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5 FAMILY COMMUNICATION RULES

This is an article written by Dr. Timothy Habbershon with Fidelity Viewpoints.

Key Takeaways

Financial matters can have a significant influence on every aspect of life, yet families often avoid discussing financial topics—particularly estate planning decisions—for fear they will stir up family conflict.
However, when it comes to financial conversations, it is possible not only to avoid conflict, but also to positively shape future family relationships.
Bill was a family man who could fix anything, and his children grew up counting on that. He wasn’t the most communicative person, but he was a devoted father. His wallet nearly burst at the seams because it held so many family pictures.

When Bill passed away suddenly, the whole family was heartbroken. When his will was read, his daughters experienced a sense of abandonment inconsistent with the feelings they had for him throughout their lives. Their dad was so generous, and always put them first. They could not understand the choices he made for them and their children through his estate plan. This lack of communication and confusion led to family conflict and eventually to no interaction at all. Bill could have fixed this, but he wasn’t there to fix things anymore.

Bill’s family story is not unique. Bill was a kind and loving father, and his family was, by most standards, close. But by excluding his children from financial conversations and decisions on his estate plan, Bill set in motion a series of unintended consequences that were passed down along with his estate.

A Development Arena

Next to health, financial matters may have the most comprehensive influence on every aspect of life. Unfortunately, similar to health matters, families tend to avoid these topics, or put them off for as long as possible. But there is a progression of financial topics through the life of a family.

Each one of life’s events provides opportunities for families to learn and grow together. The developmental goal is to break the silence and move beyond parent-child hierarchs to become peers in discussions about these important and sometimes difficult financial topics, through a lifetime of open conversation.

5 Rules of Thumb for Navigating Money>>Wealth>>Estate Planning

A rule of thumb is a principle that helps frame complex conversations. Rather than defaulting to silence or simplicity, the 5 rules of thumb below provide general guidance to help foster reflective and relationship-building conversation, allowing families to co-create outcomes.

1. Closeness-Distance: Be mindful that every financial decision has the power to create closeness or distance in family relationships. We can all recognize what closeness and distance feel like, and can understand the differences. Close family relationships typically involve open conversations: All views are considered, everyone feels respected and cared for, and there is a sense of fairness. Distant family relationships, on the other hand, often involve a lack of communication: Some family members may feel they have no voice, they may feel judged or controlled, and they may feel unfairly treated. So when it comes to financial conversations and the decisions that surround them, ask yourself, ‘With what I am thinking, saying, or doing, am I creating closeness or distance in my family’s relationships?’

2. Voice-Vote: Giving a voice and input to others does not mean giving up the vote and final decision on outcomes.

When it comes to navigating Money>>Wealth>>Estate Planning, it is often difficult for families to determine who should have a voice and who should have a vote. The default parental practice on financial topics is generally to keep both the voice and the vote. When John found out his parents appointed him the trustee for his special-needs brother, he understood his obligation, but wished he had been given a voice—and maybe even a vote—in the decision.

When Sandra was told how much money she was allowed to spend on her wedding, she felt she should have had a voice. When she was given a prenuptial agreement by her father’s attorney, she was confused about who should have the voice and vote.

At every developmental stage, parents may avoid or fear giving children a voice or relinquishing the vote because it means giving up degrees of control. But as children mature and change their roles in the family, the Voice-Vote engagement between parents and children should also evolve. As children marry and form their own families, and as parents age and consider next-generation planning and age, passing along the vote becomes an important life passage. When these Voice-Vote decisions are made together, they build mature family relationships.

3. Fair-Equal: Fair is not always equal, so explore perceptions of fairness with family members. Siblings do not always have the same lifestyle, capabilities, career choices, health, maturity, marriages, number of children, or life spans, and parents’ circumstances and beliefs can change over time. And yet, the more differences there are within a family, the more parent seem to simply default to “fair IS equal.”

When Jonathan’s mother asked him if he would approve of her helping his brother financially, even though she wasn’t doing the same for him, he did not know how to react at first. This turned out to be a good thing because it gave them the opportunity to talk through the family’s circumstances. This allowed Jonathan to hear his mother’s thinking, and her to hear his.

This scenario illustrates the importance of talking through what is considered fair. Fairness is a matter of personal interpretation, so what each person perceive as fair may differ widely. And the basis for deciding what is fair must also be clarified: Is it based on need, merit, bringing siblings’ circumstances in line, or trying to treat everyone equally? Both the process and the ultimate decision are factors in the perceptions of fairness.

