Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Lifelong Learning: a lesson from life and books

Lifelong Learning: a lesson from life and books
by Bryan J. Neva, Sr.

My father, a Korean War veteran, mechanic, machinist, carpenter, electrician, welder, truck driver, inventor, and handyman, is my intellectual hero (he's now 83 years old). He could fix or build anything, and he had an encyclopedic knowledge on many topics such as physics, engineering, religion, history, and geopolitics. He never let his lack of a formal education stand in the way of learning new things. Looking back, he was way underemployed as he could easily have been a college educated mechanical engineer, but life and our family got in the way of his dreams. He's probably one of the smartest people I know, and in my opinion he could go toe to toe with with many people much better educated than he is. 

My mom too was very bright and "street smart;" she was entrepreneurial and ran several successful, home-based businesses to supplement our family's income. My mom made up for many of my dad's practical shortcomings. She used to buy me and my brother boxes of old comic books at garage sales for us to read; we'd devour them and beg her to buy us more. (If we'd only saved them, they could have been quite valuable today.) She also worked in an electronics assembly plant for years, and she inspired my older brother and me to eventually become electronics engineers. My older brother went on to earn an advanced degree in engineering. My younger brother and I also went on to earn MBA degrees. 

And even though they really couldn't afford it, my parents purchased a set of encyclopedias (on an installment plan) so that my siblings and I would have information available to us in order to learn. (The Internet and Google, had not yet been invented.) When we'd ask a question, my parents would show us how to find the answers in the encyclopedias, so they taught us how to do research and teach ourselves.

We grew up in a very religious home. My parents raised us in a Protestant faith tradition so regularly reading the Bible was a normal part of our lives. When I was around twelve years-old, I read the Biblical book of Proverbs and I was inspired by the lessons the author conveyed about wise living. The proverbial formula goes like this: if you behave wrongly, then bad things will eventually happen to you; but if you behave rightly, then good things will eventually happen to you. Being wise was all about making good choices and right living so you could have a blessed life. I went to my father to discuss this and he showed me in the Bible that wisdom is actually a gift from God to those who ask for it. He told me that all truth is God's truth and it's not found in any one place but in nature, life, books, learning, and in striving to live life rightly. So began my lifelong quest for learning, knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and right living.  

Now that I'm old, I look back at my life and realize those were the seeds that fundamentally changed my life's paradigms or how I approached life. I developed a thirst for knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. Consequently over my lifetime, I've probably accumulated or read over a thousand books. My wife keeps telling me I should get rid of all my books stored in plastic boxes in our garage, but they're my treasures and I just can't part with them. (If thieves broke into our home to rob us, I wouldn't cry over the stolen electronics or jewelry, but over my treasured books as they're just irreplaceable; but then again, most thieves are too foolish to appreciate their true value and would just leave them alone.) 

There's nothing wrong with being ignorant; ignorance only means you don't know something and you need to learn. But there is something wrong with being foolish; foolishness means you don't want to learn and would rather believe lies. Books will help you learn new truths or to change your paradigms on certain topics; understanding and wisdom will help you to think critically in order to separate the wheat from the chaff or separate truth from falsehood. But ultimately they're just empty words if you don't apply them to your everyday life and strive to live a better life.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Tim Cook to grads: ‘Don’t listen to trolls, and don’t become one’

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Science is worthless if it isn’t motivated by basic human values and the desire to help people, Apple CEO Tim Cook told graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Friday, urging them to use their powers for good.
In a commencement address, Cook — who as Apple’s chief executive since 2011 has overseen the rollout of the iPhone 7 and the Apple Watch — said the company is constantly looking for ways to combine tech with a sense of humanity and compassion.
“Whatever you do in your life, and whatever we do at Apple, we must infuse it with the humanity that we are born with,” said Cook, who previously served as chief operating officer and headed the Macintosh division.
“That responsibility is immense. But so is the opportunity,” he said.
Cook said Apple wants to make products that help people. As examples, he cited iPhone technology that can help a blind athlete run a marathon and an iPad that connects an autistic child to the world around them.
“When you keep people at the center of what you do, it can impact,” he said.
Cook said he isn’t worried about artificial intelligence giving computers the ability to think like humans.
“I’m more concerned about people thinking like computers without values or compassion or concern for the consequences,” he said. “That is what we need you to help us guard against. Because if science is a search in the darkness, then the humanities are a candle that shows us where we have been and the danger that lies ahead.”
Cook also urged graduates to resist becoming cynical.
“The internet enabled so much and empowered so many, but it can also be a place where basic rules of decency are suspended and pettiness and negativity thrive,” he said.
“Don’t let that noise knock you off course. Don’t get caught up in the trivial aspects of life. Don’t listen to trolls, and don’t become one. Measure impact in humanity; not in the likes, but the lives you touch and the people you serve.”

