THE MOVIES I MOST ENJOYED IN 2017

I don’t know if these were the “best” movies last year.  They certainly weren’t the most popular.  Nevertheless, here are the Silver Screens I enjoyed the most last year.

In case you missed a few from 2016, here’s my list from last year.  You can probably still catch them on Netflix.

  • Hell or High Water
  • Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble
  • The Beatles: Eight Days a Week
  • Fences
  • Scully
  • Manchester by the Sea
  • Café Society
  • Hidden Figures

Now back to 2017.  Box office sales were down almost 5%.

Norman – The moderate rise and tragic fall of a New York fixer.  Richard Gere is outstanding in this somewhat quirky flick about a somewhat quirky guy who seems to suddenly start to work hard at trying to be helpful to everyone around him.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – A somewhat dankly comic drama about a mother frustrated with the lack of progress in finding her daughter’s murderer.  Frances McDormand is outstanding with her controversial billboard message to Chief of Police Woody Harrelson and it all leads to some unexpected battles.

Darkest Hour – Early in WWII with France about to fall, Britain faces its darkest hour as the threat of invasion looms and allied armies are cornered on the beaches of Dunkirk, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the leadership of newly appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill (Gary Oldham in an Oscar performance has to maneuver his political rivals and confront the choice of negotiating with Hitler or rally the nation to hold fast.

Marshall – The interesting early trial in the career of future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.  Muzzled by a biased court, Marshall partners with an inexperienced Jewish lawyer to defend a chauffeur accused of sexual assault.

Phantom Thread – About a fussy and dictatorial dress designer (Daniel Day Lewis) whose habit of consuming and discarding fashion models is reversed when he becomes involved with a woman (Vicky Krieps) who matches his drive, his talent, and perhaps his need for control.

Rebel in the Rye – An interesting story about the reclusive J.D. Salinger famed author of Catcher in the Rye, who suffered PTSD as an intelligence officer in the Army in WWII and now writes only for himself.

Stronger – Starring Jake Gyllenhaal is the inspiring real life story of Jeff Bauman, an ordinary guy who captured the hearts of the city and the world to become a symbol of hope after surviving the Boston Marathon terrorist bombing.

The Big Sick – The enduring idea of America as a melting pot is most welcome.  In this romantic comedy, a devout Muslim Pakistani immigrant who falls for a white woman.  Led by love into a no-man’s-land between two cultures.  Only love can get him out.

Molly’s Game – The true story of Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain), a competitive skier felled by injury heads to Hollywood and ends up operating a high-stakes poker ring dominated by powerful Hollywood men.  Money, fame, power, alpha male ego, they create a minefield for Bloom, mapped smartly by Chastain and writer-director Aaron Sorkin.

NOT GREAT, BUT WORTH THE TIME:

Lady Bird – An outstanding replay of the classic mother/daughter conflict.  A keen portrayal of a teenage girl searching for self that drives parents crazy.  A great chic flick.

American Made —Tom Cruise is at his best—charming, naïve adventurer—in this entertaining story of an American rogue pilot who becomes a drug kingpin.

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THE TRAIN OF LIFE

(Our thanks to Gordon Roberts for this meaningful blog.)

At birth we boarded the train and met our parents,
and we believe they will always travel on our side.

However, at some station
our parents will step down from the train,
leaving us on this journey alone.

As time goes by,
other people will board the train;
and they will be significant,
i.e. our siblings, friends, children,
and even the love of your life.

Many will step down
and leave a permanent vacuum.

Others will go so unnoticed
that we don’t realize
they vacated their seats.

This train ride will be full of joy,
sorrow, fantasy, expectations,
hellos, goodbyes, and farewells.

Success consists of having a good relationship
with all the passengers
requiring that we give the best of ourselves.

The mystery to everyone is:
We do not know at which station
we ourselves will step down.

So we must live in the best way,
love, forgive, and offer the best of who we are.

It is important to do
this because when the time comes for us to step down
and leave our seat empty
we should leave behind beautiful memories
for those who will continue to travel on the train of life.