4. Transparency-Disclosure: Balance age-appropriate transparency with future disclosures.

One of the most common Money>>Wealth>>Estate Planning questions is ‘When is it appropriate to talk about money or disclose wealth and estate plans to children?’ Ultimately, this rule of thumb highlights that it is not just a question of when to disclose. How to create an appropriate level of transparency at each stage of life is equally important to finding the right balance. ‘Disclosures’ about wealth and estate plans are often prompted by late-in-life angst, illness, or death. Balancing transparency and disclosure encourages parents to have developmentally appropriate Money>>Wealth>>Estate Planning conversations with their children. This creates a sense of shared knowledge and decision-making through time, and still allows parents to hold back certain information until they are comfortable sharing it.

Paul and Jan both came from families that never discussed money, and late-in-life disclosures influenced their personal finances and family relationships. Jan was called upon to be the sole caretaker and financial decision-maker for her parents, which left her with added stress that her siblings were spared from. It also created secrecy and jealousy among Jan and her siblings because she held the financial reins and they felt excluded.

5. Wish-Fear: Seek wishes in your financial decisions and actions rather than defaulting to outcomes based on fear.

Conversations and decisions surrounding Money>>Wealth>>Estate Planning are often laden with wishes and fears. We wish for our children to have an easier life than we did, but we fear that any assistance or knowledge of family wealth will destroy their motivation. We wish for our children to have passionate and fulfilling lives, but fear they will choose careers that cannot support the lifestyle we want for them. We wish our parents would be more forthcoming with their retirement and end-of-life plans, but we fear any conversation about the subject.

When Mark’s uncle received his inheritance, he quit his job and never worked again, and his cousins followed in their father’s footsteps. Mark fears money will likewise demotivate his own children, so to ‘protect’ his family, Mark lives like a miser, never discusses his personal wealth, refuses to help his children financially in any way, and is considering giving all his money to charity.

It is important to ask ‘What are my fears?’ and ‘What are my wishes?’ to uncover the true motivation behind behaviors and decisions. Living like Mark is a missed opportunity for families to involve one another in their wishes about the future. Fears also erode the quality of family relationships and communications.

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THE CASE AGAINST REPARATIONS

Stefan Smith, writing for the Foundation for Economic Education, makes the case against reparations.

“There has been much debate about reparations for slavery. According to its proponents, the federal government should award Americans of African descent financial damages solely because slavery, as an institution, existed in the United States from the founding until almost a century later.

“Three principal arguments are offered: (1) The legacy of slavery has hindered the economic progress of blacks in America; (2) reparations would serve as a damage award that would rectify a historical wrong committed by the United States; and (3) reparations would give poor blacks more disposable income, which would increase their living standards and lift entire black communities.

“On the surface. These arguments seem to have a modicum of legitimacy. However, because of the potential divisiveness that the issue is sure to have, it is important to closely examine the premise on which these arguments are based. To do that effectively, we must first look at the institution of slavery itself from a historical perspective.

“Slavery as an institution existed on every inhabited continent of the earth for at least 4,000 years of recorded history.

“In the West, once the abolitionist momentum was underway, there was no turning back. This was especially the case in the United States, where the ideological underpinnings of a constitutional republic made it increasingly difficult rationally to deny slaves their rights. The abolition of slavery in the United States marked a historically significant moral high point, not only for this country, but also for the entire world.

Has Slavery Hindered the Economic Progress of Blacks?

“Economist Thomas Sowell, in his seminal work Civil Rights: Rhetoric or Reality, concluded after exhaustive statistical research that the vast majority of whites and blacks believe there are a higher percentage of blacks in poverty that there actually are. Indeed, when surveyed, most whites and blacks believe three-quarters of black Americans live below the official poverty line, when in reality only one in four do, according to the 2001 Census.

“Why is there so much confusion? Part of the problem is the perception that ‘black’ and ‘poor’ are synonymous. In the 1960s it was politically expedient to associate the state of being poor, uneducated, and oppressed with being black. The civil rights establishment found this association rhetorically necessary to focus public attention on the plight of southern blacks and to engage the emotions of the white majority against overt southern racism.

“However, this political strategy had an unexpected impact on the emerging black middle class. According to the black-equals-poor logic, when the black middle class achieved more opportunity and became more educated and affluent, it essentially became less “black.” This perhaps explains the black establishment’s attitude toward Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. Essentially, black identity was hijacked and frozen during the 1960s.

“Unfortunately, the image of poverty-stricken blacks in need of government handouts to get by is still perpetuated by race demagogues like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who stand to gain politically by fostering that stereotype. It is a truism of politics that charlatans in search of political power will always benefit from having a constituency with a chip on its shoulder.