Friday, June 2, 2017

Not So Great: 94,983,000 Americans Not in the Labor Force in May by Susan Jones, CNSNews.com

Not So Great: 94,983,000 Americans Not in the Labor Force in May

By Susan Jones | June 2, 2017 | 8:46 AM EDT
(CNSNews.com) – A disappointing report from the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday: The economy added 138,000 jobs in May, fewer than analysts were expecting; and after setting three straight monthly records, the number of unemployed Americans dropped by 233,000 to 152,923,000.
The unemployment rate ticked down a tenth of a point to 4.3 percent, near historic lows.
But the number of Americans not in the labor force – meaning they are neither working nor looking for work – increased by 608,000 to 94,983,000 in May, close to the record high of 95,102,000 in December 2016.  The not-in-the-labor-force number includes retirees, students, homemakers, the disabled, and others who have stopped looking for work for whatever reason.
The nation’s labor force participation rate – the percentage of the 16-and-older civilian non-institutionalized population that is either employed or actively seeking work – dropped two-tenths of a point to 62.7 percent in May.
The higher the percentage, the better, since people who participate in the labor force contribute the payroll and other taxes that help support many of those who do not work. The participation rate hit a record high of 67.3 percent in early 2000, plunging to a 38-year low of 62.4 percent in September 2015.
“The economy is starting to come back, and very, very rapidly,” President Donald Trump said on Thursday, as he announced that the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord because it costs too much money and would kill millions of American jobs.
BLS says in the first five months of 2017, the economy has added a total of 810,000 jobs (fewer than the million Trump mentioned on Monday). Job gains for March and April were revised downward in the May report and are well below the strong gains of January and February.
Job gains for the most recent month occurred in health care and mining. (Employment in mining has risen by 47,000 since reaching a recent low point in October 2016, with most of the gain in support activities for mining.)
In May, the nation’s civilian noninstitutionalized population, consisting of all people age 16 or older who were not in the military or an institution, reached 254,767,000. Of those, 159,784,000 participated in the labor force by either holding a job or actively seeking one.
The 159,784,000 who participated in the labor force equaled 62.7 percent of the 254,767,000 civilian noninstitutionalized population.
In May average hourly earnings for all employees on private nonfarm payrolls rose by 4 cents to $26.22. Over the year, average hourly earnings have risen by 63 cents, or 2.5 percent, BLS reported.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Just A Common Soldier by A. Lawrence Vaincourt with Tony Lo Bianco

Just A Common Soldier 
by A. Lawrence Vaincourt with Tony Lo Bianco

Click on picture to watch inspiring video

Saturday, May 20, 2017

All The People Who Dislike Us

All The People Who Dislike Us
by Bryan J. Neva, Sr.

Don't worry about all the people who dislike us; concentrate on God who loves us!

People are quite fickle; one day they're our friends, and the next day they're our enemies. And if we dwell on it too much, it’s quite natural to start questioning ourselves by asking, “What did I do wrong?” or “Did I say something wrong?” So we have to remind ourselves that we’re all a work-in-progress; there’s nobody who’s perfect; and anyone who starts judging others doesn’t have the humility to see their own faults. Jesus taught this, “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Luke 6:41). You could be the best human being in the world, and there will still be those who dislike you. You're never going to "like" everyone and not everyone is going to "like" you. We live in a broken world where hate lives alongside of love.

So we should try not to worry about all the people who dislike us; rather, we should concentrate on God who loves us! God brings people in and out of our lives all the time: some for our encouragement, some to try our patience and test us, and others, quite frankly, to build our characters. It's quite rare to find a true and devoted friend who'll stick by us through thick and thin. 

Personally, I try to completely trust God and not people in everything I do and say. It gives me great peace-of-mind when I put God first, others second, and myself third. I try as much as I’m able to be patient, humble of heart, and forgiving of others. I try to trust in God completely and not in myself or others. Because it's simply NOT possible to please everyone; but it IS possible to please God. The only way we can get most people to like us is to do nothing, to say nothing, and to be nothing! But then we’d not longer be the unique human beings that God created us to be. We wouldn't be able to become the best version of ourselves.

