May 31, 2020

Enough...Actually Way Past Enough

The following was written by my youngest daughter and posted on Facebook. She has given me permission to use it here. It deserves a place on this blog as a heartfelt plea for change as America faces upheavals after the death of yet another unarmed black man at the hands (knee) of one or more policemen. The message is a spotlight on our national failure. 
"As I sit in my bed, tears streaming down my face, I have these thoughts:
Hate is fear and ignorance. Someone taught you to hate, you weren't born with it. Think about that person. Think about who taught them, and the others before them. Think about how that fear and ignorance shaped their lives and how it spread. Hate is easy, it's weak and it's lazy. It's just a repetition of those before you.
Now think about someone who taught you to love. Think about the way their example of compassion, curiosity, and kindness made you experience joy and fulfillment. Love can be hard. It takes courage and commitment to learn about that person and accept them into your life.
You have a choice. You can break the cycle of hate that has been passed down for generations, or you can continue to spread it.You can honor the person who taught you love, or you can throw away that gift.
If you are a parent, you have that power to choose for your children now. They will see you, hear you, and emulate you. You have to mean it.
If you are a teacher, highlight the people who may not be in the standard curriculum - Maria Gaetana Agnesi, Ada Lovelace, Ann Hutchinson, Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, Elizabeth Blackwell, Kate Sheppard, Vigd√≠s Finnbogad√≥ttir. Don't know who any of these ladies are? Exactly, that's the problem.
If you are in entertainment, write and cast fully-realized characters from all genders, orientations, races, ethnicities,  and religious affiliations. And don't stereotype them and perpetuate the fear.
Elect leaders who reflect your values of kindness and respect.
Don't elect sociopathic, narcissistic, misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, lying bullies.
Travel. Talk to people who aren't like you. ( not right now of course, but when you can ) Some with a different race, gender, orientation, hobby, ethnicity, religion, pet. Anything. Just talk to people and educate yourself. It becomes so much harder to hate."

The key person in the cause of this death  has been arrested and charged; others may follow. Justice has started its slow process of accountability.

The fires and rioting are not to be condoned and have no place in our society. They are counterproductive to the long term goals they are meant to highlight. The vast majority of police officers are honest, dedicated, hard-working people who put their lives on the line every day to protect and serve all of us. They are essential to the lives we live. The men involved in the death of Mr. Floyd do not represent this profession. They are aberrations.

That said, as a privileged white male I can't possibly feel the fear and separateness that this segment of our population experiences on a daily basis. But, I can try to understand the rage and helpless feelings that has driven this behavior. 

Thank you to my daughter for saying something that needs to be said and repeated over and over and over until the message is heard.

May 27, 2020

The U.S. Postal Service: It's Future Is At Risk

For 228 years our country has depended on a government controlled agency to deliver the mail. Checks, magazines, medicine and supplies, catalogs, gifts, letters...all manner of communication and commerce have arrived, without fail, six days a week, in our mailbox.

The shift in how we communicate, shop, pay bills, and receive income has changed over the past few decades. As a result the U.S. Postal service lost nearly $9 billion dollars in 2019. With the economic effects of Covid-19, that loss will certainly be much worse this year.

The Postal Service receives no taxpayer funding. It must deliver whatever it takes in to every address in the United States, six days a week, and pay for all that strictly on income. As an added problem, the postal service must pre- fund retiree health benefits for 75 years. Seventy Five years! No other government agency, even those who receive tax funds, must do so. Obviously, that is a burden that almost guarantees the service will operate in the red.

All that money, more than $110 billion, is supposed to be held for future retirees. In a typical government move, most of it has been siphoned away to help pay down the national debt. So, the enforced savings plan does not have the resources to pay future needs. 

The cost of mailing letters and packages has risen steadily. Under the category of unintended consequences, each price increase results in lower mail volume, thus less income. The problem feeds on itself.