I wish you a joyful journey on the train of life.
Reap success and give lots of love.
More importantly, thank God for the journey.

I am not planning to get off the train anytime soon,
but I thank you
for being one of the passengers on my train.

Have a wonderfully happy, successful and healthy
New Year!

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RANDOM OBSERVATIONS IN 2017

  1. Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman, in her seminal study on behavioral economics, told us we fear loss twice as much as we covet success.
  2. I still have trouble understanding how the Superior Court could define money as a form of speech in the Citizens United case which has opened the floodgates to astronomic amounts of money saturating political campaigns.
  1. The reason we elect so many flawed candidates is because so many people mistakenly believe that being able to articulate ideas is the same as being able to put ideas into action and make them work.
  1. I don’t know about you, but I hate it when some vendor asks me to call 1(800)ShopCVS and provides no numbers.
  1. I’ve never figured out why anyone wants to be a dentist.
  1. No big surprise, LaVar Ball, the Donald Trump of parenting, became the first to pull his shoplifting son Angelo out of UCLA. He didn’t like the punishment (still to be determined) his son would have to endure.  He’s going to try to play with his younger brother in Lithuania.  My guess is they’ll have a tough time finding an NBA team.
  1. All the impeachment noise has nowhere to go, unless Mueller gets Trump’s income tax returns. All the rest of the investigation will prove to be meaningless B.S.
  1. If you think the media has been critical of Trump, now that the tax bill is about to pass. They’ll go ballistic on him.
  1. How can President Trump look in a mirror and think he’s being effective despite absolute facts that counter his opinions?
  1. A year of Trump and all his blistering erroneous pronouncements has been enough. I’m ready for Mike Pence.
  1. Trying to rewrite and alter history is just plain dumb. Columbus Day celebrated the discovery of America, not a flawed man.  The same goes for the statues.
  1. Clare Valley Vinters in South Australia have developed a new hybrid grape that acts as an anti-diuretic. It is expected to reduce the number of trips older people have to make to the bathroom during the night.  It will be called PINO MORE.
  1. Why does HP require completely separate ink cartridges for each of the dozens of printers they produce? Hmm, I think I know why.
  1. Don’t you have to be able to read English to become a citizen? If so, why are ballots printed in multiple languages?
  1. Why isn’t English the official language of the U.S.?
  1. In the 1960s, leftists marched in Berkeley, California, holding up signs demanding free speech rights. In 2017, black-clad, masked leftists in Berkeley grabbed similar free-speech signs away from conservatives at a rally…and burned them.  Then the agitators physically attacked the conservatives—all for the “crime” of waving American flags and supporting President Trump.
  1. The constitution allows you to bear arms—a musket and a pistol when that was the standard. Why can’t we use the same standard?  You can’t legally own a tank and other military weapo0ns.  Why don’t we prohibit the ownership of all guns with more than five bullets or go to jail for five years.
  1. Why do people spend thousands of dollars to cover their whole bodies with indistinguishable tattoos?
  1. How can California allow illegal aliens to practice law?
  1. How can all the car advertisers find so many empty streets or roads to drive on?
  1. To expand on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s assessment, I think Trump is an uncontrollable, educated moron—but since his election, the stock market is up over 20%, the economy (GDP) is at 3% for the first time in nine years, we’ve done away with a lot of burdensome regulations, and we finally have ISIS running on empty.
  1. The whole transgender thing baffles me completely. I don’t understand why you want to do it, nor the demands you make for accommodation.
  1. The concept of sanctuary cities or colleges, etc. seems to me to be the first step toward anarchy.
  1. Why is it the Republicans haven’t come up with a sensible health care plan in eight years?
  1. How can the Democratic Party and the Catholic Church justify illegal immigration not for any moral righteousness, but only to feather and increase their numbers?
  1. The one major accomplishment in the tax bill coming out of Congress appears to be a reduction in the corporate tax from 35% to 21%, which may help stimulate some overall economic growth. The rest is a muddled, ineffective stab at tax reform.  It raises more taxes than it cuts.
  1. If the Republicans could find a leader, they could form a political party.