It's also important to remember that it really doesn't matter whether or not others LIKE you or how they treat you, but whether or not YOU LIKE YOURSELF and how YOU treat others! You're your own worst critic, so if you're happy with who YOU are then that's all that really matters. There are many reasons for other people's unfriendly or unkind behavior. You can only try to positively influence others, but you can't control others! How others behave is ultimately their responsibility, not yours! YOU are only responsible for YOUR behavior, NOT other people's behavior. 

Think about this, Jesus was the perfect human being and what did the world do to him? Jesus even warned his disciples, "If the world hates you, remember the world hated me first. If people did wrong to me then they'll do wrong to you too.
(John 15:18, 20). St. John wrote, "Don't be surprised if the world hates you!" (1 John 3:13). And St. Paul wrote, "Indeed, all who want to live good and righteous lives...will be persecuted." (2 Tim 3:12).

For many and varied reasons people, in general, dislike people who strive to live good and decent lives. It's counterintuitive, but it's quite true. The old cliché, "no good deed goes unpunished" is quite true. It amazes me how many politicians, entertainers, famous, and wealthy people who live sinful lives are venerated as secular saints. Jesus warned of this too, "If you belonged to the world, the world would love you." 
 (John 15:19). 

People will reject you, betray you, abandon you, and mistreat you; don't treat them the same way: just forgive them and continue to love them as Jesus described in his Sermon on the Mount in in Matthew chapters 5-7 and St. Paul described in I Corinthians chapter 13. So if others are unfriendly, rude, hateful, or disrespectful to you, then return love, kindness, blessings, and prayers instead. When our lives are over, it really won't matter how many friends we had, but whether or not we were a friend to others (especially to those who are society’s outcasts).

I think Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta said it best:

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered; forgive them anyway. 

If you are kind people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives; be kind anyway. 

If you are successful you will win some false friends and some true enemies; succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget about tomorrow; do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough; give the world the best you've got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis it is between you and God; it was never between you and them anyway.   

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Something is Wrong - And It's Holding Us Back! by Allen Laudenslager & Bryan Neva

Something is Wrong - And It's Holding Us Back!
by Allen Laudenslager & Bryan Neva

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, in his annual letter to investors on April 4, 2017, said he has high hopes for the U.S. economy but warned, "Something is wrong - and it's holding us back!"

Dimon is absolutely right that something is fundamentally wrong with the U.S. economy. Our economy has been growing much more slowly in the last sixteen years than in the previous 50 years as shown in the chart below. From 1948 to 2000, real per capita GDP grew 2.3%; whereas from 2000 to 2016 it only grew 1%.
Household incomes in 2016 were 2.5% lower than they were in 2000, and the middle class has actually shrunk. The middle class was 61% of the population in 1971; today it's only 50%. And believe us, they didn't move into the upper class as research has shown that social mobility (those moving from the middle to the upper class) has declined by 20% since 1980.

The Labor Force Participation Rate (LFPR) has declined for men (ages 25 to 54, the prime working ages for men) from over 96% in 1968 to 88% today. (See chart below.) This is way below the LFPR of most developed countries today. And if you factor in the number of discouraged workers who've left the labor force entirely, our unemployment rate is actually double or triple the official 4.4%.

This lack of economic growth and opportunity in the U.S. has led to anger and frustration among the American people evidenced recently by the populist election of President Donald Trump in November 2016 and the strong polarization between liberals and conservatives. Americans are angry at politicians and government bureaucracy; they're angry at Corporate America; they're angry at our educational institutions for the exorbitant costs and not preparing them for the job market; they're angry about illegal immigration and the abuse of the H-1B visa program by high-tech companies as these are taking jobs away from U.S. citizens; they're angry about the double standard of the rule of law: one for the rich, powerful and special interest groups, and another for the rest of us; they're angry about the lack of job opportunities for their children; they're angry at the exorbitant cost of healthcare in our country; and they're angry at each other thinking all this is the fault of the left or the right.  

Dimon wrote further in his letter to investors, "We need coherent, consistent, comprehensive and coordinated policies that help fix these problems. The solutions are not binary — they are not either/or, and they are not about Democrats or Republicans. They are about facts, analysis, ideas and best practices (including what we can learn from others around the world)."

Dimon's observations are correct but we believe these disjointed, inconsistent policies of the government can be traced to the inordinate influence of corporate lobbying and donations to political parties and candidates. The founding fathers had a deep distrust of corporations and originally limited their formation and size exactly for these reasons. In the case of Jamie Dimon, his statement is akin to the pot calling the kettle black as Big Banks like JPMorgan Chase have substantially benefited from all the legal financial loopholes they've lobbied for.

