Why We Help Second Harvest

At the day job we’ve been running annual food drives for Second Harvest Food Bank of NWNC for ten years. Every year we try to do better than the last and so I find myself doing what appear to be silly or crazy things to gin up publicity and interest for our efforts – things like wearing a pink tutu while jumping into a pool with the word EPIC painted on my back. You may wonder why someone would do something that odd, but when you read about some of the programs that Second Harvest supports it becomes clear that a little embarrassment is the least we can do for an organization that fills a vital role for our community. Scott Sexton’s column in today’s Winston-Salem Journal brings us the story of one of those programs:

In six short months, the H.O.P.E. truck has become a staple in neighborhoods where fresh food is often a rumor.

It is part of a larger project dreamed up by Tennille and his wife, Marty, a retired couple with hearts as big as their imaginations. When they learned that children in Winston-Salem are more likely to go hungry than kids in Detroit or Chicago, they were horrified.

But instead of wringing their hands, stamping their feet in protest or simply writing a check, they decided to do something about it…

Since it started rolling in January, H.O.P.E. of Winston-Salem has mushroomed into something of which the entire community should be proud.

The Tennilles pick up items from the Second Harvest Food Bank and 50-pound bags of fresh food donated by the Vernon Produce Co. during the week.

A small group of volunteers meets every Saturday in a retreat center at the Children’s Home, where they set up an assembly line to make healthy bag lunches for kids and to box up fresh produce for adults who come with them. Groups from a variety of churches assemble lunches at their buildings, too, and pack them into giant coolers so a volunteer can pick them up later.

Around noon on Sundays, more volunteers start to trickle in at The Children’s Home to load the truck and a similarly painted minivan. The entire operation runs like Swiss trains; it stops at the same places every Sunday at the same time. By the time it finishes, more than 700 children get to eat and a few dozen food boxes are distributed.

By the way if you want to help us support Second Harvest you can do so by making a donation at helpsecondharvest.com. Also, if you want to see me embarrass myself yet again you can drive by the Robinhood Court Apartments and Villas this Thursday (July 10) from 4-5 p.m. where I’ll be part of “Two Guys Wearing Prom Dresses” to raise funds for Second Harvest. You guessed it: I’ll be wearing a dress. Here’s a handy map for you find us:

PTAA Food Drive for Second Harvest

Each year my employer, the Piedmont Triad Apartment Association, puts on a food drive for Second Harvest Food Bank of NWNC. The folks at WPTI were kind enough to have Dale Holder, our food drive committee chair, and yours truly on their Triad View Points show to talk about it. Here’s the interview:

Health Care Rights

Have you heard about the SCOTUS decision in the Hobby Lobby case? If you live in American and haven’t heard about it then you might live in a cave, but here’s the gist of it:

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a decision whereby closely-held companies can request exemptions the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) coverage provision for some contraceptives because of the corporations’ founding family’s religious beliefs…

Much of the controversy over today’s decision derives from the fact that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga are not in the business of conducting religious services or overseas humanitarian missions as their primary business. They are for-profit companies. The ruling allows the corporations to refuse coverage because of the religious beliefs of individual leaders.

Beyond selectively singling-out women’s reproductive care, the decision raises the question of whether corporate leadership elsewhere might refuse coverage of other drugs due to religious beliefs.

A lot of the reaction I’ve seen online has focused on a couple of points: the weirdness of bestowing religious rights on closely held corporations using the argument that the corporation is an extension of the owners (that’s simplistic but I think gets to the heart of it); that the religious rights of the corporation/owners trumps the reproductive rights of their female employees.

I’d like to focus on the second point for a minute because I think the argument is a bit off and, quite frankly, misses the larger point. While it is regrettable that employers like Hobby Lobby would refuse to pay for insurance that covers all of their female employees’ contraceptive choices it doesn’t mean that those same employees can’t go out and get those contraceptives if they’re willing to pay for it themselves. Thus they aren’t denying them anything, they’re just not paying for it. That might seem like semantics, but I think it’s important because what it exposes is that corporate health insurance in this country is not a right for anyone.

Health insurance as we know it came into being in the World War II era as an incentive companies used to attract and retain employees who were in short supply at the time. As such, health insurance was never a “right” but was a benefit that came to be so commonplace that most employees started to view it as a right. Then something funny happened – companies realized they could shift the cost of health insurance back to employees and not suffer too many dire consequences and so they starting jacking up premiums and co-pays or simply doing away with health insurance all together. The result is a growing percentage of our population without access to health insurance, which means they forego preventive care and rely on ERs when they get sick, helping drive up health care costs for everyone.

The Clinton administration’s effort to deal with the rising health care problem twenty years ago was a notorious failure. ObamaCare started out as an ambitious plan to provide health care coverage for everyone, fought the “socialized medicine” stigma, went through a negotiation phase involving the health insurance cabal that resulted in the imperfect system being fought out in the courts today. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone happy with the system, except maybe for the millions of people who had NO access to health insurance pre-Obamacare and now at least have the option to buy it.

Long story short, while it’s easy to get hung up on the reproductive and religious rights arguments raised by the Hobby Lobby case, it would be a mistake to limit the scope of the conversation. The bigger question is why we can spend so much time and energy talking about our religious rights, women’s reproductive rights, our right to bear arms, etc. but we never seem to debate whether we should have a fundamental right to affordable, adequate health care and whether or not relying on private companies to provide it is the best way to approach it.