When the postal service officials have presented requests to Congress to modify or improve service, they have often been rebuffed. In 2013, for example, there was a move to eliminate Saturday delivery, saving $2 billion dollars in desperately needed expenses. Congress vetoed that idea, demanding the service continue with universal, six-day-a-week service, but providing no additional funds. Basically, the service was told:" You don't generate enough income to fulfill your mission. Tough Luck. Figure it out." 

So, the Postal Service has projected it will run out of money in September. A recent request for bailout money has been rejected out of hand by Congress and the administration. Again, a reminder: this organization is like any private company that has requested a bailout, except it must provide its full range of services, and cannot raise its prices without Congressional approval.

President Trump has stepped into the mess, calling the U.S. Postal service a joke. He demands the service raise its package shipping rates by 400%. Of course, he fails to realize that package shipping is the one area in which the postal service generates the bulk of its income. First class and junk mail lose money.

Quadrupling the rates would drive most of those customers to other services, like UPS or Fedex, accelerating the death spiral. It would impact Amazon, owned by a man in great disfavor inside the White House. That fact seems to be the major motivator.

Now, here is where the survival of the U.S. Postal Service suddenly becomes incredibly important. Because of the pandemic, it is very likely that much of the November election will be conducted by mail. A crippled organization financially incapable of meetings its mandate will be in charge of sending out and receiving tens of millions of ballots. 

When there are problems, as there certainly will be, the losing side will likely claim all sorts of miscreant behavior, throw the totals into question, and demand the results be voided or investigated. The result? The current occupant of the White House and all members of Congress up for election, will remain firmly in place. The November election will become a non-event until courts sort it all out.

To demand that a service like the Post Office do a particular job but not provide a way to pay for it is ludicrous. Is there waste in the organization? Sure. There is waste in anything. But, that is not why the U.S. Postal Service is failing. It is about to go out of business because of the requirements put in place by its boss (Congress) are not properly funded, and attempts to adjust its business model to reflect reality are shot down.

There are some in Congress who believe the postal service should be privatized. That would likely result in an elimination of service to many rural and out-of-the-way places, since they are expensive to serve. It might mean a reduction in service to only a few times per week and for only certain types of mail. It certainly would usher in much higher prices. The company granted this hold over a basic communication and commerce service would be picked for its support of a certain political viewpoint. In short, allowing a private company to control our country's mail service would be a very bad idea.

Two weeks ago, a new Administrator of the Postal Service was appointed. He has zero experience in this field; his only qualification is he is a supporter of and donor to the administration. It is pretty obvious this will not be the route to solutions.

The failure of such a basic service to our society has enormous consequences, never more so than at a time when a general election hangs in the balance.

Wiser minds than mine need to find a solution before it is too late.

May 24, 2020

Financial Uncertainty and Paying Off a Mortgage

An earlier post, A Recession is Very Likely: How Will It Affect Us?  took a predictive look at what may lie ahead of us. The economic recovery from the world's shutdown will be no little thing. White House spokespeople who say the economy will be rocking in July are simply not seeing the facts the rest of us are. The CEO of Southwest Airlines says he would be surprised if airplane travel was back to pre-virus conditions in less than five years. That sober view is probably mirrored by many people in many industries. 

The focus of this post is on retirement and a mortgage. Whether to pay yours off before leaving the workforce is a major decision as you plan your retirement finances and one without a clear cut answer. Add in the turmoil ahead with a serious recession virtually assured, and how you approach this decision is even more important. 

If you have already paid off your mortgage, please keep reading. Your comments and thoughts will be very helpful to others who are not mortgage-free.

Is it best to pay off the mortgage before retirement, or is that extra money better off being invested? With changes in the tax law, the mortgage interest deduction is no longer as important since the standard deduction has been dramatically increased. What if I have a major health expense and can't pay the mortgage..could I end up retired and homeless? 