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THE LIGHTER SIDE OF TRAVEL

Some trips are memorable for the scenery, some for the adventure, some for some incredible sites, some for the relaxing and/or feeling of restoration.  Then there are those moments in travel where you just have to laugh, because it’s just really funny.

We posted a blog on 10-15-14 with some of these moments.  Here is a second round of the funny moments in our travels.

Buenos Aires, Brazil – Gabriele is fluent in Spanish from her days in school in Cuba, but is a bit reluctant in Spanish-speaking countries to let locals know that.  I’m not sure why, but that’s her choice.

Anyway, we’re in the Sofitel Hotel in Buenos Aires and go down to have breakfast.  We look at the menu and she orders two four-minute eggs and I order bacon and eggs; mine comes in a reasonable time, then we wait and wait for Gabriel’s soft-boiled eggs.

Finally, her order arrives—it’s two raw eggs.  The waitress never understood her English.  Now she re-orders in Spanish and it took four minutes—no problem.

Provence, France – We’re on a bike trip—not well organized—and staying in some dumpy places.  Not one of our better trips.  It was also the only bike trip of the seven we tried where the mistral winds forced you to have to peddle to go downhill.  It was a hoot.

Kern River, California – It was way back in 1987.  We were on a two-day river-rafting trip on the Kern River, near Bakersfield, California.  It was late June and the river was running pretty high due to a lot of winter rains.

We were in a raft of pontoons with three people on each side and a guide in the back to steer and give us some direction.

The rapids were strong and it was a lot of fun.  All of a sudden we hit an unseen rapid that threw the raft up in the air.  When we came down, all three on my side, plus the guide got thrown into the river.  I mean thrown!

We went under for a mini second, but seemed a lot longer.  As we all came up, the guide somehow leaped straight up and back into the raft, and then started to pull each of us back in.

Found out why they always instructed you to put your life vest on really tight.  That’s how the guide pulled you back into the raft.

Manaus, Brazil – In 2010 we’re getting ready to start a 3- day trip on the Amazon River.  We arrive at this nice hotel kind of late in the evening.  We ask what’s available where we can eat.  They tell us there’s a barbecue out in the garden or you can get a light snack in the bar.

We decide we don’t want barbecue so we go to the bar.  They really meant a LIGHT snack.  So we managed and went to bed a little hungry.

After a day of touring in Manaus, which turned out to be quite interesting, we returned to the hotel and asked again about eating.  Same options—barbecue or the bar.

Found it hard to believe in this really nice hotel there were only two options, so we walked out to the garden to check out the “barbecue.”  It turned out to be a delightful buffet and not even close to a barbecue.

Parma, Italy – We’re on a bike trip in the Po River Valley, the agricultural heart of Italia.  It’s beautiful and mostly flat.

For some reason, I can’t remember why Gabriel takes a sleeping pill one night.  The next day, we pack up, get on our bikes and take off with the crowd.

Now it’s lunchtime in a cute little town with a bunch of restaurants on a small hill.  I sit down with a group of six or so guys waiting for the women to ride in and join us, which they do in a few minutes.

Bringing up the rear is Gabriel who comes rushing up to me excitedly.  No hello, just a bit panicky, telling me we left her black pants in the hotel room.

We have to go—we have to call—we have to do something, she’s saying.  I try to calm her and tell her I’m sure the pants got packed, but either way, why don’t we wait until we get to tonight’s hotel to see if the pants are there.

The crowd is now quite amused over this episode of marital discord.  Gabriel is not happy with my response, but everyone encourages her to go along.

She grudgingly accepts, but worries all afternoon.  When we get to the hotel, the pants are there and Gabriel swears she will never take another sleeping pill.

On a Cruise, Somewhere – Gabriel insisted she would do the laundry.  She says it’s too expensive to send out.  So she goes to the designated laundry room with her bag of laundry.  To help pass the time, she put a book on top of her laundry bag.

