fools’ Day of 1981 began badly. That Sunday night my husband told me he was leaving me. He had fallen in love with one of his graduate students, and they were headed back to the tropics the next day.

I was completely devastated. It was totally unexpected. 33 years later, I still don’t know what to say about it. I was just beside myself.

He gave me a new vacuum cleaner to soften the blow.

It was the middle of spring quarter at Berkeley, so the next morning I had my class, as usual. And I had to either teach it or explain why not. It was far easier to teach, so I dropped off our daughter, Emily – who was five and three-quarters at the time – at kindergarten, along with her faithful Aussie, her Australian shepherd, who went everywhere with her. I headed down to school and taught my class.

As I was leaving, my department chairman caught up with me. He said, “Come into my office.”

I said, “Fine.” (I had hoped to escape.)

I went into his office, and he said, “I wanted to tell you, I’ve just learned you’ve been awarded tenure.” And of course I burst into tears.

Now, this department chairman, bless him, was a gentleman a full generation older than me. He had three grown sons. He had no daughters. He had certainly never had a young woman assistant professor in his charge before.

And he took my shoulders, and he stepped back, and he said, “No one’s ever reacted like that before.” He said, “Sit down, sit down. What’s the matter?”

I said, “It’s not the tenure. It’s that my husband told me last night he was leaving me.”

He looked at me, opened the drawer of his desk, pulled out a huge bottle of Jack Daniels, poured me a half a glass of it, and said, “Drink this. You’ll feel better.” It was 9:30 on Monday morning. So I did – and I did. I made it through the day, got sober, and around 3:30 headed back up the hill to pick up Emily from school. She hopped in the car with Ernie, her dog, and we drove home.

We got home, walked up the stairs, opened the house… and it was absolute chaos.

Someone had broken in. Everything was completely trashed. In retrospect what must have happened was that my then husband had often worked at home, and whoever had been casing the neighbourhood must have left our house aside because he was often there. But that day, of course, he hadn’t been there, so we were vulnerable, and we were robbed.

So I called 911, and a young Berkeley police officer came up and went through the house. Of course, I had no idea what had been taken and what hadn’t, because my husband had taken many things with him on Sunday night. I wasn’t sure what should still be there or not. I explained that to Officer Rodriguez, and he said, “As you figure it out, make a list.”

Then he went upstairs with Emily. They opened the door of her room, and it was eighteen inches deep of just chaos. The bed had been pulled apart, curtains pulled down, drawers all dumped out. Emily -five and three-quarters – looked at Officer Rodriguez and said, “I can’t tell if the burglars were in here or not.” And Officer Rodriguez, to his eternal credit, did not crack a smile. He handed her his card and said, “Young lady, if you discover that anything is missing, please give me a call.”

So now it’s Monday night. I was scheduled later that week to give a presentation in Washington, D.C., to the National Institutes of Health. The way this worked in those days was, if you were a young professor, applying for the first time for a large grant, you were quite frequently asked to come to the NIH and give what was called a “reverse site visit.” You’d explain what you planned to do, and then it would be decided if you were going to be granted quite a substantial amount of money over five years.

It was terribly important. I had not done this before. It was brand-new. It was going to be my first large grant on my own. The plan had been for Emily to stay with her dad and for my mom to come out, arriving the next day – Tuesday – to help out. That had seemed, at the time, like a great plan.

My mom, who was living in Chicago, obviously didn’t know anything about the events of the previous 24 hours, so I thought, I’ll just wait and explain it to her when she gets here. It seemed far better than calling her at what, by now, was quite late in Chicago because of all the business with the burglary and the police and all that.

So the next day, we picked up my mom at San Francisco Airport, and driving back to Berkeley, I explained to her what happened on Sunday. She was very, very upset. She said, “I can’t believe you’ve let this family come apart. I can’t believe this child will grow up without a father” (which was never true and has never been true since).

urbanisme

“How could you do this? How could you not put your family first?” Emily was sitting there in the car.

And, “I just cannot imagine,” she said. “I’m going to go talk to Rob.”

I said, “He’s back in Costa Rica.”

“This just can’t be,” and she became more and more upset. By the time we got home to Berkeley, she was extremely agitated. Emily was terrified. It was clearly not going to work for her to care for Emily.

After a couple of hours, my mom said, “I’m going home. I just can’t imagine that this has happened. You must stay here and take care of your child. How can you even think of running off to the East Coast at a time like this?”