Rana Foroohar, who is the Global Business Columnist and an Associate Editor at the Financial Times, in her best-selling book Makers and Takers: The Rise of Finance and the Fall of American Business, makes a compelling case about why Capital Markets no longer support business, and that Finance and not just poor economic theory is mostly to blame for our current economic problems. She makes a point that from Presidents Carter through Obama, most Presidents have slowly deregulated the Financial Services sector of our economy. She also argues that the Dodd-Frank law, enacted after the 2008 financial meltdown, made everyone feel a bit better, but didn't really change the way the Big Banks and Wall Street operate due to so many loop-holes written into the law (mostly by their lobbyist).  This is a prime example of crony capitalism hard at work!  She argues that only by enacting new, stricter laws and regulations can America break the stranglehold the Big Banks and Wall Street have over our economy. 

Dr. Mark Mizruchi, and Dr. Howard Kimeldorf, Sociology Professors from the University of Michigan, in their article published in 2005 in the Journal Political Power and Social Theory titled, “The Historical Context of Shareholder Value Capitalism” offer an explanation of the rise in prominence of Institutional Investors and Securities Analysts as a function of the changing political economy throughout the late 20th century. The crux of their argument is that their rise in prominence can be credited to three significant forces: organized labor, the state, and banks. The roles of these three forces were abdicated and can no longer keep corporate abuse in check.

They write, “Without the internal discipline provided by the banks and external discipline provided by the state and labor, the corporate world has been left to the professionals who have the ability to manipulate the vital information about corporate performance on which investors depend.” In laymen's terms, the fox has been guarding the henhouse.

We believe there are two fundamental issues here. First, despite what the Supreme Court has ruled, corporations are not people! (When was the last time you seen a corporate officer go to jail for the misdeeds of their company?) Rather they're an aggregation of people with many of the drawbacks of a mob and none of the strengths of an individual. Second, the concept that shareholder value is the single measure of a company’s success. It's not! Rather, stakeholder value is the measure of a company's success. (We've written in depth about this previously.) When the Big Banks, Wall Street, or Corporate America don't share the wealth with Main Street America, our economy as a whole suffers.

There is an old military aphorism, “The troops do what the commander checks,” used to remind military leaders they need to check that key things are being done by their troops. It can also illustrate why our economy is in such disarray. Government regulations are the "commander's checks" on business. And with corporate efforts to tailor those regulations to enhance the industry's profits, either the checks are not being done or the government is checking the wrong things. Government regulations are supposed to be intrusive! They're supposed to help ensure that business doesn't harm society as a whole - sometimes at the expense of profits. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

24 Things Dying People Wished They'd Done Differently

24 Things Dying People Wished They'd Done Differently
by Bryan J. Neva, Sr.

In his book Resisting Happiness, Matthew Kelly writes about a time he was performing consulting work for a hospital. He spontaneously held an informal focus group with several of the hospital's hospice care nurses. He asked them, "When people are dying, what do they talk about?"  The nurses said that when people are dying they often talk about how they wished they'd lived their lives differently. Here's a list of 24 things dying people wished they'd done differently:

1) I wish I had the courage to just be myself.
2) I wish I had spent more time with the people I love.
3) I wish I had made spirituality more of a priority.
4) I wish I had not spent so much time working.
5) I wish I had discovered my purpose earlier.
6) I wish I had learned to express my feelings more.
7) I wish I had not spent so much time worrying about things that never happened.
8) I wish I had taken more risks.
9) I wish I had cared less about what other people thought.
10) I wish I had realized earlier that happiness is a choice.
11) I wish I had loved more.
12) I wish I had taken better care of myself.
13) I wish I had been a better spouse.
14) I wish I had paid less attention to other people's expectations.
15) I wish I had quit my job and found something I really enjoyed doing.
16) I wish I had stayed in touch with old friends.
17) I wish I had spoken my mind more.
18) I wish I hadn't spent so much time chasing the wrong things.
19) I wish I'd had more children.
20) I wish I had touched more lives.
21) I wish I had thought about life's big questions earlier.
22) I wish I had traveled more.
23) I wish I had lived more in the moment.
24) I wish I had pursued more of my dreams.

All these dying people lacked the one precious resource each of us still have...time! So here's the question that begs asking: what's stopping you from doing all the things you wished you could do?

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