Monthly Archives: July 2013

TWO CITIES YOU MUST SEE

There are two cities you must see right here in America.  Washington, D.C., our capital, is Number One.  The second city is the “Big Apple,” the exciting home to our financial world, the Statue of Liberty, and much, much more.

Young or old, these two places will give you a sense of history and pride in this great country.  Visits to these two cities will bring alive all the civics and history lessons you had, or didn’t have.

No movie, book, TV show or parade will be as moving as time spent in these two destinations.  You will never be more proud of your country or your heritage until your visit to Washington and Lady Liberty.

Washington, D.C.

Children and adults alike stand in awe of our Nation’s greatest icons:  the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, the Capitol and White House.  Among the Smithsonian’s 19 major museums and galleries, the National Air and Space Museum, which houses hundreds of spacecrafts and rockets, including the first moon-landing space shuttle, is recommended.  Kids will go wild for giant pandas at the National Zoo, as well as the International Spy Museum and the high-tech Newseum, where they can play reporter in an interactive newsroom.

And there’s so much more.  Not to be missed is The Library of Congress, one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.  The awesome majesty of the Supreme Court; it’s a work of wonder you and/or your kids will never forget.

There are many, many tours.  We really like the on/off buses/trolleys wherever they’re available – and they definitely are in Washington.  The buses and subways make it easy to get around.

The Big Apple, Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

At the bottom of Manhattan is the ferry to take you to the awe-inspiring gateway to America for so many of our immigrant forbearers.

Whether you can trace your lineage directly from the people who came to America via New York City, you can’t help but be overwhelmed with the history and sacrifice a significant segment of our historical immigrats arrived with on our shore.

Of course, there is much more to see and do in New York – the stores – the theaters – the energy – the financial hearty of our country – but a visit to Lady Liberty and Ellis Island is a moving treat to understand more about our history than you ever learned in school.

It takes 15 to 30 minutes just to go through security to get on the ferry, but it’s worth it.  Ferry information:  201-604-2800.

A couple of other highlights include one of the Grayline Tours; the Museum of Modern Art, like no other museum you’ve seen; a special architectural harbor tour of Manhattan, conducted by an architect on Tuesdays-Thursdays-Saturdays (212-742-1969); a tour of Grand Central Station; and the Guggenheim and Metropolitan Museum on Fifth Avenue.

Take the kids, the grandkids, the whole family, yourself…but be sure to go!

ArtSchwartzSig

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POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE AWRY

Yes, I’ve used the N-word, but…I’m not a racist.  And I don’t know Paula Deen, star of the Food Network, or what’s in her heart so I don’t know if she is or is not a racist.  But I certainly empathize with her and find most of the problems that have come her way unacceptable after her only crime was answering truthfully, “Yes, of course,” to the question, “Did you ever use the N-word?”

When I was a child growing up in New York City in the 1950s, a common childhood counting rhyme handed down to us from the older kids was:

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,
Catch a nigger by the toe.
If he hollers, let him go,
My mother said to pick this one, out goes Y O U.

We did this over and over and over again every time we needed to pare down our numbers.  So I guess that means I, too, would have to answer “Yes, of course,” to the question, “Did you ever use the N-word?”

So if you’ve already jumped to a conclusion and judged me as racist just because I recited this rhyme in my single-digit years of childhood, you’d be wrong.  All the kids on my block did this merely as a way to get on with a game needing fewer participants.  And if you find the current-day use of the word “nigger” uncomfortable (as do I), just check “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe” in Wikipedia and you’ll find the following, truthful description:

There are many common variations, such as replacing tiger with “piggy,” “nigger” (when the word was still in common use), “tinker,” “tigger,” “chicken,” “monkey,” “baby,” “spider…”.

Important note:  WHEN THE WORD WAS STILL IN COMMON USE.

In the summer of 1957 we took a family vacation to New Orleans with a stop in a small town in Mississippi to visit my dad’s distant cousin, Margie.  One afternoon while driving down a road someone asked what time it was, but no one had a watch.  Seeing a black man working in a field, Cousin Margie pulled to the side of the road and yelled, “Hey nigger, do you have the time?”  By age 11, I knew this question was offensive, but to my surprise the black man respectfully yelled back, “Yes’m, it’s quarter to two.”  So my take on this unforgettable experience is that what was unacceptable in NY in 1957 was okay in back-country Mississippi.

