A Season of Hope. There is Beauty Out There- if you look.

The world is filled with beautiful and amazing things. You need to slow down to see slowdown and notice. It may be a flower growing in a trash filled vacant lot. It may be the white helmet volunteers in Syria. It may be a young girl with autism in Northern Ireland with the voice of an angel.

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Girl With Autism Sings A Stunning Rendition Of ‘Hallelujah’

It’s not just good because she’s dealing with autism … It’s good because it’s good — really good.

This 10-year-old’s rendition of “Hallelujah” would have given Leonard Cohen himself chills. Turn the volume up and give it a listen.

 

Kaylee Rodgers, a student who has autism and ADHD, sang the solo part for the famous tune during her school choir concert at Killard House School in Donaghadee, Northern Ireland, and the performance went viral.

Rodgers’ voice is stunningly beautiful ― and she exudes confidence while she sings with her classmates. Tracy Rodgers, Kaylee’s mother, told the BBC that Kaylee’s music teacher, Lloyd Scates, played a huge part in nurturing her special talent.

“She always loved singing, but it wasn’t until she started at Killard House School that she really came into her own,” she told BBC. “[Mr. Scates is] like her safety blanket ― he’s amazing.”

Killard House principal Colin Millar told ITV that Kaylee was very shy when she started at the school. She “wouldn’t really read out in class,” he said. So “to stand and perform in front of an audience is amazing … It takes a lot of effort on Kaylee’s part.”

Go and find beauty in the world today.

Peace.

A Season of Hope

I published this series a few years back and I want to edit and repost it. I am not proud to say that this time of year I struggle with a little bit of depression. I have a GREAT life and an amazing family so it just makes me angry when I feel this way. Writing is a way for me to work through it. I miss friends and family from my youth. I miss my kids when they were little and excited by Christmas. At this writing we are are together in Colorado where my daughter lives. We plan on doing some skiing and just hanging out as a family.

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In April, on my other blog Vacilando, I posted 30 days of peace. It was at a time when I think we, as a country, needed to focus on peace.

Now, 7 months later, let’s focus on HOPE. From now until the New Year I will (hopefully) be  giving you a reason to be hopeful and to share that hope. Because with out HOPE, what’s the point?

As a 53 year old, I have faith in our next generation.  I was texting with my son last night and told him that I have more faith in his generation than my own. They are largely engaged, environmentally conscious and see that they can change the world. They still have HOPE in their eyes and their hope gives me hope.

This holiday season these young consumers want to give—and to give back. Speaking to my children I’ve learned they plan to spend more than they did last year on gifts for family and friends.  My son said he and his girlfriend plan on giving to a charity and volunteering as their gift to each other. I found statistics for their generation and learned that a substantial majority plans to donate to a favorite cause or to spend time volunteering. Retailers will get in the spirit, too: nearly 75 percent say they will make charitable contributions to celebrate the season. And the good cheer doesn’t end there. Giving back inspires more giving back. Consumers prefer to buy from retailers who translate their values into action, whether it’s in the form of cash donations, commitments to sustainable practices, or community involvement, and many shoppers say they will actually spend more with these brands. It’s clear that giving back is good for business.

This is exciting news and a happy blurring of the lines between what we care about and how and what we buy and sell. Companies can engage consumers with their brands and products by demonstrating a clear sense of social purpose. Consumers have the opportunity to choose companies or products that support the causes they champion. At a time when consumers are increasingly demanding not only great products but companies with values that match their own, the holiday season is an ideal time to bring humanity to buying and selling.

While shoppers of all ages say they will open their hearts and their wallets this year for causes that matter to them, we can expect to see some generational differences. It’s the most digital time of the year, more millennial parents than consumers overall plan to make donations to their favorite charities. And millennials (young, college-educated, upwardly mobile), will increase the size of their charitable donations this year by a larger amount than shoppers in other age groups. But younger consumers won’t be far behind when it comes to spending to support causes they believe in. Gen Z shoppers (ages 16-20) are both brand loyal and loyal to brands that show social impact through their actions.

Younger millennials and members of Gen Z, perhaps because they have grown up in the era of B (benefit) Corporations, for example, when they buy a pair of shoes a pair goes to a child in need, and they expect business to be a force for good.

Make a difference this year by shopping local, shopping with a conscience, giving back to the community. Can’t think of what to get that weird cousin on your dad’s side? Make a donation in their name. Buy them a membership to a historical theater or museum.

 

A Season of Hope. Winter Solstice

The winter solstice has been celebrated in cultures the world over for thousands of years. As the shortest day/longest night of the year, this start of the solar year is a celebration of light and the rebirth of the Sun. We have all completed one more official journey around the Sun.