To put it into context now, years later, my father had died not long before, after my mom had nursed him for more than 20 years. Just two months after this visit, my mother was diagnosed with epilepsy. So, in context, her reaction was not as irrational as it seemed in that moment, but at the time, of course, it was devastating. So I said, “Okay. You’re right. I’ll arrange for you to have a ticket to go home tomorrow. We’ll take you out to the airport, and I’ll cancel the trip.”

I called my mentor, who had been my postdoc adviser at UC San Francisco until just a couple of years before. He was already in Washington, D.C., by happenstance at an oncology meeting, and I said, “I’m not going to be able to come,” and I explained briefly what had happened. Of course, he knew me well. And he just listened to all this. He had grown daughters and said, “Look, come.”

I said, “I can’t.”

He said, “Bring Emily. Emily and I know each other. I’ll sit with her while you’re giving your presentation.” He had grandchildren of his own.

He said, “It will be fine.”

I said, “She doesn’t have a ticket.”

He said, “As soon as we hang up the phone, I’m going to call the airline and get her a ticket. Pick up the ticket at the airport tomorrow when you take your mom back. It’ll be on the same flight as yours. Everything will be fine.”
I said, “You sure?”

And he said, “Yes. I have to call the airline now. Good night,” and he hung up. (In those days it was very easy to rearrange tickets.)

I arranged for my mother to have a ticket to go back to Chicago. Her flight was at 10 o’clock in the morning. So we left Berkeley in plenty of time, in principle, to get to San Francisco Airport. But it was one of those days where the Bay Bridge was just totally jammed up. It was a horrible drive across. What should have been a drive of 45 minutes took an hour and 45 minutes. When we finally arrived, my mom’s flight was about to leave in 15 minutes, Emily’s and my flight was going to leave in 45 minutes, and in front of the counter to pick up tickets was a long, long line. And, of course, we had our suitcases. My mom was carrying hers, and she was already fairly frail.

So Emily and my mother and I were standing in the line, and I said, “Mom, can you make it down to your plane on your own?” Bear in mind, there were no checkpoints in those days, but there were, of course, very long corridors.

She said, “No.”

So I said to Emily, “I’m going to need to go with Grandmom down to her plane.”

And my mother shrieked, “You can’t leave that child here alone!” (Fair enough.)

Suddenly this unmistakable voice above and behind me said, “Emily and I will be fine.”

I turned around to the man standing behind us, and I said, “Thank you.”

My mother looked at me and said, “You can’t leave Emily with a total stranger.”

And I said, “Mom, if you can’t trust Joe DiMaggio, who can you trust?”

joe di maggio

Joe DiMaggio, a famous American baseball player, who just like us was standing there, waiting in line – looked at me, looked at my mother, and gave Emily a huge grin. And then he put out his hand and said, “Hi, Emily, I’m Joe.”

Emily shook his hand, and she said, “Hello, Joe, I’m Emily.”

And I said, “Mom, let’s go.”

So my mother and I headed down the hall. We got to the plane, and my mother got on fine. It was probably 25 minutes by the time I got back, and by that time Emily and Joe were all the way up at the front chatting with each other by the counter.

Joe DiMaggio had wrangled Emily’s ticket for her. She was holding it. He was clearly waiting to go to his plane until I got back. I looked at him, and I said, “Thank you very much.” And he said, “My pleasure.”

He headed off down the hall. He turned right. He gave me this huge salute and wave and a tremendous grin and went off to his own plane.

Emily and I went to Washington, DC. The interview went fine. I got the grant, and that was the beginning of the work that now, 33 years later, has become the story of inherited breast cancer and the beginning of the project that became BRCA1.

marie claire king

This story is cross-posted from The Moth’s latest book for a special edition of HuffPost UK’s Life Less Ordinary blog series. You can buy the book here and listen to Mary-Claire tell her story live here.

Life Less Ordinary is a weekly blog series from HuffPost UK that showcases weird and wonderful life experiences. If you’ve got something extraordinary to share please email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com with LLO in the subject line. To read more from the series, visit our dedicated page.

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AMERICA NEEDS A CAPABLE DIPLOMAT—NOT A BUNCH OF AMATEURS!

Considering the way Diplomacy is being handled by the Trump Regime, its easy to understand why the rest of the world seems to view the goings on at the White House as being somewhat haphazard, at best.  America presents itself to the world through its diplomacy, starting with the President and his State Department.  With Donald Trump, and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson; however, its more or less: Here we are!