“Is there a legacy from slavery that has hindered the economic progress of blacks today? Let’s consider the numbers. Major marketers have long constructed a black “gross national product” (GNP) from government statistics to gauge the financial power of black Americans. This is actually a misnomer since it tries to measure the total products and services consumed, not produced, by the black community. This statistic is often cited by black political leaders to persuade corporate America to produce more goods suited to the preferences of blacks. It turns out that if black Americans constituted their own country, they would have the 11th largest economy in the world.

“In addition to being a wealthy demographic group (richer than 90 percent of the people in the world), blacks in America have a longer life expectancy than African and Caribbean blacks, as well as whites in many parts of Eastern Europe and Latin America. Black Americans have higher rates of literacy and achieve more postsecondary degrees as a percentage of the population than blacks in Africa.

Who Gets What?

“If the proponents of reparations take to the courts, it will be interesting to see their principle for determining who is entitled to what. For many reasons that will be a Herculean task.

“Because of centuries of migration, conquests, and intermixing, racial purity is more of a social construct than a biological fact. Intermarriage between whites and blacks in America over the past two centuries has produced a large population of individuals who defy the stark dichotomy.

“With so much racial intermixture, will those who dole out the potential reparations demand certificates of racial purity? The thought is preposterous. Another quagmire in paying reparations is that a small percentage of blacks were free before slavery ended, having bought their freedom or having had it bequeathed to them by sympathetic slave owners. Are their descendants eligible for reparations?

“In antebellum New Orleans it wasn’t uncommon for freemen of color to own slaves. That blacks owned slaves has been a hotly debated point. It is true that a vast majority of blacks who bought slaves did so to emancipate relatives and friends. However, there are several well-documented cases of black slave owners in Louisiana who kept their slaves in servitude for life.

“Black slave ownership poses a serious conundrum in the equitable distribution of reparations. Few Americans, white or black, are familiar enough with their genealogies to know, with any certainty, significant details about what their ancestors were doing almost two centuries ago.

“Then there is the case of African and Caribbean emigres from the post-Civil ware era. It is estimated that this subgroup of the black community comprises between 3 to 5 percent of the total black population in the United States. Will they pay or receive reparations?

More Reparations?

“In some respects one could argue that reparations for slavery have already been paid. These implicit reparations, the argument goes, have taken the form of direct monetary transfers such as welfare payments or nonmonetary benefits such as hiring and admission quotas. Indeed, policies based on racial preferences such as affirmative action have allowed hundreds of thousands of blacks to enter universities and obtain employment based on criteria different from those applied to other groups of people.

“It should not be overlooked that the greatest irony of American slavery is that the descendants of those brought across the Atlantic from Africa are demonstrably better off than the descendants of those who remained. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to some of the poorest countries with some of the most appalling living conditions in the world. Disease, war, and famine are commonplace, and corrupt governments led by military dictators and kleptocrats ensure that economic growth and development for the masses is a low priority. In this book Out of America: A Black Man Confronts Africa, American reporter Keith Richburg concludes that black Americans should consider themselves lucky to have escaped the squalor of what is contemporary Africa.

Are Current Taxpayers Culpable?

“Of the three primary arguments for reparations, the argument for damages is the most irrational. Though slavery was widespread in the southern United States, slave ownership was not. It is estimated that less than 10 percent of whites owned slaves. The vast majority did not; thy had neither financial nor agricultural resources to warrant slave labor. Slave ownership was restricted to a highly concentrated group of wealthy southern elites—the landed aristocracy.

“Today we live in a country with a population of 285 million people. Because of immigration, it is safe to argue that the majority of white people in this country are descended from post-Civil War immigrants who had nothing to do with slavery.

“Many ethnic groups that arrived on American shores in the early twentieth century, including the Irish, European Jews, and Chinese, were subject to severe discrimination. However, with every passing generation, ethnic groups developed the occupational skills, knowledge, and cultural norms necessary to fully assimilate and rise to higher socioeconomic levels within the mainstream American culture.

“Our Constitution provided the framework for legal equality for all individuals, and later legislation eliminated remaining race-based government barriers to freedom, assuring that blacks, like whites, can be beneficiaries of this great system.”

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THE CASE FOR SLAVERY REPARATIONS

Why the U.S. government should pay slave reparations, according to Michael Austin, Ph.D., a professor at Eastern Kentucky University.

Background

“If you ask any fair-minded person about the greatest injustices perpetrated in and by the United States, slavery would surely be at or near the top of the list. Many arguments have been given in support of the claim that there should be reparations for slavery, and some of them are better than others. Here, I will give one sound argument—The Compensation Argument—for the claim that the U.S. government is morally obligated to pay reparations for slavery. This argument is based upon facts that are not in dispute and on assumptions that all reasonable people share. That is, the argument depends on principles and data accepted by liberals and conservatives, by advocates of and opponents to reparations, and as such it should be acceptable to all who give it a fair hearing.