Good questions with no obvious answers. But, they are worth asking and taking a look at some of the ramifications. As an disclaimer, I am not a tax expert or a financial guru, so what I offer is opinion and some basic thoughts from my own research. Please think through your own situation carefully, consult a trusted adviser, and proceed with caution. 

If you do a Google search about retirement and mortgages the majority of the sites and articles that rise to the top suggest paying off your home loan before retirement. They do admit that many people can't do that, but it should be a goal.

 The reasons most often cited to pay off your mortgage:

1. Peace of mind. Even without a monthly payment you still have real estate taxes, HOA fees, maintenance, repairs and upgrades. But, if you delay fixing a leaking toilet for two months you won't risk losing your home. That big monthly Must Pay bill is gone.

2. Home equity is available. I strongly suggest this source of cash be used only for major repairs and upgrades to your property or something like a large medical expense. Home equity is not a piggy bank so you can take (someday!) a 12 day trip to Hawaii or buy a new truck. Too many people get stuck when they spend their home equity only to find the worth of the house has dropped below the size of the loan. With home equity lines of credit at low interest rates at the moment,  smart use may be able to save you interest over more conventional loans.

3. You have more freedom to relocate or resize. Get in trouble with your mortgage and someone else might tell you when to move. Have no mortgage and you can decide when to downsize or move closer to the kids....or stay put.

4. You have a large source of retirement money available. If you move to a smaller home or condo, or even rent an apartment, any profits after the house sale and purchase are yours. Though expensive and sometimes risky, reverse mortgages can provide a steady income from the equity you have in your residence too.

On the other side of the argument, these points are made:

1. Don't pull  money from other investments to pay off a cheap mortgage. Even losing the tax deduction of a mortgage may not be enough to make up for better performing investments. If you take a chunk of your retirement funds to pay off a mortgage the money left may not produce as much income or growth.

2. Tying up too much of your net worth in an illiquid asset. You own a $300,000 home free and clear. But, depending on the market conditions it might take you six months or more to be able to sell the house and see any net profits. If you need quick cash a house is not the place to find it (except through a home equity loan which comes with its own risks).

3. If you plan on selling soon, or offering your home for rent, there is no real reason to pay it off right away. The cash flow from the rental might cover all or most of your payment, meaning your renter is paying the mortgage. If you think you will be selling soon, there is no major advantage in paying off the rest of your mortgage.

Betty and I plan on moving from our current home in the next eight years or so. We know that at some point we want to move into a continuing care community (CCC). The "buy-in" will be somewhere around $300,000. If we own a home or condo and need to move rather quickly into the CCC because of health issues, our buy-in money will be unavailable until we sell. That maybe too late.

So, if we sense another major drop in housing prices is coming, we will give serious thought to selling our home and renting an apartment/town home. The bulk of our profits from our current home will be invested for safe growth. While the yearly rent is lost in terms of equity, we will have liquidity when we are ready to move to the continuing care community. 

Again, I will remind you I am not a financial planner or expert. I have bumbled along pretty well for the past several decades, but there is always more to learn and consider. If you are a financial planner, investment guide, or CPA, I welcome your input (as long as you aren't trying to sell something!). 

All that said, you have thoughts, concerns, questions, and insight that will help of of us, expert or not. Please add your comments to this important subject. Since a home is generally the biggest expense for most of us in our lifetime, knowing what to do with that resource is vital.

Pay off the mortgage or not...that is the question.

May 21, 2020

: When The Tide Goes Out You See Who’s Swimming Naked.

(Spoiler alert: if you believe the current administration is doing a good job, or has been unfairly attacked by the media and/or liberals, this is a post I suggest you skip. It contains my personal, strong opinions. Comments have been turned off since you will either agree with me or suggest I jump off a cliff.)

Warren Buffett was right.

His well known quote implies that you can fake it for awhile, deceive people for a time, and get away with something until the retreating tide reveals something you would rather remain hidden. Eventually, the Emperor is shown to not be wearing any clothes. Smoke screens and deception only work for so long. "I take no responsibility" is a bill that comes due.

