Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Defend America

Mid-term elections are always challenging for political candidates and consultants.

Unlike Presidential election years that garner a lot of media attention, mid-term elections fly under the radar for most voters.

Many voters are not familiar with the candidates which inevitably means that quite a few voters decide not to vote at all.

Mid-terms have historically also been more challenging for the party in control of The White House for the simple reason that those that are unhappy with the President seem to more motivated to get to the polls than those who support the President.

There is little question that there will be a lot of Democrats who will be eager to get to the polls this November to send a message to Donald Trump. They might not have know a lot about who they are voting for but they will know he or she does not have an (R) after their name. That will be enough.

The most effective mid-term election I ever saw was in 1994 when the Republicans introduced their "Contract with America". To that point, the Republicans had not been in control of both the House and Senate for more than 40 years. The GOP had also just lost the Presidency to Bill Clinton in 1992.

Newt Gingrich talks about the 'Contract with America"
Credit: CBS News

The "Contract with America"detailed the actions the Republicans promised to take if they became the majority party in the United States House of Representatives. As such, it became a great political device to nationalize the election and give voters a reason to turn out and vote. The GOP, led by Newt Gingrich in the House, recognized it was not enough to simply vote "against" Bill Clinton's policies. It was necessary to get people to vote FOR something.

The 1994 mid-term elections resulted in the Republicans gaining 54 House seats and 9 Senate seats and gaining control of both Houses of Congress for the first time since 1954. Bill Clinton served out the remainder of his six years as President with the GOP in control of Congress. That 1994 election put the Republicans on par with the Democrats in a way that had not been seen since the years before FDR.

The Democrats seem to think that they can win the 2018 mid-term elections by getting people to vote "against'' Donald Trump. They will undoubtedly get more of their voters to the polls than would normally be expected in a mid-term election with Trump in the White House. However, will that alone be enough?

And what are the Republicans going to do in response?

I have written previously that the Republicans lost the special elections in the Alabama Senate race and PA-18 House race for the simple reason that their voters did not turn out at the polls while the Democrats did.

What are the Republicans going to do to blunt the Democrat enthusiasm while also giving their voters a reason to turn out to vote?

My advice would be to nationalize the election like the GOP did in 1994. As I suggested in an earlier post, I would suggest that theme be "Defend America".

Trump's voters put him in The White House to "Make America Great Again". Since he took office Trump has been relentlessly attacked by the mainstream media and deep state. Trump voters have to be encouraged to get to the polls in the mid-terms to defend the Trump agenda. Their vote and their values are just as much under attack as is Trump. They need to be encouraged to step up and defend their vote and their beliefs. I believe that can only be done by nationalizing the election and doing it through a simple and straightforward message---DEFEND AMERICA.

Do all those Trump voters want to see their vote of two years ago nullified? I don't think so. Therefore, a message is needed to be conveyed to those Trump voters that they need to defend their previous vote. By doing so, they will also defend America from where the Democrats wants to take her.

What would I make as the cornerstones of "Defend America"?

I think these are the key elements of that theme.

Defend the Constitution

Defend the Rule of Law

Defend the American Economy

Defend American Jobs

Defend American Energy

Defend America's Borders

Defend our Men and Women in Uniform

Defend Your Tax Cut

There are several others that you could add if you wanted to align more completely with Trump's campaign agenda from 2016---"Defend the American Middle Class" and "Defend Social Security and Medicare".

I don't think there is much in here that almost all Trump voters do not agree with--Republican, Independent or Democrat.

It is often said that championships are won with great defense.

If the GOP wants to win the upcoming mid-terms. my suggestion is for them to start talking about how we need to "Defend America". Cohesive and consistent messaging used around this theme will clearly define the election and and once again provide the voters with something to vote FOR.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

I Can Only Imagine

You don't go to many movies these days where one of the big theaters at the cineplex has almost every seat taken.

You also rarely see the audience break into applause at the end of the film.

I saw both this weekend when I went to see "I Can Only Imagine".

It is one of the best movies I have seen in a long, long time.

It tells the story of Bart Millard who is the lead singer of the contemporary Christian band, MercyMe, and the path that led from growing up with an abusive father to writing the song that has become the best selling and most played Christian recording of all time.