You know what happened next?  The laundry and the book all went into the washing machine.  She realized what she did, but couldn’t stop the machine cycle.

Called Guest Services and they finally got hold of a mechanic.  He couldn’t stop the machine either until he took the whole control panel apart.  It finally stopped.

By this time a small crowd had arrived, all waiting to do some laundry.

Gabriel didn’t know what to do with a wet book so she put it in a plastic bag and put it with the laundry into the dryer.  Nice try; but, of course, it didn’t work.

Squaw Valley, California – It was around 1998 or so.  We had been to Yosemite and now we were getting a real taste of winter.  Although I had never been before, I agreed to go cross-country skiing.

After a brief orientation, we were told just follow the ruts that make kind of a path around the snow-covered golf cours4e.

It was fine until I had to turn.  Nobody had bothered to tell me how to do that, so I invented my own way.  I would fall down, turn on the ground and get up in a new direction.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

It was a lot of fun!  After lunch, Gabriel decided she wanted to go back out on her own.  That was okay till the fog started rolling in.

Now, she was lost and wandered around till she finally saw a glimpse of the hotel; and there she was, a vision coming out of the fog.

Farewell Bike Trip Trophy – About 2011, we were on what I proclaimed to all who would listen that this was my farewell bike trip.  We went from Amsterdam to Bruges, staying on a barge each night and biking during the day.

It was a relatively easy bike trip with some nice people.  It didn’t matter which direction we were biking, it always seemed like we were riding into the wind.

At one point, the person on the bike in front of me stopped short.  I did, too; but because of my poor balance, as I stopped, I sort of fell off the bike and down a small slope into a dry ditch.

Undaunted, my friend from Philadelphia came to help me and he came tumbling down as well.

At our final dinner they awarded me my bike seat as a memento of my farewell bike trip.

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THIS N’ THAT

Here are three unrelated items gleaned from the news which may tickle your interest or give you some information you didn’t think you needed.

First is a Cato poll of Americans feelings on expressing political views, followed by an outline on making the right choice to paint your walls and ending with a somewhat hair-brained scheme to split California into three states.

Free Speech in America

A new Cato Institute national poll of 2,300 U.S. adults provides a highly compelling portrait of the state of free speech in America today.

One of the most striking findings is that 58% of Americans say they have political views they feel unable to share in the current political climate.  Further, 71% believe that political correctness has silenced discussions society needs to have.  The survey’s results also show why censoring offensive speech is difficult—Americans can’t agree what speech is offensive or shouldn’t be allowed.  For instance, 82% of Democrats believe it’s hate speech to say unauthorized immigrants should be deported; only 37% of Republicans agree.  But 42% of Republicans think it’s hateful to say the police are racist while only 19% of Democrats agree.

What is deeply offensive to one person may simply be a political opinion to another.  The results also show that if we silence speech that any number of people find offensive, we will shut down a wide variety of important political debates.

Choosing the Right Color to Paint Your Walls

Here is an interesting recommendation from noted interior designer Jonathan Fong to solve this continuing question.

“When I start a decorating job for a client, one of the first questions I’m always asked is, ‘What color should I paint these walls?’

“To determine the perfect hue for a particular room, we need to start with how we want to feel in it.  Do we want to be energized?  Hopeful?  Colors can affect our emotions, so it’s important to understand the psychology of color in the context of home decorating.  Let’s look at some colors and how they can make you feel.

“RED – The color of passion, red is stimulating and energetic.  It’s good for kitchens and dining rooms because it also stimulates the appetite.  However, because it can raise blood pressure and heart rates, try not to use red in bedrooms, where you need your beauty sleep.

“ORANGE – If you like red but are afraid it could be too intense, orange is a good alternative.  Orange conveys enthusiasm and creativity, and also is ideal for kitchens and dining rooms.  Orange is a friendly color, so you will find that many businesses use it in their corporate communications and interiors to suggest a more customer-oriented image.