It is hard to accept, but easy to believe, that CDC guidelines, developed by qualified scientists and doctors for safely reopening the country, was shelved by the current administration. Instead, a 6 page, watered down version was released. I assume the theory is if we do not tell folks what the real risk are, the restart of the economy will be more robust and rapid. That would play well for the election narrative, until the infection and death toll starts to skyrocket again. Of course, then, the governors can be blamed for moving too quickly and not following the "rules" in the hidden report.

In a deeply ironic twist, the people who advise wearing face masks do not do so. Surprise, surprise, Covid-19 is now inside the White House. Even so, a recent meeting of 20 "leaders," showed only the reporters properly protected. The odds are quite good that some of the politicians sitting with the president, seen wiping their noses on their hands before touching microphones, sitting and gathering much closer than the range of the infection, will become ill. But, never fear. One of these stalwart guys has already said if someone gets sick it is because of the media presence (the ones wearing masks).

We are told that vaccines are not really required: the virus will eventually die out and simply go away, probably right after the election. Even so, the pressure to develop an "unneeded" vaccine continues. Of course, these are the same fine folks who told us this is nothing more than a flu, and maybe 15 people will wait, 30,000, hold it, 40,000, well maybe 60,000....certainly not 2 million! Things are under control. And, it is China's fault anyway.

Great Depression levels of unemployment, a majority of Americans refusing to start "regular" contact even as things slowly reopen. Wait: it's the Governors' fault for shutting everything down. Didn't they realize we were just kidding with that whole social distancing thing? Our people want to be Liberated to get sick, infect others, and have some die. We value our freedom to act irresponsibly and put our personal needs above others.

I am very aware that the shutdown has devastated our economy. The impact will take many months, or probably years, to be moderated. To restart the businesses in this country (and around the world) is very important. But, in the rush to do so without enough testing, we run a tremendous risk of bringing on a new outbreak sickening and killing thousands more of us. 

In one of the newest conspiracy theories to emerge, a doctor claims, with zero supported evidence, that many of the deaths attributed to Covid-19 are actually for other reasons. Of course, the reality is far different: the reported Covid-19 deaths are much more likely to be badly underreported; those deaths occured months before anyone was even aware of what coronavirus was. But, no matter, State TV (Fox) and other wacky folks grabbed on this assertion as proof that the disease was really around to harm people politically, not to just kill them.

I could continue, but you get the frightening picture. The people we elect to help keep us safe, do what is necessary to combat an enemy, tell us the truth always and put the country's best interests above their own, are naked beneath the water. 

Unfortunately, we are the ones exposed.

May 15, 2020

Replaced and Repaired

As we get older there are two ever-present conditions we find ourselves: being slowly replaced and constantly being repaired.

Fixing the clog under the sink, taking care of the lawn, putting on a new closet door...the types of things we have done most of our lives are being  parceled out to others. Simple maintenance chores now trigger a call to a handyman half our age. Cleaning the house? Others more nimble can do a better, quicker job.

The thought of replacing a toilet (what is a wax seal?) or putting in a disposal that actually grinds up food triggers an anxiety attack. 

We are mature enough to know what we can do and what would not be wise to tackle. Maybe 15-20 years ago putting up a new ceiling fan would be a simple, hour-long weekend project. Now, the thought of climbing a ladder, trying to not electrocute ourselves, and getting the fan to not wobble like a college student on a Friday night....too much.

The other condition is one of constant repair and maintenance. Doctor visits, clinic stops, pharmacies that politely give us our own parking spot. Eye exams that confirm the street signs are not at fault for being out of focus. The dentists who remark on how good our gums look for our age. 

The annual checkups. let's not forget the "procedure" that is strongly recommended (think colonoscopy).

The human body is an amazingly complex machine, that comes with annoying flaws: a best if used by date (unknown to us but still there), and obsolescence of all the various parts and abilities. Think of our bodies as a out-of-date computer. It still functions but is much slower and prone to glitches now and then. Eventually, you flip the power switch and ...nothing.