Fast forward 50+ years and some folks might want to judge me (and Paula Deen) in light of today’s culture against what was normal and acceptable then.  I don’t think so.  Over time people change, culture changes and what’s acceptable and unacceptable changes and evolves.  We’ve seen these changes with regard to abortion, gay marriage and women in the workplace, just to name a few.

So let’s get real and start telling each other the truth.  There was a time in this country when the word nigger (yes… let’s say it in all its ugliness) was common vernacular by most folks in the South.  In my neighborhood we called black folks “colored people” until “black is beautiful” entered our vernacular.  Now it’s “African American” … just another example of how words and culture continues to change.

I imagine virtually everyone who grew up in the South in the 1950s and 60s used the N-word.  Some of them were racists and some were not.  But rather than focusing on what someone said many years ago, shouldn’t we focus on how folks live their lives and how they treat others today.  Isn’t that the only behavior that really matters?

ArtSchwartzSig

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AN IMPORTANT ISSUE YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT

Fracking creates jobs and cheap energy, as well as environmental concerns.  Let’s explore.

A report by the International Energy Association says the U.S. will become the world’s largest oil producer by 2017, overtaking current leaders Saudi Arabia and Russia.  Energy policies initiated by the Bush administration and implemented by President Obama have moved the U.S. toward energy independence as U.S. oil production has risen rapidly since 2008 and oil imports are at their lowest level in two decades.

North America is at the forefront of a sweeping transformation in oil and gas production because of the new technologies used in “hydraulic fracking.”  This is happening primarily on private land as the current administration has been reluctant to issue new permits for drilling or approve the Keystone Pipeline to bring oil from Canada.

Oil and petroleum imports has fallen an average of more than 1.5 million barrels per day and domestic crude oil production has increased by an average of more than 720,000 barrels per day since 2008.  As domestic drilling has expanded so has the number of oil and gas production jobs.  According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, job growth in these industries has risen 25% since January 2010.

The fracking revolution creates lots of jobs and cheaper energy with environmental concerns that proponents feel can be managed and controlled.

President Obama says natural gas production could support 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade.  Most of these positions are highly desirable from a financial standpoint.  Drilling and support jobs pay about $34.50 an hour, 50% more than the national average, according to The New York Times.

Cheap natural gas and the administration’s eagerness to expand U.S. energy production has shifted resources away from green energy technologies like solar and wind, whose costs are not competitive without major subsidies.

The fracturing method of extracting natural gas from shale rock formations has come under intense scrutiny.  A few local cities and communities have banned the practice.

High-volume hydraulic fracturing involves shooting million of gallons of water, sand and chemicals underground to crack shale formations and unlock oil and gas.  The sand props open the fissures, and hydrocarbons flow through the porous sand up the well.  The upper Midwest’s round, hard sand makes it ideal for fracking, and a fracked well could use anywhere from two to five million pounds of sand.

Critics say the fracking process produces millions of gallons of waste water that contain highly corrosive salts and carcinogens.  These radioactive elements could pollute water sources such as rivers and underground aquifers and pose serious dangers to the environment and individuals.

Daniel Yergin, author of The Quest, has studied the fracking process extensively with his team at HIS Cambridge Energy Research Associates and concluded that the method is safe, “if it is done right.”

“The likelihood of chemicals that are used in fracking actually getting into the water supply is very unlikely because the depth [of the drilling] is so shallow,” says Yergin, who advised President Obama on shale gas while serving on a Department of Energy advisory board last year.
“The environmental issues are:  how do you manage the waste water that is produced with drilling and what do you do about maintaining air quality because you have a lot of diesel engines pumping away.”

There is also the community impact with additional truck traffic and other heavy equipment that can damage infrastructure and clogs local roadways.

Yergin acknowledges the seriousness of these concerns, but says they are all very manageable.  The report he and the panel submitted to Obama outlined roughly 20 “pragmatic solutions” on how to minimize the aforementioned risks, involving “new technologies, best practices, regulation on water,” air quality controls and community development plans to address increased traffic issues.