The Compensation Argument is as follows:

1. If a government wrongfully harms someone as a result of the authorized actions of some of its public officials, then it incurs a moral obligation to compensate its victims for those harms.
2. The U.S. government wrongly harmed previous generations of Africans and African-Americans by supporting slavery and its aftermath.
3. These acts of the U.S. government continue to cause harm to the currently living generation of black Americans.
4. The U.S. government has not yet fully compensated the currently living generation of black Americans for the harms they continue to experience as a result of slavery and its aftermath.

Therefore, the U.S. government is morally obligated to pay reparations for slavery.

Let’s consider each of these steps in turn.

1. If a government wrongfully harms someone as a result of the authorized actions of some of its public officials, then it incurs a moral obligation to compensate its victims for those harms.

This first step is based on the principle that if I wrongfully harm another person, then I incur a moral obligation to compensate my victim. For example, if I vandalize your car, then I am obligated to pay for repairs. Similarly, if a government agent vandalized your car, authorized by the government, then the government would be obligated to compensate you for the damage.

2. The U.S. government wrongly harmed previous generations of Africans and African-Americans by supporting slavery and its aftermath.

Liberals and conservatives, opponents and proponents of reparations all agree that slavery and its aftermath—the subsequent forms of legalized segregation and discrimination—happened, that it was harmful, and that it was wrong. This is a clearly historic claim.

3. These acts of the U.S. government continue to cause harm to the currently living generation of black Americans.

The debt owed to previous generations of black Americans can be transferred to the current generation. The primary reason is that an act that harms members of one generation can have lingering consequences on subsequent generations. Given this fact, the government incurs a moral obligation to make reparations to those future generations. Consider a similar example: if the government dumps toxic waste in your neighborhood, it not only owes the people who got sick right away, but also those who suffer in the future because of this past act.

But is the current generation of black Americans being harmed? The answer is clearly yes. Consider the following data related to some reliable measures of basic human well-being:

• Young white Americans are more likely than young black Americans to:

o Wake up feeling happy in the morning.
o Feel happy about their relationships with parents and friends.
o Be happy about their jobs, grades, and financial status.

• On average, white Americans are doing significantly better financially than black Americans:

o 2004 poverty rate for black Americans was triple that of white Americans (24.7% compared to 8.6%)
o Median income for white families in 2000 was about $56,000. For black families it was roughly $34,000. For white males it was $42,000, compared to about $31,000 for black males. For white females, it was about $31,000 and for black females it was around $26,000.
o Black males who graduate from college get about half of the earnings benefit that white males do.

• Related to health, white Americans are doing significantly better than black Americans on average:

o The infant mortality rate for black Americans is over twice that for white Americans.
o White Americans live 6-7 years longer than black Americans.
o Black Americans are less likely to have health insurance, vaccinations, and a regular source of health care.

• Concerning education, the same disparity exists:

o Schools in which most students are white spend more per student than those in which most students are black.
o Overall, black workers have less education than white workers.
o 15% of black adults have college degrees, compared to 30% for whites.

There is more of this kind of data, and it is basically uncontested. So we must ask, “What is the best explanation for this?”

The answer to this question is that there is a difference in the social environment occupied by white Americans and that occupied by black Americans which makes it more difficult, on average, for black Americans to flourish. The most reasonable conclusion to draw here is that slavery and its aftermath continue to exert a serious negative influence. It is neither genetics nor differences in culture of character. It is the social environment produced by slavery and its aftermath.

As political scientist Andrew Hacker puts it,

…despite more than a century of searching, we have no evidence that any…pools of race-based genes have larger quotient of what we choose to call intelligence or organizational ability or creative capacities. So if more members of some races end up doing better in some spheres, it is because more of them grew up in environments that prepared them for those endeavors.

The social environment created by slavery and its aftermath—which the U.S. government is responsible for—is the most plausible explanation of the differences in average well-being between black and white Americans.

4. The U.S. government has not yet fully compensated the currently living generation of black Americans for the harms they continue to experience as a result of slavery and its aftermath.

Some argue that reparations have already been made by ending slavery, abolishing segregation, securing voting rights, and adopting affirmative action. But if reparations have already been made, then black Americans would be doing roughly as well as white ones. But on average they aren’t, so they haven’t.

In conclusion, the U.S. government is morally obligated to pay reparations for slavery.”

Next week we’ll take a look at the other side.

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MERIT-BASED SYSTEMS ARE AMERICA’S OPPORTUNITY

An interesting column by David Brooks, a popular N.Y. Times columnist, who opines that “expanding exclusive deals tears the social fabric of our society.”