I had a real interest in seeing the movie as I have enjoyed the music of MercyMe for a long time and have attended several of their concerts over the years. The song is one of my all-time favorites of any genre.

The film has almost everything you might want. It is a story about passion, perseverance, resilience and redemption. Mix in a little humor and romance along the way with a PG rating and you have a prescription that Hollywood does not put together much anymore.

If you are wary of going to a faith-based film, don't be. There is a strong message of spirit, hope and forgiveness in the movie but it is by no means "preachy".

You don't have to just take my word for it. "I Can Only Imagine" also snagged an A+ CinemaScore rating from opening night audiences. An average of only three movies per year have gotten that score over the last five years from CinemaScore which measures the audience appeal of movies during their opening weekend.

The first weekend box office were also extremely impressive for a movie that was only shown on about half of the screens that bigger name films were shown on.

It is estimated that "I Can Only Imagine" will have grossed $17 million for the weekend. That was the 3rd highest grossing movie for the weekend. It grossed more than Disney's big budget movie, "A Wrinkle In Time" which was in its second week of release. Overall the film grossed more per screen than either of the heavily promoted Black Panther or Tomb Raider movies.

An interesting sidenote..."A Wrinkle In Time" cost $100 million to produce. "I Can Only Imagine" cost only $7 million.

If you are not familiar with the contemporary Christian genre of music, you should check it out. It is one segment of the increasing diversification of music we have seen over the last 60 years.

Several years ago I wrote about this interesting data visualization tool that Google has produced that shows the popularity of different musical genres since 1950. Each stripe on the graph represents a genre and the thickness of the stripe gives you an idea of the popularity of the music released in a given year in that genre.

What is most interesting in looking at where we are today is the broad diversity and variety of music that is popular. No single genre captures more than 20% of the total and there are more music styles than ever before.

Music is much more diverse today than it has ever been. Jazz dominated in the 1940's. Why was that? Perhaps it was because there were just a few AM radio stations and they all played jazz. It is difficult for other music to be popular when nobody ever hears it.

Notice how music genres started to diversify with the advent of television and FM radio in the 1950's and 1960's. There were more outlets for people to hear different kinds of music.

Music started to diversify more in the 1970's and 1980's with even more distribution options like cable tv and shows such as MTV.

It has really opened up in the digital age. It is no accident that music tastes have become more diversified as the distribution of music has become more democratized.

Here is the graph showing the overall trend in Christian/Gospel music.

The late 1950's saw some popularity for what was called Country or Southern gospel music but in the 1990's Contemporary Christian music took hold and carried this genre to a lot of popularity. This is the music segment MercyMe helped to grow with their band starting in the mid-1990's.

One of the unique things about the song, "I Can Only Imagine" is that it was one of the rare Christian songs to ever also become a crossover hit on other charts. It hit #5 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart and got as high as #27 on the Billboard Top 40 chart.

Can the movie end up with similar appeal to a broader audience?

I can only imagine it has a chance based on what I saw this weekend.

For context, there were 728 movies released in 2017. The average box office gross was $15 million. To reach the top 50, a film needed $56 million (that was what the Winston Churchill movie "The Darkest Hour" grossed) in revenues. The Oscar winner for best picture, "The Shape of Water", has grossed $62 million thus far. I would not be surprised if "I Can Only Imagine" does not approach those numbers.

If it were to gross over $50 million that would make it one of the Top 10 Christian movies of all time (and that list includes "The Passion of the Christ and the three Chronicles of Narnia movies that all grossed over $100 million).

Check it out for yourself and see what you think. If for no other reason, do it to send a message to Hollywood to get more aligned with mainstream America.

I don't think you will be disappointed. I give it the BeeLine two thumbs up rating.

If you have never heard "I Can Only Imagine" here is the original music video of the song performed by Bart Millard and MercyMe.

Go here if the embedded video does not work in your browser.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Blue Wave On The Way?

There is a lot of talk this week on what the victory of Democrat Conor Lamb over Republican Rick Saccone means looking to the mid-term elections.

Conor Lamb and Rick Saccone
Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Many are seeing it as a harbinger of a massive blue wave that will sweep Republicans out of office in November's mid-term election.