Prior to January, Secretary Tillerson was the CEO of Exxon-Mobil.  And, If his heart is not still back in the Oil Patch, it’s certainly not into diplomacy!  In Donald Trump’s original budget proposal, he had intended to slash the State Department by 31%, and Tillerson didn’t raise Holy Hell!  Such acquiescence doesn’t show the leadership that one would expect from a former Captain of Industry—let alone from our Nation’s Top Diplomat!

The most vexing problem with America’s Foreign Policy today centers on the mis-handling of the situation in North Korea.  Presidents Xi Jinping, of China, and Vladimir Putin, of Russia, appear more “presidential” than Mr. Trump, in that they have a better grasp of the overall situation.  The potential implications of each participating nation’s actions must clearly be considered.  But with Trump and Tillerson, the potential explosiveness of the Korean Peninsula seems to be disregarded.

Most importantly, America needs to speak with one voice, preferably that of an experienced diplomat, who can assume ownership of the problem in order to arrive at a peaceful solution.  The current situation on the Korean Peninsula is much too important not to give it our complete and undivided attention!

Over the past five months, the Trump Regime has been alternating one person after another, to speak for the U. S; but, without any one person with experience to assume the overall responsibility.  And, spurious comments and Tweets by Donald Trump have only escalated the problem to a whole new level.

In his book, “One Minute to Midnight: Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro on the brink of nuclear war,” Michael Dobbs corrected the general presumption that Kennedy and Khrushchev were engaged in a cat and mouse game during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.  Since his book was only published in 2008, however, Dobbs had access to previously unavailable documents from all three nations.

As it turned out, both President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev realized, once they had deployed their respective military forces, that they couldn’t insure that the stand-off wouldn’t escalate into a potential nuclear Armageddon. Luckily, the two rational leaders avoided such a possibility!  Castro, on the other hand, preached Death with Honor!

Where is our capable diplomat, who can assess the actual intent of North Korea’s original communique, which stated that it would only fire missiles “near Guam,” and there was no threat of a nuclear weapon?  A single capable and dedicated envoy would have attempted to interpret what that message really meant!  Surely, Kim Jong-Un knew that, if he targets the U. S. or an ally, North Korea would be totally annihilated.  Also, if Kim was truly seriously about striking America, wouldn’t he have targeted, let’s say, San Francisco, Seattle or, at least, Honolulu?

America needs a diplomat—a real one—to take charge of solving this problem, and see it through to a final solution.  Ignorant comments about “locked and loaded,” and threatening to impede the North’s energy supplies—especially with the harsh North Korean winter approaching—would just lead to mass disruption on the Peninsula.  We need that experienced envoy now—to engage with North Korea, along with all interested parties.

As President Kennedy and Premier Khrushchev realized: No one wins when we all lose!

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WHAT CAN WE DO TO EASE THE PAIN AND SUFFERING THAT IS GOING ON ALL AROUND US? AND CAN WE, IN FACT, REALLY HELP?

NOTE:  As Texas, Florida and points north recover from the recent hurricanes, our losses, in America, are counted mostly in dollars and physical destruction.  Natural disasters in less wealthy countries; however, often result in quite a substantial loss of life, in addition to much of what little resources they have.  The following blog posts is re-published from My of 2015; but, in spite of our recent disasters, the global impoverished still suffer immensely!

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My Daughter gave me the idea for this blog post when she Emailed that question to me. Think about it:  an earthquake and aftershocks in Nepal; mudslides in Colombia; “boat people” risking their lives to escape Myanmar and North Africa; teenage girls taken captive in Nigeria and sectarian genocide throughout the Middle East.  The complexities of these various and different problems each has its own causes and effects.

Just a few of the underlying problems, with each daunting in their own right, are as follows:

1.   A great deal of this instability, such as the internecine hatred among peoples–based mostly on ethnic, religious or tribal differences–goes back centuries, or perhaps even millennia.  In some cases, like the Sunni-Shia schism, various groups actually believe that it is documented in the holy scriptures.  Nonsense!

2.   In countries such as Nepal, the effected areas can be extremely remote and lacking the necessary infrastructure (highways, bridges, tunnels and airports), either to get aid workers and supplies in, or to evacuate refugees and the injured.

3.   Poor countries often lack the functioning government and financial resources to provide the required assistance.  Also, their standard-of-living is often quite low, to begin with.

4.   Rampant corruption is often the biggest problem underlying any potential solutions. In fact, money truly does make the third world go ‘round, but it is often diverted from where it is most needed.  Sure, we also have corruption in the West too;  but, it is generally more subtle and buried behind layers of cover-up.  Even the local chapters of international relief organizations, such as the Red Cross, are often not trusted by the local population in many countries.