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As the Winter Solstice has arrived, it is a time to consider yin and yang, darkness and light – and the exquisite balance that exists between all things. After weeks of shortening days, we have been affected in a number of ways by the scarcity of light and the growing darkness. Though we may have experienced sadness or slowness as a result of this winter season, we must also remember that the darkness is necessary in order to experience light.

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Many of us gather with our friends, family and loved ones, and no matter what tradition we observe for this holiday season, we begin to create our own light – the light of the love we feel for those we care the most about. It’s also a time for remembering those we love that are not with us- those who are separated from us by miles or death or simply the loss of relationship.

Many of the customs, lore, symbols, and rituals associated with the Solstice have survived into the 21st century so let’s see how we can join in this ancient celebration to bring love, light, joy and meaning to this season.

ENLIVEN YOUR SURROUNDINGS with the color red. The color of the sun is energizing, and symbolic of love, courage, warmth, fire. Wear red sweaters, scarves and hats, light red candles, bring in red flowering plants (the red poinsettia is a great one). The color red has a powerful effect in the darkest days of the year to lighten your mood and create a festive, heartening atmosphere.

ADORN YOUR HOME with sacred herbs and colors. Decorate your home in holiday colors red, green, and white. Place holly, ivy, evergreen boughs, and pine cones around your home, especially in areas where socializing takes place. Hang a sprig of mistletoe above a major threshold, an evergreen wreath on the front door to symbolize the continuity of life and the wheel of the year. Bring in a Christmas tree with colored lights.

CONVEY LOVE to family, friends, and associates. At the heart of the Solstice was the custom of family and friends feasting together and exchanging presents. Continue this custom by visiting, entertaining, giving gifts, and sending greetings by mail and/or phone. Play games, enjoy children, roast chestnuts over an open fire (what fun). Consider those who are and/or have been important in your life and share appreciation.

HONOR THE NEW SOLAR YEAR WITH LIGHT. If you have an indoor fireplace or an outdoor fire circle, burn an oak log as a Yule log. Decorate the inside and/or outside of your home with electric colored lights.

PARTY HEARTY on New Years’s Eve, not just to welcome the calendar year but also to welcome the new solar year. Celebrate and remember how much the sun means to our planet earth, bringing heat, and light.

CONTRIBUTE TO THE MANIFESTATION OF MORE WELLNESS ON OUR PLANET Donate food and clothing to the poor in your area. Volunteer time at a social service agency. Put up bird feeders and keep them filled throughout the winter to supplement the diets of wild birds. Donate funds and items to non-profit groups, such as churches and environmental organizations. Meditate for world peace. Work magic for a healthier planet. Make a pledge to do some form of good works in the new solar year.

CELEBRATE As you think about setting goals for next year, take some time to write down and celebrate everything you have accomplished this year. Keep your focus on your successes. Be careful of negative self-critical thoughts coming in when you remember the goals you did not achieve. Put those on your list for next year.

CELEBRATING keeps our focus on the positive and attracts more for us to celebrate. Take this energy of celebration with you into the new year and keep it with you throughout the whole year.

However big or small the occasion, look for excuses to be in a state of celebration. You can celebrate failures too. They open doorways for something new to come in. Your positive attitude will make sure you attract more positivity and goodness.

What do athletes think about the day before they travel to their first Olympic Games?

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Well today, on the one year anniversary of that particular night, where I anxiously awaited the final stretch of our RoadtoRio for my first Olympic Games, I’m going to share with you a few of my own thoughts – taken straight out of my diary from 3rd August 2016…well, with just a few small edits!

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“I’m really exhausted right now, but decided it was too big of day not to have my thoughts written down. Tomorrow I fly to Rio! I think once I reach that Olympic village, that is when I will consider myself an Olympian – and then obviously officially an Olympian when I’ve finished competing. But I have made it! It’s so amazing! I am really excited to fly out to Rio and I think it will become more real once I am there – not that I will have time to think about it –…

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Time to Close, Sell or Restructure Low Performing States

We’re told that, with President Trump as our nation’s CEO, America will now be run more like a business. Well, the first thing our new CEO should do is stop the hemorrhage of cash in money-draining operations.

One of our worst performing states is the very Republican (in 2016, Trump got 62.5% of its votes) State of Kentucky. It’s an embarrassing drag on our nation’s budget and economy. WalletHub identified Kentucky in 2017 as the state most dependent on the federal government, and a 2007 Tax Foundation Study (examining the period 1985-2005) found that Kentucky consistently received more from the federal government than it paid in. The numbers in Kentucky are dire.