“YELLOW – The color of sunshine, yellow is joyful and optimistic.  Its welcoming vibe is perfect for entryways and living rooms, but a little goes a long way.  Too much yellow, especially when it’s a brighter shade, can feel oppressive.  It does work well as an accent color, offering a happy contrast to cooler colors such as gray.

“BLUE – A popular choice for bedrooms, blue creates a feeling of serenity and peace.  Light blues are particularly calming but they run the risk of making you sad, or “blue,” if the room receives little natural sunlight.  If that’s the case, try a deeper blue or balance it with some warmer shades.

“GREEN – The most prevalent color in nature, green is another calming color and is very restful for the eyes.  It also helps you concentrate and stay focused, so it is perfect for home offices.  Because it blends the serenity of blue with the cheerfulness of yellow, green works in almost any room.

“BROWN – Another color dominant in nature, brown offers comfort and security.  Both the lighter beige and the darker chocolate shades create warmth.  Even if you choose not to apply brown paint to the walls, you can get a similar effect with wood finishes on furniture and floors.

“PURPLE – It’s no wonder purple is considered the color of royalty.  Especially in its deeper shades, purple evokes luxury and sophistication.  It adds drama to living rooms, even in small doses as an accent color.  And in lighter shades such as lavender, purple creates a calming environment for bedrooms, but with more grandeur than blue or green.’

“PINK – Traditionally stereotyped as feminine, pink has very calming effects.  In fact, researchers have shown that prison cells painted pink resulted in less anger and hostility among inmates.  The University of Iowa even painted its visiting football team’s locker room pink to make the players less aggressive.”

Splitting Up California

California, home to nearly 40 million people, has commonly been ungovernable.  That’s why some people think we should divide it up.

Now, the architect of a previous effort, a tech billionaire named Timothy C. Draper, is back with another idea:  three Californias.  He submitted paperwork to put the question before voters in 2018.

“No one can argue that California’s government is doing a reasonable job governing or educating or building infrastructure for its people,” Mr. Draper said.  “And it doesn’t matter which party is in place.”

The three Californias would have roughly equivalent populations and wealth.  A state of Northern California would include almost the entire upper half of the state, including San Francisco; a Southern California state would contain most of the rest.

A third state, called simply California, would fold in Los Angeles and extend up the coast to Monterey.

The proposal’s odds are extreme.  Even if voters got behind it, the state Legislature would have to approve it, and then the U.S. Congress, which would have to be convinced to let blue California add four additional senators.

Just what we need; something else to clutter up our ballot.

Martin Lewis, a geographer at Stanford University, said Mr. Draper’s plan was striking in its seeming disregard for regional identities.  Monterey, for example, which looks toward San Francisco, would be unlikely to welcome its absorption into a state whose epicenter is Los Angeles.

According to Lewis, in a two-California scenario, putting aside the water issues, it might seem logical to simply separate north and south.

“It’s clear now,” he said, “that the real political divide separates the coastal counties from most of their interior counties.”

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THE AMERICAN DREAM IS STILL ALIVE – JUST NOT QUITE AS EASILY ATTAINABLE

I don’t think it’s about simply owning a house.  It’s about an entire package.

We Americans, traditionally, want a stable home life, one that we create for ourselves through hard work.  That includes a loving family and a place that we think of as home.  Having ownership means that we’ve established ourselves.

Millennials, generally speaking, haven’t achieved this dream yet, for a few reasons.  But they still want it.

Research from Gallup reports that 86% of Americans ages 18 to 34, basically the Millennials, want to get married someday.  Unfortunately, in 2014, only 27% of them were married.  According to the Census Bureau, 36% of Gen-Xers and 48% of Baby Boomers were married at that age.

And Millennials—despite the stereotypes that exist of them to the contrary (like living only to post pictures of themselves on Instagram)—want kids.  In 2013, 87% of those 18 to 40 without children said they wanted to have kids someday.

This leaves us with one piece of the American Dream puzzle to discuss: a home.

We know people would rather own than rent.  The Urban Institute noted that 81% of renters would rather purchase a home but don’t think they have the means.  The biggest reasons cited for not buying were affordability and qualifying for a loan.