Is our state of replacement by others more competent at something, and repair of a body that is designed to ultimately stop working depressing? Do these "facts" cause us to pull into a shell and bemoan our fate?

To some people, yes. But, to the people I know best, no way. This is the hand we were dealt. There are no "mulligans," no redeals, no reshuffles, no reboot. So, our task is to make the absolute most of every moment, every opportunity, every day. 

Hiring someone else to do something we once did and using what assists are available to keep our body functioning are as much a part of life as learning to walk, use the toilet, figure out calculus, and interact with other human beings.

Just remember one very important caveat: each of us brings a uniqueness to the game that cannot be replaced or repaired in a way that changes who we are.

May 11, 2020

What is Covid-19 Likely to Change?

It is human nature to speculate about the future. New Year's Eve resolutions are a good example. So are projections from economist about when the Dow will hit 30,000...or 3,000. I guess it comes from our innate need to feel in control, in charge. We look ahead and say what we think will happen in the belief that in voicing our predictions they become more than wishes, but actual prophecies. 

So, in that spirit, and well before anyone has any real idea, or even how many months or years in the future this might be, I am going out on the proverbial limb with some predictions of what may happen after Covid-19 is under control, still a serious disease but no longer the overwhelming factor in our lives it is today. The economy has recovered enough to feel less fear, to find plenty of toilet paper and disinfectant wipes, to even visit a favorite restaurant now and then. Quarantine fatigue has been breached. 

* Our country's view of health care will undergo a change. We will accept that our system of a mish-mash of private and public care, for profit, not for profit, subsidized care for some, no care for others, leaves too many dying for no discernible reason. Medicare for all is probably a bridge too far at this  time, but offering better coverage instead of looking for ways to cut it for the most vulnerable will become too big a problem to ignore.

The scientists and medical professionals who alert us in time to prepare ourselves, develop safety guidelines, and eventually develop treatments and vaccines will not be dismissed as wrong because they are smart, but supported because they save lives. There will be a dedication to preparing for future threats as much as possible, and reacting to new threats in a coherent way.

* Those who support us will become better paid and protected. Their importance will be recognized and rewarded for what it is: essential to the functioning of our society. There are the obvious front line people who risk their lives at work everyday: doctors, nurses, EMT crews, ambulance drivers, hospital employees from sanitation to food service.

Previously, non-top-of-mind people will be recognized for their part: garbage collection workers, those who maintain our roads, sewers, water service, electric grid will get their due. Delivery drivers, fast food employees who stayed on the job to prepare and work the take-out window, grocery store stockers and workers, those in warehouses who package and ship what we order online.

I wouldn't be surprised to see an increase in unionization, some strikes to press for change, a demand for higher wages and better benefits.

* Living choices may change. The move to urban areas in most countries has been underway for well over a century. In America 80% of the population lives in areas defined as urban. Why? That is where the bulk of the jobs and opportunities are. Importantly, only a third of us are happy in an urban situation. 

In this regard coronavirus has shown us two things: urban areas exacerbate the spread of something like Covid-19. Living so closely to so many people can allow the disease to spread more rapidly and more quickly. Secondly, working at home, telecommuting, even being part of the gig economy does not always require living in or near a big city. As the economy restarts, I predict many segments of the economy will realize the advantages of fewer employees on site.

That will allow those who prefer a less crowded living arrangement to choose something that is closer to what pleases them: a more rural or smaller city. The loss of productivity from commuting, the positives of working from home, or simply the increased awareness that big cities come with as many risks as benefits.  

* Inequality. The difference between the haves and have-nots have been put in very stark contrast over the past few months. The ability to get a virus test seems to depend on where you live, or the color of your skin. Those on the bottom steps of the economic ladder are suffering  more acutely from the economic shutdown. Those who live paycheck-to-paycheck have found themselves in increasingly dire straights. They are the ones least likely to maintain health benefits after being some of the first to be laid off. They are the ones waiting week after week for promised unemployment help.