In fiscal 2016, which ended last Sept. 30, the federal government collected $34 billion in taxes from Kentucky but spent $89 billion there — resulting in a net benefit to Kentucky of $55 billion (about $12,500 for each person in that state). By contrast, the federal government collected $109 billion in taxes from Massachusetts in 2016, but spent only $62 billion there. That’s $47 billion less than it paid in taxes.

To Make America Great Again,we can’t afford any namby-pamby political correctness — we need to tell it like it is. Low productivity states (subsidized by our more productive states) need to carry their own weight or go, and Kentucky looks like a good place to start America’s transformation. Given the GOP’s commitment to running America like a business, Kentucky shouldn’t get a dime more from the federal government than it pays to the federal government in taxes. If Kentucky can’t live on a budget, it should be shut down. That’s the way we’d do it in the private sector.

Let me spell this out in more detail. Kentucky’s median household income is just $44,000 a year, while the national median household income is $54,000 a year. In high performing Massachusetts, it’s about $69,000 a year. The portion of Kentucky’s population living in poverty and presumably using federal programs (such as food stamps) is above the national average and more than 50% higher than in Massachusetts. As a consequence, given our progressive tax system (higher income people pay more in federal income tax), Kentucky pays less in taxes. But since it has more poor people as a percentage of the population, it takes more money from the federal government in safety-net programs.

Kentucky’s not only an economic loser, its leading representatives in Washington are disruptive and arrogant. Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell recently used his position as majority leader to silence Sen. Elizabeth Warren (who represents highly productive Massachusetts) during a Senate debate.

In the private sector, the representative of an under-performing unit (such as Kentucky) would never order the representative of one of the most successful business units to sit down and be quiet (and if he made such a blatant faux pas, he’d be forced to apologize or resign). If the GOP is truly committed to running America like a business, it should demand McConnell’s apology or resignation for his outrageous treatment of Warren. Given how much money Kentucky sucks in from high performing states like Massachusetts, an apology is the least McConnell can do.

Leaving aside that kerfuffle, McConnell and fellow Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul often pontificate about the virtues of small government. But they aren’t interested in getting their state off the federal gravy train, or explaining to Kentucky voters just how much their state is dependent on the federal government. As Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey said in a 2015 GOP presidential debate: “If Senator Paul wants to start looking at where he’s going to start to cut spending … maybe he should start cutting the pork barrel spending that he brings home to Kentucky.”

 

Kentucky isn’t our only under-performing, money-draining state. GOP stalwarts such as Alabama, Mississippi and South Carolina are additional examples. Whatever solution we find for Kentucky should also be rolled out to these other low-productivity states.

Further, if the GOP in Congress is serious about shrinking government, it shouldn’t be led by those whose states would be devastated by such shrinkage. As a first step, the Senate’s GOP members should remove McConnell as their majority leader. The private sector wouldn’t put a drug addict in charge of a pharmacy. Putting a representative from Kentucky — a state addicted to federal money — in charge of running the Senate seems an equally dubious choice.

The U.S. government is dysfunctional (despite the GOP’s control of the House, the Senate and the White House) for a lot of reasons (such as the president’s random tweets). But one major reason is the Republican Party’s hypocritical grandstanding — about wanting smaller government and running America like a business — when the GOP, in fact, needs big federal government programs (including military, Medicaid, food stamps and farm subsidies) to keep many of its most important supporters afloat. If the GOP really believes in the snake oil it has been selling us, it’s time to show it. And if not, it’s well past the time for the GOP to stop its empty ranting, which as Shakespeare would have said, increasingly sounds like a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Problems in Trump’s Whitehouse

Donald Trump certainly seems like he’s having a lovely time on his first international trip as president. He touched down in Saudi Arabia over the weekend and was given an over-the-top reception by his hosts. The Saudis presented him with a medal, projected his portrait onto the side of a hotel, and extended to him the finest treatment an oil-rich monarchy that just purchased many billions of dollars-worth of American-made weapons could muster for a U.S. president. For Trump, whose personal style is borrowed from the Bourbons, a king’s welcome must feel pretty good.

Hopefully the president is enjoying himself as much as possible overseas, because back home, his administration is rapidly falling to pieces.

Just as Air Force One was lifting off to ferry Trump to Riyadh, The New York Times and The Washington Post each published seismically significant pieces on the White House’s ever-expanding Russia scandal. The Timesreported that Trump, during an Oval Office meeting the day after he fired FBI director James Comey, told high-level Russian officials that Comey was a “nut job” and firing him had relieved the “great pressure” Trump felt “because of Russia.” The Post, meanwhile, reported that the Justice Department’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s links to Russia has identified a senior White House official as “a significant person of interest.”