“There are at least two kinds of meritocracy in America right now. Exclusive meritocracy exists at the super-elite universities and at the industries that draw the bulk of their employees from them—Wall Street, big law, medicine and tech. And then there is the more open meritocracy that exists almost everywhere else.

“In the exclusive meritocracy, prestige is defined by how many people you can reject. The elite universities reject 85 to 95 percent of their applicants. Those accepted spend much of their lives living in neighborhoods and attending conferences where it is phenomenally expensive or hard to get in. Whether it’s the resort town you vacation in or the private school you send your kids to, exclusivity is the pervasive ethos. The more the exclusivity, the thicker will be the coating of P.C. progressivism to show that we’re all good people.

“People in this caste work phenomenally hard to build their wealth. As Daniel Markovits notes in his powerful new book, “The Meritocracy Trap,” between 1979 and 2006, the percentage of workers in the top quintile of earners who work more than 50 hours a week nearly doubled.

“People in this caste are super-skilled and productive. There are more than 70 law firms, Markovits notes, that generate over $1 million in annual profit per partner. When Instagram was bought by Facebook for $1 billion, it had only 13 full-time employees.

“A few years ago, people in this elite professional caste seized on research by Thomas Piketty, who argued that rising inequality is caused by the shift in income away from labor and toward capital. The investors are to blame! But, Markovits argues, roughly 75 percent of the increase in the top one percent of earnings is caused by shifts in income within labor. These highly educated professionals attract vast earnings while everybody else gets left behind. A cardiologist used to earn four times as much as a nurse; now it’s seven times as much.

“Parents in the exclusive meritocracy raise their kids to be fit fighters within it. Markovits calculates how much affluent parents invest on their kids’ human capital, over and above what middle-class parents can afford to invest. He concludes that affluent parents invest $10 million more per child. The resulting highly honed, high-performing young people are amazing—and endure the stresses you’d expect. At the best law school in the country, Yale, 70 percent of the students say they experience mental health challenges.

“You don’t have to travel far to get outside the exclusive meritocracy. For example, last spring I spent a few days at Arizona State University, which is led by Michael Crow. ASU defines itself not by how many people it can exclude but by how many it can include. The need for higher education is greater than ever, so ASU has rapidly expanded to meet that need. Between 2013 and 2018, undergraduate enrollment rose by 45 percent. Between 2009 and 2018, the number of engineering students grew to 22,400 from about 6,400.

“ASU has done it by increasing its reach into those who are underserved. The number of first-generation students has more than quadrupled since 2002.

“Everything is on a mass scale. ASU’s honors college alone is bigger than Stanford’s entire undergraduate enrollment. It graduates more Jews than Brandeis and more Muslims than Jews.

“The quality has risen along with the size. Research expenditures double every six to eight years, and a number of academic departments are nationally recognized as among the best for the quality of their research.

“The atmosphere is much more democratic and accessible to all. Faculty members are treated less as scholars within rarefied disciplines and more as interdisciplinary intellectual entrepreneurs. The goal is immediate social impact as much as expanding knowledge, so, for example, ASU’s Watts College of Public Service & Community Solutions is enmeshed with local residents to transform a Phoenix neighborhood.

“Starbucks pays for eligible employees to attend ASU online. Many of the graduates I met had dropped out of three or four colleges before finally being able to get a degree at ASU. It’s an open place, where they can move up.

“Similarly, last week I was in Wichita to observe the Kansas Leadership Center. The center teaches people how to create social change and hopes to saturate the state with better leaders. But the center doesn’t focus on traditional “leaders.” Its mantra is: “Leadership is an activity, not a position. Anyone can lead, anytime, anywhere.” The atmosphere is one of radical inclusion. The enrollees I met included business leaders, teachers, line workers and people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“The center equips people at every level of society with organizational skills—for example, to understand when it is necessary to turn up the heat to force change, and when it is necessary to turn down the heat to encourage reconciliation.

“People in both the exclusive and open meritocracies focus intensely on increasing skills. But it’s jarring to move from one culture to the other because the values are so different. The exclusive meritocracy is spinning out of control. If the country doesn’t radically expand its institutions and open access to its bounty, the U.S. will continue to rip apart.”

A perfect example of Brook’s exclusive meritocracy is the Rick Singer’s college admissions scandal, a disgusting series of immoral events to benefit undeserving children.

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THE DANGER OF ELIMINATING THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE

The following is from a speech by Trent England, EVP of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs.

“Once upon a time, the Electoral College was not controversial. During the debates over ratifying the Constitution, Anti-Federalist opponents of ratification barely mentioned it. But by the mid-twentieth century, opponents of the Electoral College nearly convinced Congress to propose an amendment to scrap it. And today, more than a dozen states have joined in an attempt to hijack the Electoral College as a way to force a national popular vote for president.