The stratification of our society will be very difficult to sweep under the rug again after this shared experience. 

* Supply chain strengthening. The problems with keeping grocery stores stocked and medical supplies moving where they are needed all the while depending in part on foreign suppliers, most notably China, will likely enhance the push to bring more manufacturing and production capabilities back to the U.S. Because of substantially higher labor costs that will result in increased prices for much of what we buy. But, the public may decide that such a cost is worth it to do a better job of protecting the systems that supply us.

* Climate Change Awareness. After just 4 weeks, the pictures of cleaner skies from places around the world were visible proof of man's impact on the climate and the air we breathe. There is some evidence that climate change enhance the development and growth of new viruses. if that is proven, the push to protect the environment will take on new strength.

The collapse of oil prices and the likely bankruptcy of dozens, maybe hundreds, of oil drilling and equipment companies will not quickly be reversed. Major companies will take a long, hard look at investing billions to find and extract new oil fields. 

* Role of Federal and State governments. This will be one of the more interesting and important developments to watch unfold. At times, the federal government has suggested it has more power than the states; a few hours or days later that argument is "walked back." Yet, it is obvious in a situation this massive, only the Federal government has the resources to provide the aid that is needed. Without the bottomless stack of money, the death toll and economic damage would be greater.

Will power expanded to deal with the pandemic be rescinded afterwards? That would be unusual. Once a new control has been exercised, that genie rarely goes back in the bottle. But, how will the states react if decisions that historically have been theirs are now usurped by Washington?

My prediction is a permanent expansion and strengthening of the federal role in  government. States will fight back, and rightly so considering the Constitution. But, the stick wielded by Washington is too big. Consider the position taken by the Majority Leader of the Senate a few weeks ago: states can file for bankruptcy if effects of the virus are too high, but don't expect any bailout funds. That plays into something Paul Loeb wrote several years ago:" Society has systematically taught us to ignore the ills we see, and leave them to others to handle."

So, there is my spaghetti thrown against the wall. Only time will tell which parts stick. I like journalism Gary Moore's approach. Fill in the blank in this sentence:  “It isn’t my choice to __________ but it is my choice how I face it.” 

Our decision on how we react to whatever is put in that blank is ours. Maybe we can't solve the problem or even make it much better. But, we do have the power to choose how we allow it to affect us.

By the way, I turned 71 yesterday, Sunday (yes, I know, Mother's Day, too). In a million years I could not have predicted it would be spent in stay-at-home lockdown.  So, my predictive skills aren't the best, are they!


May 7, 2020

Acknowledge The Effort

The lockdown, or stay-at-home situation we have found ourselves for the last few months has been a frustrating, economically damaging, even dangerous time for us.

Even so, I have been encouraged by the responses to several posts that have generated some fascinating comments. They tell me folks are using this time to discover new talents, try new lifestyles, or even jettison old ways of thinking. Some people I know have read more books since late February than all of last year. 

My suggestion is that you reward yourself for what you have accomplished, tried, adjusted, or simply discovered you enjoy. That doesn't have to be writing the Great American novel, learning a foreign language, or launching a new, online crafting business, though it could be. 

Yes, organizing the garage counts. Watching all the Alfred Hitchcock movies you can stream would be a notable accomplishment. Helping the grandkids with their online school work equals a great use of your time. Teaching your dog to not bark at all the delivery people that seem to be everywhere would be a memorable success. Setting up Zoom gatherings with friends for weekly accountability sessions or wine tasting? Sure.

One of the skills I have been working on is oil painting. Last August, for the first time in my life, Betty convinced me to give it a try. I know you are never too old to start; my dad started in his early 70's and produced some excellent oil and water color paintings. He taught himself to charcoal sketch, too. 

With that pedigre I figured, I will ignore my lack of artistic urges and give it a shot. Well, my first month's worth of efforts were pretty horrendous. In one post I put my lack of any discernible talent on public display.