Others argue that it means little as it was a special election for a district that will be broken up anyway under a court-ordered congressional redistricting plan by November.

As in most things like this, the truth lies somewhere in-between.

Republicans should be concerned that in a district that Trump carried by 19 points the Democrat was able to win even though it was a margin of only 600 votes out of 227,000 votes cast.

How did that happen?

It is the same story as in the Alabama senate race involving Roy Moore.

Democrats were energized and were motivated to go the polls. There is little doubt that a lot of that energy is directed at sending a message to Donald Trump.

When people are on the outside looking in there is a lot more energy expended.

There is little question that Democrats are highly motivated right now. The same could be said about Republicans when Obama was in power. It seems that those at the bottom of any hill tend to be more motivated to fight towards the top than those at the top of the hill are motivated to retain their position.

Look at the numbers.

Trump got 215,000 votes in the Pennsylvania 18th Congressional District in 2016.

Clinton got 143,000.

That is 358,000 votes that were cast in 2016.

In this special election only 227,000 votes were cast. 131,000 people who voted in 2016 stayed home

Conor Lamb got 113,800 votes in the special election. That means he effectively got 80% of all Hillary voters.

Saccone got 113,200 votes. He only got 53% of Trump's votes.

The math is pretty simple. Lamb won because a lot of Hillary voters showed up and voted. Saccone lost because an even greater number of Trump voters didn't bother to vote.

It is exactly the same thing that happened in Alabama in the U.S. Senate race involving Roy Moore that I wrote about previously.

Why is that?

A big part has to do with the individual candidates. After all, in the end people are voting for a person, not a party.

Roy Moore was not a great candidate. A lot of voters did not like him for a variety of reasons. It is not enough just to have an -R- after your name, even in Alabama. Hillary Clinton found out the same thing. She had the same -D- after her name that Obama did with quite different results.

Rick Saccone was also a sub-par candidate. He raised little money on his own and he did not excite voters in any way.

On the other hand, Conor Lamb was a young clean cut veteran, who showed a lot of energy and worked hard to separate himself from the typical liberal Democrat. He said he personally opposed abortion, he was for gun rights, he supported the Trump tariffs and he stated he would not vote for Nancy Pelosi to lead the Democrats in the House.

You put it altogether and the Democrat squeaked by.

However, does this tell us anything about the mid-terms in November?

It should tell the GOP that the Democrats can be expected to turn out voters in November in greater numbers than they have historically.

Democrats have traditionally had more difficulty in turning out voters in mid-term elections than Republicans over the last couple of decades.

One reason for this is that Democrats rely more on younger and minority voters who have generally not shown as much interest in voting in mid-term elections compared to Presidential years.

On the other hand, Republican voters, who tend to be composed of more voters who are white and older, are more apt to vote in the mid-terms.

This chart shows the rather significant drop-off in total votes cast in House of Representative races since 2000 between Presidential election years and mid-term election years.

On average, vote totals have dropped by an average of 29% from each Presidential election year compared to the next mid-term election.

However, Democrat votes dropped by an average of 32% while Republican votes dropped by only 25%.

This effect was even more pronounced in the Obama years. Republicans were very motivated to get to the polls to stop the Obama agenda. That energy was rewarded as the GOP took back majority control of the House that it retains today.

In 2010 (compared to 2008), overall votes for House candidates dropped 29%. However, Democrat votes dropped 40% and GOP votes only fell by 14% compared to two years earlier.

In 2014 (compared to 2102) overall votes dropped 36%. Democrat votes dropped by 40% again while GOP votes dropped by 31%.

Those numbers translated into a rising red tide during the Obama years,

Will there be a blue wave in 2018?

It is going to depend on whether the Democrats can reverse the historical voter attrition they have had in the mid-terms.

It is also going to depend on whether GOP voters turn out to defend Donald Trump.

The best hope for the Democrats is to look at what happened in the 2006 mid-terms. Democrats were not happy with George W. Bush and they held their vote losses to only 20% between 2004 and 2006. That is 12 points better than their average.

At the same time, GOP voters had become weary of Bush and not many showed up to defend him in their Congressional votes. Republican votes slid 36% between 2004 and 2006.

That is the formula for a blue wave.