“What changed along the way? And does it matter? After all, the critics of the Electoral College simply want to elect the president the way we elect most other officials. Every state governor is chosen by a statewide popular vote. Why not a national popular vote for president?

“Delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 asked themselves the same question, but then rejected a national popular vote along with several other possible modes of presidential election.

“A deadlock for president would be decided by the House of Representatives, with one vote per state. Following that, in case of a deadlock for vice president, the Senate would decide. Also under the original system, the runner up became vice president.

“This last provision caused misery for President John Adams in 1796, when his nemesis, Thomas Jefferson, became his vice president. Four years later it nearly robbed Jefferson of the presidency when his unscrupulous running mate, Aaron Burr, tried to parlay an accidental deadlock into his own election by the House. The Twelfth Amendment, ratified in 1804, fixed all this by requiring electors to cast separate votes for president and vice president.

“And there things stand, constitutionally at least. State legislatures have used their power to direct the manner of choosing electors in various ways: appointing them directly, holding elections by district, or holding statewide elections. Today, 48 states choose their presidential electors in a statewide, winner-take-all vote. Maine and Nebraska elect one elector based on each congressional district’s vote and the remaining two based on the statewide vote.

“It is easy for Americans to forget that when we vote for president, we are really voting for electors who have pledged to support the candidate we favor. Civics education is not what it used to be. Also, perhaps, the Electoral College is a victim of its own success. Most of the time, it shapes American politics in ways that are beneficial but hard to see. Its effects become news only when a candidate and his or her political party lose a hard-fought and narrowly decided election.

“So what are the beneficial effects of choosing our presidents through the Electoral College?

“Under the Electoral College system, presidential elections are decentralized, taking place in the states. Although some see this as a flaw, they oppose the Electoral College expressly because they want to increase federal power over elections—this decentralization, however, has proven to be of great value.

“For one thing, state boundaries serve a function analogous to that of watertight compartments on an ocean liner. Disputes over mistakes or fraud are contained within individual states. Illinois can recount its votes, for instance, without triggering a nationwide recount. This was an important factor in America’s messiest presidential election—which was not in 2000, but in 1876.

“That year marked the first time a presidential candidate won the electoral vote while losing the popular vote. It was a time of organized suppression of black voters in the South, and there were fierce disputes over vote totals in Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina. Each of those states sent Congress two sets of electoral vote totals, one favoring Republican Rutherford Hayes and the other Democrat Samuel Tilden. Just two days before Inauguration Day, Congress finished counting the votes—which included determining which votes to count—and declared Hayes the winner. There is no way to be certain today—nor was there probably a way to be certain at the time—which candidate actually won. At the very least, the Electoral College contained these disputes within individual states so that Congress could endeavor to sort it out. And it is arguable that the Electoral College prevented a fraudulent result.

“Four years later, the 1880 presidential election demonstrated another benefit of the Electoral College system: it can act to amplify the results of a presidential election. The popular vote margin that year was less than 10,000 votes—about one-tenth of one percent—yet Republican James Garfield won a resounding electoral victory, with 214 electoral votes to Democrat Winfield Hancock’s 155. There was no question who won, let alone any need for a recount. More recently, in 1992, the Electoral College boosted the legitimacy of Democrat Bill Clinton, who won with only 43 percent of the popular vote but received over 68 percent of the electoral vote.

“But there is no doubt that the greatest benefit of the Electoral College is the powerful incentive it creates against regionalism. Here, the presidential elections of 1888 and 1892 are most instructive. In 1888, incumbent Democratic President Grover Cleveland lost reelection despite receiving a popular vote plurality. He won this plurality because he won by very large margins in the overwhelmingly Democratic South. He won Texas alone by 146,461 votes, for instance, whereas his national popular vote margin was only 94,530. Altogether he won in six southern states with margins greater than 30 percent, while only tiny Vermont delivered a victory percentage of that size for Republican Benjamin Harrison.

“In other words, the Electoral College ensures that winning supermajorities in one region of the country is not sufficient to win the White House. After the Civil War, and especially after the end of Reconstruction, that meant that the Democratic Party had to appeal to interests outside the South to earn a majority in the Electoral College. And indeed, when Grover Cleveland ran again for president four years later in 1892, although he won by a smaller percentage of the popular vote, he won a resounding Electoral College majority by picking up New York, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and California in addition to winning the South.