Another aspect of the fracking process is the need for large amounts of a particularly kind of sand found mostly in the Midwest.  In Wisconsin, for example, in 2010 there were five industrial sand mines.  Today there are 60 functioning or in the permit process.

The rapid expansion of sand mining has raised fears among some residents and hope in others, often pitting neighbors against one another, just as fracking has done elsewhere.

To get to the sand, companies must blast and strip-mine fields and ridges.  Their trucks ply the two-lane country roads nonstop to haul the sand to processing plants and railheads, where it is shipped to far-flung oil and gas fields.  Residents worry that when strong winds lift the fine, washed sand from outdoor piles, the dust could lead to respiratory problems.

Those who lease their land get royalties.  Locals work at the mines and drive the trucks.  When the companies build plants that wash, sift and dry the sand, they pay tens of thousands of dollars in property taxes.  A trade-off is needed, mining’s supporters say, if Wisconsin wants jobs and the country wants cheap energy.  “Everyone wants the country to be more self-sufficient, but no one wants the effects of it.  We can’t have our cake and eat it too.”

Wisconsin was built on mining, mainly lead and iron, but sand mines were usually small and supplied local construction.  Now, the sand mining boom has attracted big oil and gas companies, local large landowners and entrepreneurs and hedge funds.

After a site has been mined, the area has to be reclaimed according to the landowner’s directives.  Near the entrance to one plant, a tract has been replanted with native grasses and pine, which the landowner hopes to turn into a Christmas tree farm.

The earth blasted from the ridge is taken to a facility on site where it is washed and sifted to extract the sand.  Piles of washed sand stand at the site, fine as brown sugar.  Sprinklers loom over the piles to keep down dust when the wind picks up.

Local residents worry that airborne dust, or crystalline silica, as it is known, can lead to a potentially deadly respiratory ailment called silicosis.  Research has shown the dangers crystalline silica poses on the job to miners and even to workers at fracking sites.  But little is known about its effect on people who live near mine sites.

Critics want the air around mines monitored, but so far, little government money is available to do much monitoring.

Someone said, “It’s like the difference between mainstream smoke and secondhand smoke.”

The bottom line is sand mines and fracking sites owners have to pay the costs of monitoring air and water quality as well as developing steps to control the degradation of these vital ingredients.  This is similar to the utility companies who had to pay and control their emissions.

Fracking is exempt from key federal environmental guidelines, i.e., the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.  Fracking is also exempt from state water use regulations.  These exclusions have to be reversed so that we can take advantage of the enormous opportunity which fracking offers.

ArtSchwartzSig

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CROSSING THE 82ND PARALLEL

About four years ago I wrote my first blog.  It was called “Retirement Doesn’t Stop The Music.”  The blog was on a site no one I knew was aware of.  Nonetheless, I enjoyed the exercise of writing, even though there was no one to read it.  That blog was a response to an association executive who claimed that retirement did in fact stop the music.  I disagreed and said, “The music of your career doesn’t have to stop when you retire, it just gives you the opportunity to play some different tunes.”

Yes, there are less invites and the recognition begins to dwindle.  At the same time there are less demands, commitments and obligations.  As Sherry Lansing, former head of Paramount Studios, said about management executives, “People don’t retire, they rewire.”

From my personal perspective as a now 12-year retiree, there are three stages you will likely pass through in retirement.  None of these passages last a specific length of time.  Each person’s stage time is different in length and character.

As I crossed my 82nd parallel in March I was reminded about that blog.  I thought it might be a good time to take stock and revisit my previous analysis about retirement.

Aging has been a wonderful and sometimes curious adventure.  In the beginning it was interesting, liberating and fun.  The last few years have turned a tide with more doctor visits, less flexibility and some increasing limitations.

The first stage I found was the Transition.  This is the time you decide how you want to live, where you want to live and what you want to do.  If you’re smart, you started working on this long before the gold-watch day.

For me, it led with a few false starts.  I thought about a number of business ventures, none of which materialized.  Also witnessed a number of other recent retirees try to start new or competing organizations with little success.  I tried some teaching, but found the effort to deliver some understanding about entrepreneurship and marketing to fresh-out-of-high-school students very unfulfilling.

I was able to start enjoying some personal travel and fell into what became a multi-year consulting assignment through a former employee.  I also took up golf, which easily made up for all the frustrations I left behind at the office.  About the same time I found out about doing consulting projects for USAID, the United States Agency for International Development.