Shortly after the Times and Post stories hit, CNN came through with another big scoop, reporting that Russian officials had boasted during the 2016 campaign that they could use former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to influence Trump and his associates.

The Times piece in particular is brutal for Trump. At the time the president divulged to the Russians his motivation for firing his FBI director, the administration was still sticking to its ridiculous story that Comey lost his job because he botched the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails. That means officials from an adversarial government knew the White House wasn’t being honest about a politically explosive subject.

On top of that, Trump’s comments to the Russians could become the focus of an obstruction of justice inquiry by special counsel Robert Mueller, who was tapped to assume control of the Russia investigation following Comey’s dismissal. Trump had already told NBC’s Lester Holt that the Russia investigation factored into his decision to fire Comey, and the Timesreport adds significant weight to the idea that Trump’s primary motivation in sacking Comey was to neutralize an issue that was damaging him politically.

The Post report, meanwhile, feels like the first strong indication that the Russia investigation has the potential to cut deeply. The fact that a senior White House official is coming under scrutiny is obviously a problem for Trump, but the Post also reported that the FBI inquiry now “also includes determining whether any financial crimes were committed by people close to the president.”

Trumpworld is well-populated with characters whose business dealings look pretty scummy — Michael Flynn and undeclared foreign lobbying money, Paul Manafort and his “black ledger” payments from pro-Russia political parties in Ukraine, etc. The president and his closest advisers have all gone to great lengths to keep their sources of income concealed, even as they make policy that could potentially impact their own finances. I suspect the last thing any of them want is a Department of Justice investigation into where their money comes from.

At a broader level, all of these new Russia scandal developments reveal just how dysfunctional the executive branch has become under Trump. The Times, Post, and CNN stories were all the product of leaks: from the White House, the Justice Department, and the intelligence community, respectively. Trump had been doing a bang-up job of alienating the people underneath him before he fired Comey, but his abrupt and unceremonious dumping of the FBI director has clearly exacerbated some already raw feelings and made life even more miserable for the people charged with implementing Trump’s agenda.

Trump staffers are feeding stories to reporters about how life in the White House is a miserable slog and people are looking for exits. Others are giving anonymous quotes about how Trump looks like a “moron” and might get himself impeached. All of the administration’s self-made crises are pushing the people on the inside to break ranks and feed dirt to reporters.

An administration cannot expect to function properly under these circumstances. The White House is just oozing poison at this point, and the growing toxicity is undermining everything the president and his aides are trying to do. The accelerating Russia investigation paired with Trump’s penchant for political self-destruction guarantee that things won’t improve any time soon.

Why The Arts Are Important

Why does a federal agency in Washington, D.C. matter to the arts in your hometown? If you care about your local theater, symphony, or downtown museum, NEA funding likely matters to you more than you realize.

In 2010 alone the NEA supported 2,400 direct grants reaching all 435 congressional districts, totaling more than $110 million. The NEA contributed $43.6 million in partnership funding with state arts agencies, which supported another 23,000 grants to 17,500 organizations, schools and artists in nearly 5,000 communities across the United States.

I read this morning that President Trump has a bust of Winston Churchill in the Oval Office. Churchill was a believer in the art. A quote attributed to him (but not verified), When he was asked to cut arts funding in favour of the war effort, he simply replied “then what are we fighting for?”

But he did say this:

The arts are essen­tial to any com­plete national life. The State owes it to itself to
sus­tain and encour­age them….Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the rev­er­ence and delight which are their due

I also read this morning that the entire budget for the National Endowment for the Arts is LESS than the price of one B 2 bomber. I personally would like to see that matched!

Why Are the Arts Important

  • They are languages that all people speak that cut across racial, cultural, social, educational, and economic barriers and enhance cultural appreciation and awareness.
  • They are symbol systems as important as letters and numbers.
  • They integrate mind, body, and spirit.
  • They provide opportunities for self-expression, bringing the inner world into the outer world of concrete reality.
  • They offer the avenue to “flow states” and peak experiences.
  • They create a seamless connection between motivation, instruction, assessment, and practical application–leading to deep understanding.
  • They are an opportunity to experience processes from beginning to end.
  • They develop both independence and collaboration.
  • They provide immediate feedback and opportunities for reflection.
  • They make it possible to use personal strengths in meaningful ways and to bridge into understanding sometimes difficult abstractions through these strengths.
  • They merge the learning of process and content.
  • They improve academic achievement — enhancing test scores, attitudes, social skills, critical and creative thinking.
  • They exercise and develop higher order thinking skills including analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and “problem-finding.”
  • They are essential components of any alternative assessment program.
  • They provide the means for every student to learn.