“Whether we see it or not today, the Electoral College continues to push parties and presidential candidates to build broad coalitions. Critics say that swing states get too much attention, leaving voters in so-called safe states feeling left out. But the legitimacy of a political party rests on all of those safe states—on places that the party has already won over, allowing it to reach farther out. In 2000, for instance, George W. Bush needed every state that he won—not just Florida—to become president. Of course, the Electoral College does put a premium on the states in which the parties are most evenly divided. But would it really be better if the path to the presidency primarily meant driving up the vote total in the deepest red or deepest blue states?

“Few if any of these Democrats likely realize how similar their party’s position is to what it was in the late nineteenth century, with California representing today what the South was for their forebears. The Golden State accounted for 10.4 percent of presidential votes cast in 2016, while the southern states (from South Carolina down to Florida and across to Texas) accounted for 10.6 percent of presidential votes cast in 1888. Grover Cleveland won those southern states by nearly 39 percent, while Hillary Clinton won California by 30 percent. But rather than following Cleveland’s example of building a broader national coalition that could win in the Electoral College, today’s Democrats would rather simply change the rules.

“One danger of all these attacks on the Electoral College is, of course, that we lose the state-by-state system designed by the Framers and its protections against regionalism and fraud. This would alter our politics in some obvious ways—shifting power toward urban centers, for example—but also in ways we cannot know in advance. Would an increase in presidents who win by small pluralities lead to a rise of splinter parties and spoiler candidates? Would fears of election fraud in places like Chicago and Broward County lead to demands for greater federal control over elections?

“The more fundamental danger is that these attacks undermine the Constitution as a whole. Arguments that the Constitution is outmoded and that democracy is an end in itself are arguments that can just as easily be turned against any of the constitutional checks and balances that have preserved free government in America for well over two centuries. The measure of our fundamental law is not whether it actualizes the general will—that was the point of the French Revolution, not the American. The measure of our Constitution is whether it is effective at encouraging just, stable, and free government—government that protects the rights of its citizens.

“The Electoral College is effective at doing this. We need to preserve it, and we need to help our fellow Americans understand why it matters.”

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THIS N’ THAT

A collection of short items that I hope you’ll find as interesting as I did.

A businessman in Florida was one of the early donors to Rick Singer’s so-called charity consulting service to help get his daughter into an elite college. He paid Singer $400,000 and got his daughter into the college they coveted.

The daughter stayed one year and left to attend the N.Y. version of FIDM, a state school.

Wonder if daddy asked Singer for a refund?

Too Many Guns

The core problem in our epidemic of mass shootings, in my opinion, is that we have too many guns and too easy access to acquiring them.

There are many countries that have similar cultures to ours, relatively the same diversity and terrain. They all have mental illness, access to the internet, and violent video games.

Let’s take Canada for example. We’ve had over 250 mass shootings this year; Canada has had none. We have 121 guns for each 100 of our population; Canada has 35. We have 7x per capita gun homicides as Canada.

Canada has a little more regulation with waiting periods than we do and is about to initiate a ban on assault weapons—72% of Canadians are in favor of that ban.

This is not to say that we have done enough to spot and treat mental illness or that violent video games do not influence the mentally ill; but we have to start with the basic core of our problems.

There is no reason for private citizens to own military style weapons. Let’s start there.

How to Spot the Next Recession

With America’s record-long economic boom slowing, it’s natural to wonder whether the country is headed toward a recession. Ben Casselman of the NYT has a handy guide on what signals to look out for and whether they’re showing danger.

Rapid increases in unemployment: Right now, there’s nothing to worry about.

An inverted yield curve, which occurs when the interest rate for 10-year Treasury bonds falls below that of three-month Treasuries: Looking worrisome, but not a reason to panic.

The I.S.M. Manufacturing Index falls below 45 for a while: It’s down, but that’s in part because of the trade war, and because manufacturing is less important for the U.S. economy than it once was.

Consumer confidence falls 15 percent over a year: Not a cause for concern yet.

Mr. Casselman’s caveat: None of these are perfect. “Historically, the best that forecasters have been able to do consistently is recognize that we’re in a recession once we’re in one,” the economist Tara Sinclair told him.

The current economy could be as good as it gets.

Losing VP Candidates Fade into Oblivion

Who was Hillary Clinton’s VP running mate in 2016? Don’t be alarmed. Not many people remember, including me.

Most losing VP running mates are not long remembered.

Here are a few recent ones:

• 2016 – Tim Kaine, VA
• 2012 – Paul Ryan, WI
• 2008 – Sarah Palin, AK
• 2004 – John Edwards, NC
• 2000 – Joe Lieberman, CT

And here are a few others you probably don’t hear much about since their defeat: Geraldine Ferraro, Jack Kemp and Dan Quayle.

On the other hand, Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson became president.