An energized Democrat base who has an "enemy" target.

A lackadaisical GOP who is not eager to defend their candidate.

These elements were in place in Alabama and Pennsylvania.

Will the same be true in November?

I have no doubt that the first part of the formula will be in place. Democrat turnout will be higher in the mid-term election than it was in the Obama years. Having a President Trump is plenty of motivation for Democrats to want to vote.

However, a blue wave cannot occur unless GOP voters stay home.

If the voters who voted for Trump turn out to defend him in the mid-terms there will be no blue wave.

Trump ran on the "Make America Great Again" theme in 2016.

He has already announced he is running in 2020 on the theme "Keep America Great".

It seems to me that he is getting a little ahead of himself.

My advice is that he should start talking about a theme of "Defend America" in 2018. He needs his voters to come out and defend his agenda.

If they don't, he has a much tougher road heading to 2020.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Something Has To Give With Student Loans

Student loan debt promises to be one of the major issues in our economy over the next decade.

Student loan debt is now almost $1.5 trillion owed by some 44 million borrowers.

Let's put that in context. Credit card debt reached its highest level in history at the end of 2017 and it is only $1 trillion. Auto loans are also at record levels but there is more owed on student debt than on autos ($1.2 trillion).

$1 trillion in additional student loan debt has added since 2006!

What is most troubling is that of the 44 million borrowers, only 17 million borrowers are currently paying on their loans right now. Many borrowers are still in school but 4.3 million borrowers are in default, 3.6 million are in deferment, 2.6 million in forbearance and 1.4 million are in a grace period. That works out to about 12 million borrowers who should be paying on their loans but are not doing so for some reason.

A larger question is how will these borrowers meet their student loan obligations while also borrowing to buy a house, a car and also fund (through taxes) the mounting debt of the federal government and the coming tidal wave of unfunded Social Security and Medicare costs from the baby boomer generation?

Something surely has to give somewhere.

I recently came across an interesting article on the subject that was appropriately titled, "Student Loans--A Generational Disaster".

The article makes the point that I have made before in BeeLine.

Compound interest can be your best friend or your worst enemy. That statement is even truer if you are young. Savings put away when you are young can easily make you wealthy if you have the good sense to let the money compound over the years. However, debt taken on while you are young, that is not paid off quickly, is a sure way to put yourself in a financial hole that you will never dig your way out of.

It has always been difficult to get young people to save what they should for the future. Most want to live for today. They think tomorrow will never come. However, in today's world many can't save even if they want to. 75% of college graduates owe on some form of student debt.

It is vastly different today than when most baby boomers graduated. Few boomers had student debt when they got their undergraduate degree. Student debt was more likely to be taken out for a graduate degree if it was at all.

One of the biggest generational differences which causes a disconnect between baby boomers and millennials is student debt. Many baby boomers are confused why college graduates don’t immediately move out of their parents’ house like baby boomers did. The issue is that once a student graduates, they become debtors. It’s a vicious cycle which turns compound returns against borrowers.
For example, say you graduate with $40,000 in debt and you owe a 4% interest rate for 15 years. While the federal government expects the loans to be paid back in 10 years, it takes the average Wisconsin graduate 19.7 years to pay off a loan for a bachelor’s degree. Therefore, it’s a reasonable example. In this mock example, monthly payments would be $295.88 and $53,257.53 in total. If you don’t have student loans at graduation like many baby boomers and you put $295.88 in a diversified portfolio which returns 6% per year, you will have $86,477.68 after 15 years. Therefore, the difference between someone with student loans and without them ends up being $139,735.21. The difference grows exponentially as the student loans grow because the interest paid and the returns on the potential savings increase.

The article calculates that by age 37 there is a $140,000 difference in net worth between someone with $40,000 of debt when they graduate and someone that does not have any debt and is able to save and invest what they would have paid on the debt.

Even if there is no difference in savings patterns between the saver and the borrower over the next 30 years, the person without the student loan debt will have in the range of $1 million more at age 67 than the person who had the student debt! That $140,000 difference just keeps growing.

The other interesting factoid in the article was this chart that compared the net worth of various individuals under the age of 40 who had taken out student loans. This chart had come from a data source involving loan applicants from tens of thousands of individuals who were seeking to refinance their student loans. That data was then sliced and diced in various ways and the results were written about in an additional article titled "How Much Money Do People Have?"