Outside nations and corporations do not have the best records in helping, due to numerous examples of past greed or inept behavior.  Consider the following:

1. Colonial powers in the past have conquered or partnered with primitive countries, propped-up the corrupt elements of the local society in leadership positions, and stole much of their precious assets (oil, ivory, rubber, gold, diamonds, etc.),  paying very little in return.   But, the complicit officials made out!
2. The American Invasion of Iraq, in 2003, broke the fragile balance-of-power between secular Iraq and Shia Iran.  The resultant sectarian violence, within Iraq, gave birth to the Islamic State, among other Jihadist groups.  And George (W. Bush), you never got that coveted oil!

3. In South America, United Fruit (an American company) wrecked havoc on countries like Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, etc.  It robbed them of their banana crops, established criminals as government leaders, and earned it the reputation of being the Father of the (term) “Banana Republic”!

Back in the late 1960s, I can recall driving through rural areas of (South) Vietnam.  There were just fields and fields of terraced rice paddies, with the farmers working knee-deep on their mud-soaked land.  Rather than tractors, water buffalo were their beasts of burden.

I remember thinking then, that Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) was as distant in mind as it was in physical distance.  The politicians in the Capital apparently knew nothing of the rural people, and their needs–nor did they care!  And the Vietnamese peasants, in-turn, didn’t feel any allegiance to, or expect any assistance from, the national government.  In most cases, local warlords–army commanders, insurgents or terrorist groups–are in total control!

Currently, I don’t believe that that relationship has changed at all, regardless of the country.  Also, whatever improvements a primitive government makes to their nation’s infrastructure, economic well-being and security, often stops once you travel outside the immediate capital region.  In fact, some leaders rarely dare drive outside their local comfort zones without a small army in tow!

Some in the West, especially during a slowly recovering economy, question why funds and aid are being sent overseas when they could be better used to re-build parts of their own countries.  Conservative governments often use this ploy; however, as a ruse,  merely to reduce spending.  The comparative advantages, which one country enjoys, versus another, are mostly due to the luck of the draw.  

Consider Sandtown-Winchester, the area of West Baltimore, Md. where Freddie Gray lived and died–thus sparking the recent riots.  That neighborhood is the worst of the worst!  And yet, the area’s problems go back generations, centuries even, and the locals haven’t seen any state or federal aid.  Just think:  Annapolis, the state capital, is just a half-hour away, and Washington barely an hour.  To me, this looks like rural Vietnam back in the 60s, the people living outside in Nepal or the Yazidis fleeing religious persecution in Syria.  Nothing ever seems to have changed–or it would have!

So, if internal assistance is is spread selectively , and foreign nations and corporations often place their own interests first, what is the solution?   In many cases, the people who truly can make a difference leave–the country, or the local area.  The “Brain Drain”!  That is unfortunate; because, the success stories, which are often few and far between, can be doubly important!  Besides having the capacity to better understand what needs to be done and potentially correct the situation, the best and the brightest locals are usually better at adopting new programs, as well at adapting them to the local needs.  People in primitive societies are not dumb or lazy, they just need a leg-up!

Here are some possible solutions–at least to a partial extent:

1. Outside countries can offer assistance; however, it must be delivered in a totally hands-off manner, and through the democratically elected process.  Such aid could be administered like start-up funding for young businesses:  require a needs-analysis plan; provide incremental allocations; verifying progress and requiring an adequate accounting.  Control of any financial assistance must be maintained at the local level!

2. Consider contributing to well-known international relief agencies, such as: the International Red Cross/Crescent (not the local chapters); U. N. agencies; Doctors without Borders; etc.   Generally, these organizations have their teams on the ground, know what has to be done and negate the opportunity for corruption.

3.   Research transparent private foundations, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  It partners with local organizations, and often targets well-defined needs. It requires proper accountability.  “A Path Appears” is a wonderful book by Pulitzer Prize winning couple Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn; which, explains many of the problems present in poorer countries, as well as various was that you might help.

Any realistic improvement or corrective solution for these problems must come from within, whether it be an impoverished country, a region of the world or an American Inner-City.  Guidance and funding will only work if the local people (not the governments) are involved, and the help is to be accepted and trusted.  And, no strings!  Granted, many of the problems noted above are daunting; however, with each and every “baby step” taken, the problems just shrink that much more.

Besides, when we help eradicate the major problems–famine, starvation, poverty, inadequate health care, illiteracy, arid conditions–the basis on which terrorism and religious extremism diminishes!

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