Be Nice

Fred Wilson’s take on being nice in business is spot on:

So its conventional wisdom that being nice is a bad idea in business.

I have found otherwise. I have found that reputation is the magnet that brings opportunities to you time and time again. I have found that being nice builds your reputation. I have found that leaving money on the table, and being generous, pays dividends.

I am not saying you should be overly generous or nice to a fault. There’s a limit to everything. But I do think that thinking about others, and trying to make things right for everyone (which is impossible and will drive you crazy) is an approach that pays off in business.

It’s not the fastest way to make a buck. It takes time. But it is way more sustainable than screwing people over.

A Possible Solution to Gerrymandering

For my day job I have the fortune of occasionally working with Greg Brown, the Sr VP of Government Affairs for the National Apartment Association. He recently wrote a blog post about term limits for Congress (he’s not in favor of them) and what might be done about gerrymandering, which he sees as the real problem with our political system right now:

The second part of my answer was to suggest that what is worth focusing our attention upon as voters is the process for re-districting in the states. This is a structural change that took hold in the last decade and, in my view, has contributed to the deterioration in problem-solving capabilities in Congress.

After every decennial census, the states undergo a redrawing of the lines for their Congressional districts. This is intended to respond to changes in population (some states gain seats in Congress while others lose seats), ensure compact, contiguous districts and perhaps keep local units of government within the same district. In practice, however, the process has been used by both parties to draw lines that create almost impenetrable partisan strongholds that virtually guarantee one-party control until the next decennial census. You know this process as gerrymandering and it has become increasingly easy due to improvements in technology and mapping. As a result, in at least five states the “opposition” has been relegated to just a few districts while the majority controls the rest of the state. Moreover, the only way majority incumbents can lose is to a primary opponent from their own party. This tactic has been used by Democrats in states where they control the legislature and by Republicans in states they control.

I prefer the approach that Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Jersey and Washington have adopted which is to give the district drawing process to an independent or bipartisan commission. The goal is to reduce the impact of partisan politics. While far from perfect, it has to be an improvement upon what has been done in some of the 34 other states where the legislature draws the lines.  

If the goal of “compact and contiguous” congressional districts is met through these independent or bipartisan entities then you typically have heterogeneous districts not solidly in one party’s hands. That can organically mean fewer extremists of either party. While it does not guarantee more moderates, it does increase the chances that the representative of that district must take into account a wider pool of perspectives than just those of his or her own party. Extrapolate that to Congress and you would have less polarization and more discussion to solve the big issues facing the nation. That should be something we all want. 

I totally agree.

With Malice Toward None

A quote from Lincoln contained within an Esquire piece titled The United States of Cruelty:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

That is a necessary reminder in this day and age, because the author of the Esquire piece is on to something with this paragraph:

We cheer for cruelty and say that we are asking for personal responsibility among those people who are not us, because the people who are not us do not deserve the same benefits of the political commonwealth that we have. In our politics, we have become masters of camouflage. We practice fiscal cruelty and call it an economy. We practice legal cruelty and call it justice. We practice environmental cruelty and call it opportunity. We practice vicarious cruelty and call it entertainment. We practice rhetorical cruelty and call it debate. We set the best instincts of ourselves in conflict with each other until they tear each other to ribbons, and until they are no longer our best instincts but something dark and bitter and corroborate with itself. And then it fights all the institutions that our best instincts once supported, all the elements of the political commonwealth that we once thought permanent, all the arguments that we once thought settled — until there is a terrible kind of moral self-destruction that touches those institutions and leaves them soft and fragile and, eventually, evanescent. We do all these things, cruelty running through them like hot blood, and we call it our politics.

Here’s the thing; our political debates lean towards us vs. them. We agonize over paying taxes that we perceive to be too high because we think that others are riding our coattails. Are some folks slackers? Sure, but many others are victim of circumstance just like those who are beneficiaries of circumstance. In the end what we need to remind ourselves is that a “common good” does exist, that in the end it is better for ALL of us if people have access to good healthcare, clean water, healthy food and a place to lay their heads. We can debate the details about how its done, but we shouldn’t be debating about whether it’s done. That, to me, is the definition of a divided and sick society.

We Are Sooooo Uber Worthy

Last week I was in Denver on business and needed to get a ride to the convention center from an area that didn’t have a cab within miles. One of the people I was with arranged a ride with Uber after I revealed that I didn’t have the app on my phone because we didn’t have the service where I lived (Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina). For the first time in a long while I felt like a backwoods Luddite.

Guess what? Uber’s coming to the Triad starting today:

The California-based company is expanding to Greensboro, Winston-Sale, Durham, Chapel Hill, Fayetteville and Wilmington, according to the newspaper. The company connects riders and drivers and has mostly been available in larger cities. It is already in use in Charlotte and Raleigh.

The mobile app is linked to a credit card and replaces hailing a cab or arranging for a car service. Customers download the app and the nearest available driver picks them up. A base fee of $2.43 is charged, and the customer is charged $1.46 per mile and 30 cents per minute. Uber gets a 20 percent cut and the driver keeps the remainder.