Comments from readers were polite and encouraging, though no one offered to buy an early Lowry.

I found I rather enjoyed the process, even as my efforts produced disappointing results. I probably spent more time in setting up and cleaning up then actually putting brush to canvas, but it was enjoyable. So, I kept at it.

About nine months later, I have begun to feel some progress. At last, I produced one that Betty has approved for display in our home. Considering she has been an artist of many media all her life, I took that as a thumbs up. 

In normal times, after her approval,  I would reward myself with a nice dinner out, or maybe a armful of new paints and brushes. Instead, I am excited about each new painting because now I know what needs work and what I must practice. I am motivated to look forward to a fresh piece of canvas and what the next attempt might produce. 

Quite honestly, the two or three I painted right after the one above exposed some serious regression in the finished product. They found the trash can instead of the wall. Nevertheless, the effort was rewarding because each time I learn what I must practice over and over and over.

I'd like to leave you with a simple request: no matter what you have tried or done over the last few months, it is very important that you acknowledge the effort you have made. Even if what you have done is to make the fluffiest pancakes of your life, celebrate that fact. 

With all the stress, depressing news, or disappointment at what has happened to your life, it will do you good to pat yourself on the back for whatever effort you have made in whatever area of your life. To not simply mark time, but move yourself forward is something to celebrate.

May 5, 2020

Satisfying Retirement In A Changed World

Over the last several weeks it has become painfully obvious that our world has changed. And the upheaval brought about by the coronavirus is not going away anytime soon, regardless of the wishes of many of us.

What changes in how and where we work, dine out, seek entertainment, enjoy live sports, and shop for something other than essentials are yet to be determined.

The turmoil in the financial markets, the unbelievable debt load all levels of government are assuming, the possibility of massive bankruptcies in all sorts of unexpected places is a tsunami that has yet to hit our shores.

With unemployment approaching Great Depression levels, will huge parts of the economy be gutted, and return in very different ways? What will happen to all those out of work with limited prospects to return?

How will the November election will be held if the Postal Service runs out of money so mail-in voting is impossible, and too many of us are still leary of in-person voting?

Because of months without schooling, have our children and grandkids lost parts of their education that may never be made up? Will college entrance standards have to be relaxed or changed? And, will enough people have the money to even pay for tuition?

For me and this blog, the underpinning of its purpose has changed, at least as the virus runs its course. To have a blog stressing the joys of a satisfying retirement when that is the last thing any of us are thinking about, seems tone deaf and out of sync with our current needs.

To that end, I have modified the blog title to reflect what is happening. How will the pandemic affect our retirement? What is a satisfying retirement in such an upside down world?

How long the modified title and direction stays in place is unknown. It will depend on "conditions on the ground," to use a military phrase. It is quite possible that what makes a  satisfying retirement is undergoing a fundamental change. I want to ensure this blog doesn't act as if everything is fine and all the topics that concerned us before continue to be top-of-mind. That everything will snap back to normal at some point. 

Importantly, I will be adding regular posts that focus on good news, uplifting stories, and optimism...not pollyanna in a time of crisis, but a reflection that much good continues in our upside down world. Retirement can remain very satisfying and productive. Setting goals and making plans remain very important.

Many of the posts written about Covid-19 and retirement now appear in a special place on the left sidebar. If you are new to these pages, you might start there to see what readers are thinking and feeling.

I hope the adjusted blog title and a focus on where we are at any given moment will be more in keeping with what is important to you.

So, I look at the blog title change as a better reflection of where we are at the moment as we live through a once-in-a-generation experience together.

The most recent post, The Positive Power of Failure, remains available just below this one.

Thanks for your continued support, reading, and comments. I wish  the very best for you and your loved ones as we journey through uncharted waters together.