Money plays a part in each of these big life decisions: when to marry, when to have kids, and when to buy a home.

It’s easy to say that few people have enough money when they’re young to feel comfortable getting married or having kids but that they should do it anyway.  But, when buying a home, the situation is a bit more tangible.  You must have the money or you simply don’t get a house.

It’s Hard for the First-Time Buyer

Today, the typical first-time homebuyer is 31 years old.  Rising numbers of this group will reach age 31 through 2026.  We’re halfway through what should be a booming new-home market, and yet sales remain stuck near recession levels.

New single-family home sales touched almost 1.4 million units per year in the housing boom.  Clearly that was a bubble.  After it burst, sales dropped to less than 300,000 per year, the lowest level of new home sales on record.

We’re recovered to just over 600,000 per year, but that’s less than the average number of units sold during the 1980s and 1990s.  The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) estimates we need about one million new homes a year to meet demand.

In this context—young people want to buy homes, and there are more people of the age to buy new homes than at any time since the Boomers came of age in the 1980s and 1990s—builders should be falling all over themselves to build homes that cost around $200,000.

A family earning $65,000 to $70,000 per year—the median income of a household aged 31 to 34 was $65,768 last year—could afford units near that price.  And yet that scenario isn’t playing out.

Instead, builders focus on homes between $300,000 to $400,000.  The median home price in the U.S.is $306,000.  Since 2011, the number of affordable units priced under $200,000 continued to fall.  And, in 2014, builders started constructing more expensive homes than affordable units.

It looks like builders are ignoring their biggest opportunity: selling first homes to the growing market of Millennials as they reach the prime, first-time homebuyer age of 31.

It doesn’t make sense.  No retailer would willingly ignore a growing potential customer base, resigning his or herself to selling 60% of what the market would bear.  There has to be a reason.

The Costs of Building Homes

It turns out that builders have the same problem as their young clients: money.  They simply can’t afford to price a home so low.  Builders are bumping up against the reality of higher costs for regulation, land, and construction.

Not to be left out, builders are charging a bit more, meaning they’re earning higher profits.  In 2011, clearly a difficult time for the industry, the average profit was 6.8%.  In 2016 the percentage rose to 9%.

With fewer than 100,000 new homes priced at or below $200,000 built in 2016, it’s obvious that many would-be-first-time-homebuyers are out of luck.

The New Buyer Profile

Last year, 17% of first-time homebuyers—of both existing and new homes—financed 100% of the purchase price.  That’s almost one in five borrowers who have no skin in the game; no equity built up.

An additional 29% of the first-time buyers put down less than 5% of the purchase price, and another 15% put down less than 10%.

All told, 61% of first-time buyers put down less than 10% on their homes.

That’s a shockingly large number of homeowners with very little equity.  But the dollars aren’t so small.  At today’s median price, a new-home buyer would need more than $60,000 to put down 20%.  That’s a big chunk of cash, especially for a young couple buying their first home.  Even at 10% they’d need over $30,000.

With prices so high, it’s easy to see why they choose alternative financing methods—just like I did way back with the FHA—to get their feet in the door.  The difference is that my downside was miniscule.  Still, you do what you have to do.

And we want Millennials to buy homes, because it works out better for the broader economy.

A Supercharge Waiting to Happen

Homeowners who buy a newly constructed home typically spend $4,500 more in their first two years in the new house than their non-moving homeowner counterparts do in the same period.  For those that buy an existing home instead of a newly built unit, the difference is $4,000.

Those buying new homes spend the money on appliances and furniture, whereas those buying existing homes spend less on those items but more on repairs and renovations.  All these purchases spur economic activity, which boosts GDP.

And, to become homeowners in the first place, these young buyers borrow a lot of money.

To fund operations, those lenders issue bonds, which end up in the portfolios of pension funds, insurance companies, and mutual funds.  The home-buying process, particularly for young first-timers, supercharges the economy through credit creation, giving the buyers the capital needed for the transaction and providing investors with the long-term debt needed to meet their financial goals.