One problem I have observed, which seems to hold back a number of retirees in transition, is their difficulty in letting go of their ego and understand they are not in demand any more.

My transition lasted about three years or so and led directly into my Optimum retirement.  Life was great.  My health was good and afforded me the opportunity to exercise, play mediocre golf, go on bike trips in the U.S. and Europe, and have an active social and entertaining lifestyle.  It was at this point I began to refer to myself as a “happy has been.”  I was traveling 16 plus weeks a year on USAID projects as well as personal trips that inked about 55 countries on my passport.

The USAID projects took me to Romania, Egypt, Bulgaria, Hungry and Thailand.  The mission was to help third-world business people understand and prosper in a free-market economy.  These four- to six-week projects also provided the opportunity for extended travel in the region.

Having a compatible partner in all these activities was a major added plus.  This period lasted about seven years or so.

I certainly didn’t try to end it but circumstances forced me into the beginning of an Adjustment period.

Although far from life threatening, a number of health issues began to surface.  Had to cut out the USAID projects (didn’t want to go to Iraq anyway), give golf back to the squirrels and am having to downsize somewhat the more adventurous part of our traveling.  With now over 80 countries on my passport and having been on all seven continents, we are now looking at more relaxed trips on cruises and/or private tours.

There has been more time for reading and reflecting on current events, history and my personal memories.  At the same time since dealing with my health concerns, I have been impacted by the health and passing of family and friends which makes you more aware of your own mortality.

Is there more?  I certainly hope so.  Although moving at a slower pace, all in all, life is still very enjoyable.  With a little luck, there’ll be a few more parallels to cross.  I still like the music.

ArtSchwartzSig

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THE FUTURE AIN’T WHAT IT USED TO BE

The prophetic words of Yogi Berra would seem to fit our moment in time perfectly.

The last two elections were historical in many ways.  I believe it also tells us quite a bit about future elections.  The common assumption is that presidential elections run in cycles with each party taking its turn.  There may still be cycles, but the transformation of these last two elections could alter these cycles dramatically.

The colorful Cajun, James Carville, one of President Clinton’s chief political strategists, wrote a book in which he projected that Democrats will control national elections for 36 or 40 years.

Sound outlandish?  Maybe not!  Consider these two sets of facts:

First, the Republican Party is locked in a struggle to find or create a consensus.  The conservative wing feels the party has to strengthen its conservative principles and expand that base.  That essentially was the strategy of President Bush and his political advisor, Karl Rove.

The conservative wing feels the last two presidential nominees lost because they weren’t conservative enough.  I’m not sure the facts support that conjecture.

In 2008, I believe any Democrat would have beaten any Republican.  The after taste of the Bush years was just too strong.  As far as 2012, Romney was beaten, in my opinion, by a combination of attack dogs in the primaries and a semi-competent campaign that blew too many opportunities to set his record straight and project him as a moderate.

The moderates in the party, on the other hand, look at the last election results and argue that the party must project a more socially and culturally moderate position in order to appeal to a wider range of voters.

The second set of facts tends to support the view of the moderates, as well as Carville’s predictions.

Ronald Brownstein, who now writes for the National Journal, said, “Population changes favor the Democrats and are redrawing America’s electoral map.”

He goes on to say that the most reliable voting blocks in the Democratic Party have grown and will continue to expand.  These groups, according to Brownstein, are Latinos, African-Americans, Asians and other minorities.  The conservative blue collar voter base that tends to support the Republicans, on the other hand, are declining dramatically.

Add to this the coming citizenship for 11 million illegal aliens and the plot begins to thicken. The Democrats and the Catholic Church wants citizenship for this substantial block because they feel they will get 80% or more of them.  The Republicans probably will block this legislation but even if they go along, they won’t win enough converts to matter.

Brownstein’s conclusion is a bit scary.  “Any GOP coalition too narrow to welcome back voters who share moderate views is almost certainly too narrow to dislodge the Democrats.”  If in fact we are headed for effectively a one-party government, I am not sure this can be a healthy thing for the country.

The only missing piece in this scenario is the personality and charisma of the candidates who may be able to alter these demographic facts and trends.

ArtSchwartzSig

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