May 4, 2020

The Positive Power of Failure

As of today, social distancing  and the shutdown of what we expect life to be like continues. If nothing else, the last few months has shown us what happens when we are caught unprepared. In this case it has been a new strain of illness that has made clear some serious gaps in our ability to respond quickly to a medical problem. The basics of  equipment, hospital beds, testing kits, ventilators, and enough trained workers to handle the flood of sick people have all been left wanting.

In a country that prides itself on its wealth, intelligence, technology, and leading the way in all areas, we have found out that isn't always so. We found ourselves lagging behind others in our preparation and response. Our economy is still shut down, millions are without work, and millions more are soon to find out there is no place to go when sickness strikes.

The point of this post is not to rehash the problems that got us to this point. If it hadn't been Covid-19, something else would have come along at some point to expose some weak underbelly. Some event, worldwide or maybe just regional would present us with a problem too big to simply spin with positive positioning, throw some money around, and assume we will come out on top again in short order, with little or no lasting damage.

Obviously, it is too soon to know what America will look like when this first wave of damage subsides to the point where some sort of "normal" reappears, when grocery stores have full shelves, people aren't hoarding everything they can buy, and the stock market isn't on some sort of bipolar wild up/down swing.

When that time comes we may have a once-in-a-generation chance to learn that failure is a powerful force for change. A source as respected at the Bible makes this  (paraphrased) point several times: you can't go up until you go fall. 

Failure at anything can be a great teacher. As I noted in an earlier point, the closing of my business and the rocky state of my marriage was, in part, due to my inability to see the signs of what was happening. After finding myself retired, the factors that got me to that point became clear. Hubris, placing work above family, and not taking the time to learn from mistakes were key factors.

We are in the midst of a situation that this country has never experienced before. Not even during the Great Depression were so many economic drivers shut off so quickly and restrictions on movement so widespread. During both world wars the public had to deal with shortages and restrictions, uncertainties and uneasiness. But, due to the military needs, the economy was booming.

I am not alone in noticing a few changes that may bode well for us moving forward. Social media has suddenly started acting, well, more social. Sure, lots of the crazy stuff is still there. Conspiracy theories always live for another day. But, the numbers of connections between people, offering help by sharing ideas and support has increased. Services like Skype or Zoom are allowing folks to talk with relatives or fellow workers when face-to-face contact is difficult, if not downright risky. With political campaigns suspended, the various ads that seemed to dominate Facebook or YouTube have lessened.

The few times I must venture into a public space,to buy food, get gas, or pick up a prescription I swear I see more smiles, more acknowledgement of each other, more common courtesy. There is a sense that we are sharing an experience that is testing each one of us. The concept of a common denominator has us looking with fresh eyes at our wants, needs, and even consumption habits. How many will change some of the ways they live based on this shared experience?

Will the political divides that make public civility tough be healed after the virus fades from our daily concern? Probably not. Those attitudes seem to be pretty much baked in for the foreseeable future. And, it is an election year so everything is more intense. 

Our collective failure to simply snap our fingers, wave our magic wand, and exit this episode unscathed will have a lasting effect. There will be way too many unemployed people. Lots of businesses will not reopen. It may humble us a bit, make us see others as people who have been through something scary, too, and realize they are not that different from us. The realities of the global economy and how we depend on others for the basics of daily life and the parts that make, say, ventilators, will be hard to ignore.

There may be a a renewed appreciation for science, a newfound admiration for doctors, nurses, and  EMT crews. I wouldn't be surprised if various health organizations, both Federal and state have an easier time getting needed funds.

At least with cars being driven less and other pollutants less prevalent, there has been some noted improvement in our air. Experts believe that climate change could result in more viruses being more quickly spread to people as animal migration patterns change, so any progress is helpful. 

It is possible we could leave this period changed in important ways, both personally and in our interaction with others. The coronavirus will still be a terrible, miserable marker for this time in our history. But, our failures to avoid all that it has done to us has the potential to make us more empathic, aware people, and better able to face the future together.

Wouldn't that be wonderful.