It’s a win-win.  That’s just on the buying half of the equation.  Moving to the selling side, home building boosts GDP and employment.

Residential homebuilding as a share of GDP usually fluctuates between 4% and 5%.  During the housing boom of the mid-2000s, it jumped to almost 7% of GDP, but then it fell to an all-time low of 2.4% in 2012.

The problem is that homebuilding’s share of the economy hasn’t rebounded very much, sitting now at 3.8% of the GDP.  That’s the same level reached during the recessions of the early 1980s and early 1990s.  And this comes after five years of rising home prices and nine years of economic expansion!

The same trend is playing out in employment.  Building a home takes a lot of labor, including carpenters, electricians, plumbers, roofers and other workers.

Residential home building employment has only recently climbed back to the lowest level of the recession of the early 1990s.

Homebuilders claim they need more workers, a situation exacerbated by the hurricanes we saw in Texas and Florida in late August and early September.  Before Hurricane Harvey, the U.S. had an estimated shortfall of 228,000 construction workers.  But numbers like that always strike me as a bit disingenuous.

Can it be true that contractors are willing to hire an additional quarter million people but no one wants those jobs?  I think the reality is a bit different.  It’s not that people aren’t available.  It’s that we have a skills gap that no one is willing to pay to close.

Contractors lament a lack of workers with specific skills, but where are the training programs for those skills?  When housing fell off a cliff in the late 2000s, not only did skilled workers leave the field, but new workers stayed away.

To rebuild the labor force, someone has to train the new hires.  If builders have such a shortage, they can use some of their increased profits to train the next generation of workers.  So far they seem unwilling.

The situation boils down to cost.  With rising land, labor, construction material, and regulatory costs, builders can’t construct homes that most young, first-time homebuyers can afford, which means slower family formation among the Millennials compared to previous generations.

When this integral piece of our economic pie doesn’t grow, it drags on the entire economy.

With fewer new homes on the market at affordable price points for young, first-time homebuyers, more of them will most likely turn to existing homes.

With a limited supply of homes within a manageable commuter distance of major urban areas, this market won’t give the economy the same economic boost as new homes.  But it does give Millennials a way to make progress toward the American Dream.  And it also increases spending on renovation and repairs.  This market has become a staple of everyday life, with real estate-flipping shows clogging the airways, outlining how do-it-yourself homeowners can dramatically improve their property on modest budgets.

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HOORAY FOR THANKSGIVING

Where did the year go?  I’m glad it’s Thanksgiving, though.  It’s my favorite holiday; a feast of food and a great family gathering.  No religion, just a lot of good eats and family togetherness.

We’re reminded regularly of the age-old Thanksgiving story.

Most classroom materials portray Native Americans at the historic first Thanksgiving as supporting players.  They are depicted as nameless, faceless, generic “Indians” who shared a meal with the bold and gallant pilgrims.

The real story is much deeper and far more nuanced.

  • The Indians in attendance were Wampanoag, a people with a sophisticated society who had occupied the region for thousands of years. They had their own government, their own religious and philosophical beliefs, their own knowledge system, and their own culture.  They were also a people for whom giving thanks was a part of daily life.
  • The quintessential Thanksgiving feast of turkey, cranberry sauce, and mashed potatoes (foods we still enjoy today!) would not exist if not for the knowledge and ingenuity of the Wampanoag and other native people of the Americas.
  • And unlike the image of the first Thanksgiving as a friendly gathering of two diverse groups trying to understand each other’s cultures, the assembly of these people had much more to do with political alliances and diplomacy.

It’s a much different story than the idyllic scene depicted in countless texts and tales, but it tells us so much more about the event, and helps us understand the significance of this gathering far beyond eating turkey on the fourth Thursday of November.

Unfortunately, for centuries, history books and popular culture have separated Native American history from “American History.”  Native people who helped shape our country are recognized today as little more than car model names and team mascots.

Blackhawk helicopters…cigar store Indians…Jeep Cherokee…Red Man Chewing Tobacco…the Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins.  It seems Indians are everywhere in America.