How Not to Get Prosecuted

I guess it helps to be a known personality and hold important positions. The Justice Department announced that it would not prosecute former FBI Director James Comey even though he admitted leaking memos with classified information in them. They followed a similar approach with Hillary Clinton who had multiple items of classified information on her personal server which in itself was unauthorized.

Who Said This?

“Younger parents aren’t sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style. Our spirit is back, but we haven’t reinstitutionalized it. We’ve got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom—freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It’s fragile; it needs protection.”

Actually, it was Ronald Reagan in his farewell address over 30 years ago.

Whether you voted for him or not, it was somewhat prophetic.

Canada Joins U.S. in Foreign Attempts to Influence Elections

Vivian Krause, a Vancouver-based researcher and activist, has spoken out to prove that foreign money “moved the needle” in the 2015 federal election campaign, with groups claiming credit for defeating 26 conservative incumbents. These foreign-funded groups, such as OPEN and Leadnow, pumped millions of dollars into Canada’s federal election, a dangerous loophole in Canadian law that the Trudeau government refuses—perhaps not surprisingly—to close. Leadnow admitted that it received foreign funding before the 2015 election but claims that money was not used in its Vote Together campaign to defeat the Harper Conservative government.

“This was done as part of the campaign to land-lock our crude. To defeat the one political party (the Conservatives) that was committed to breaking the American monopoly that’s keeping our country over a barrel,” she said.

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THE SILENT EPIDEMIC OF KIDS DIVORCING PARENTS

No parent wants to imagine a day when your child would refuse to speak to you. But estrangements between parents and adult children may be more common than you think.

Joshua Coleman, a psychologist, called estrangements between adult children and their parents “a silent epidemic.” “It’s sadly very common. I work with parents in my practice who have had estrangements for 10 years, permanent estrangements.”

The problem is silent because people are too embarrassed to discuss it. Coleman said, “They feel ashamed. The feel humiliated. And the kids, they don’t want to talk about it either.

Parental divorce can often cause a breakdown in the relationship between grown children and their parents. “Divorce is probably the single most common cause that I see,” Coleman said. With divorce, children may see one parent as a winner, the other as a loser. “Somebody got hurt more, somebody got left,” he added.

Divorce can sometimes lead to parental alienation, where one parent negatively influences a child against the other parent, so the child no longer trusts that parent or feels hateful towards them.

Other reasons for children to stop talking to their parents:

1. Parents may disrespect the child’s spouse
2. Parents play favorites among siblings
3. Parents offer too much advice
4. Parents pry into child’s life, finances, etc.
5. Parents refuse to apologize for hurtful comments

This is not to say it’s always the parents’ fault. Some children feel:

1. We don’t have the same values
2. You still see me as a child
3. The family situation was toxic with alcohol, drugs or anger issues
4. They weren’t loved, supported or nurtured sufficiently
5. Feel hurt from episodes that occurred years ago

And then there are the somewhat common situations where no one knows why there is the estrangement.

For parents who find themselves dealing with an estranged child, Coleman offers these tips:

Accept Responsibility

“I wouldn’t say take the blame, but if your child has been estranged from you, something is very wrong there,” he said. “You have to start from the perspective of really trying to understand and making yourself vulnerable. Typically, in our children’s complaints about us, there’s a kernel of truth.”

Don’t Defend Yourself

“It’s about your kid, it’s not about you,” Coleman said. “If you defend yourself, you get into the right and wrong, it’s just going to escalate.”

It’s important to remember that all families are different. “You could be a good parent and feel like you did everything right and your kid could reasonably feel you missed something important about them,” he said.

Have Empathy and Don’t Give Up

Coleman said parents should keep trying to work on the relationship, with some exceptions. “Unless you’re getting restraining orders or the kid is sending back gifts, then I don’t think you should,” he said.

A British report surveyed 800 family units. They found that 44% had estranged children. Of this group, they found 96% alienated from mothers and 90% from fathers.

In a survey of estranged children, around 60% of the adult children said they would like to have a relationship with the person from whom they were estranged. The steps cited most often that could affect a reconciliation were apologies from parents, parents taking responsibility and boundary setting.

The British study painted a less optimistic picture. Children in that study were much more likely than the parents to say that the situation was hopeless, with no chance of reconciliation. In fact, over 70% said a functional relationship in the future was not a possibility.

Still, parents in this situation should not give up hope. Young people have been known to change their minds as they get older and gain life experience. And parents can draw encouragement from the knowledge that even if they have been divorced, the decree is not final.

Relationships might feel better when there is no contact. But, as Dr. Murray Bowen, credited with the most original new thinking about family systems since Freud and who coined the phrase “emotional cutoff,” observed, the problems are just tucked away through estrangement, they are not resolved.

The only way to move forward is to get to both parties…To talk. To find common ground. To forgive.

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