But what do we really know about native people?  How much have you been told about Chief Joseph, Geronimo, Sitting Bull or any of the other important leadership figures in Native American history.

Chief Joseph, 1841-1904, Nez Perce Leader

A powerful orator and advocate for his people’s right to remain on their homelands in Oregon’s Wallowa Valley, Chief Joseph is best known for leading his people on an epic four-month-long flight toward freedom through some of the most difficult terrain in the American West.  In 1877, Chief Joseph’s people were given 30 days’ notice to relocate to an Idaho reservation—an order that precipitated the Nez Perce War, in which Chief Joseph led 300 warriors and 500 women and children in a guerilla campaign that eluded pursuing U.S. troops over 1,300 miles.  Hungry, cold, and outnumbered, the New Perce surrendered, 40 miles shy of the Canadian border and freedom.  After being held prisoner in Kansas—where five of his children died of disease—Chief Joseph became a tireless and well-publicized champion for his people’s right to return to their homelands.  Chief Joseph was never allowed to return home.  He died in 1904 at the Colville Reservation, in Washington State.

Sitting Bull, 1831-1890, Hunkpapa Military, Religious, and Political Leader

Sitting Bull was a stalwart defender of his people’s lands and lifeways, which were threatened by the intrusion of white settlers and miners on treaty-guaranteed tribal territories, and by U.S. government efforts to concentrate Indians on reservations.  These violations provoked war in 1876, in which Sitting Bull and other war leaders masterminded the defeat of U.S. troops at the Battle of the Little Bighorn.  Faced by a massive U.S. military counteroffensive, Sitting Bull and his 4,000 followers fled to Canada, but returned in 1881.  After two years as a prisoner of war, Sitting Bull settled on the Standing Rock Reservation in present-day North Dakota, where he became a successful farmer, and later toured with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.  Yet he remained a staunch critic of U.S. Indian policy, and became an apostle of the Ghost Dance—an Indian religious revival movement, which spooked white officials at the Standing Rock Reservation.  In 1890, Indian police stormed his cabin, sparking a bloody shootout in which Sitting Bull was killed.

Geronimo, 1829-1909, Apache Leader

A symbol of Native American resistance and warrior spirit, Geronimo acquired a reputation as a fearless fighter while wreaking vengeance on Mexican troops who had murdered his wife, children, and mother.  When U.S. miners, settlers, and soldiers intruded on Chiricahua Apache lands in Arizona, Geronimo and his people resisted the newcomers, rejected U.S. efforts to settle his people on reservations, and were denounced as murderous renegades by angry whites.  Hunted relentlessly by U.S. soldiers and Apache scouts, Geronimo was finally persuaded to surrender in 1886, and was shipped as a prisoner of war to internment camps in Florida, Alabama, and finally Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  In his later years, Geronimo converted to Christianity, sold autographed photos of himself, and rode in President Theodore Roosevelt’s inaugural parade.  Despite his notoriety, the old warrior was never allowed to return to his tribal homeland.  He died a prisoner of war at Fort Sill in 1909.  Geronimo’s legend as a warrior survived.  Today he is remembered as one of the greatest symbols of Native American resistance in the history of the United States.

The National Museum of the American Indian stands proudly as an active and visible part of the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum complex.  The flagship museum is located on the National Mall, just steps away from the U.S. Capitol.  Opened in 2004, this facility was imagined and constructed with extensive input from Native communities.

The National Museum of the American Indian tells this story—and much more.  Here people will learn…

  • How the worst pandemic in human history killed perhaps 90% of the indigenous population.
  • How Native societies developed a complex system of hand signals that foreshadowed modern sign language.
  • How Native gold, silver, land, and labor, made Europe rich and changed world history.
  • How many individuals today have Indian ancestry.
  • How Native people have not gone away. They are a large presence in our society and continue to influence and shape our shared story.
  • Most of all, the museum shows visitors that no matter what your personal background or heritage, Native history and culture has affected your life.

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