This chart shows net worth by degree.

This chart indicates that MBA graduates have the highest net worth with pharmacists in the next best position. Interestingly, young MBA's had over 4 times the net worth as young M.D.'s. That might change over the course of time as the docs get beyond their 30's and pay off their student debt more aggressively.

However, refer to the example above once again.  It is hard to catch up when you start out behind.

Young osteopaths and dentists fare the worst with negative net worths from student debt. They clearly are carrying a lot of debt but apparently are not generating the income to climb out of the hole as fast as others.

The good news is that the average person student with loan debt does slowly build net worth between age 25 and 38 but it falls far short of what is necessary to put that individual on track for a successful retirement.

The average net worth for those with a median age of 38 is only $38,072. I believe that to be on track at that age for a successful retirement that you should generally have an amount equal to 1.5-2.0 times your annual income saved in investable assets.

In other words if you are earning $100,000, you should have $150,000-$200,000 in investable assets set aside for retirement by your late 30's.. On this measure I would have to believe that most of these individuals are well short of that number.

I noticed one more thing in the chart data.

Notice how debt is holding fairly steady until the individuals are in their mid-30's but it takes an upward turn at about age 35? First, you would think that debt would show a more noticeable downward slope in the 10 years after college. This tells me that that any student debt being paid down is being replaced with other debt (car, credit card, etc). It also suggests that age 35 might be the magic time when a lot of these Millennials are buying a house.

Housing assets and mortgage debt were not considered in this data but this might suggest that buying a house triggers more debt (borrowing for furniture, appliances, home improvements) beyond the mortgage. A perfect example of what I call the "spending multiplier effect" when I teach my course on financial planning for college students.

Where does all of this student debt lead us?

Is it a generational disaster?

Will the next generation begin to look more critically at the return on investment on undergraduate or graduate degrees?

How will the Millennial generation pay off this student debt while also becoming increasingly responsible for the federal debt and the Social Security and Medicare benefits for their parents and grandparents?

Will retirement even be something this generation can consider?

Will this generation increasingly demand that this debt be forgiven? If so, who will pay? Does the cost then get spread to all taxpayers?

I don't know the answers.

I do know that something has to give with all of this student debt.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Not Afraid To Be Great

I don't know if Donald Trump will be a great President, average, or terrible when history is written.

How can anyone make such a judgment just over a year into his Presidency?

However, 170 members so-called "experts" from the American Political Science Association’s Presidents and Executive Politics section recently judged Trump to be the worst President of all time.

Here are the complete rankings including the change in the rankings since the last survey was done in 2014.

If you want to assess the credibility of the survey consider that the experts increased Obama's ranking by 10 places since the last survey.  Now consider what was it that contributed to that increase in greatness over his second term. The success of Obamacare? The rise of ISIS? The economy? Standing up to Vladimir Putin?

What I do know is that you cannot be great unless you are not afraid to be great.

I also know that Donald Trump is not afraid to be great.

Look at the first three names on this list of the greatest Presidents. One thing they share is that they were not afraid to be great.

George Washington was a man of privilege and prosperity. It would have been easy to forget about leading a revolutionary army against the British. He had it made. He had very little to gain personally by revolting against the British. He could have easily seen his life end on the end of a noose for treason and sedition at the hands of the British.

When Washington led his troops to victory over the British he could have also become an American monarch. At a minimum, he could have been President for rest of his life is Xi Jinping as attempting to do in China. He walked away after two terms.

George Washington was not afraid to be great. He put it all on the line and he expected little in return.

You can say the same thing about Abraham Lincoln. He could have negotiated with the Confederacy after the southern states seceded from the union. He could have decided that it was too controversial to push for the 13th and 14th amendments. He was not afraid to take a stand. Many criticized his actions.

Abraham Lincoln was not afraid to be great. We now appreciate that courage and greatness.

Franklin Roosevelt took office as the U.S. economy was in ruins and as Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire sought to expand their borders and enslave millions of people. Roosevelt responded aggressively to the needs of the American people with his New Deal. At times he went too far as with his attempt to stack the Supreme Court. However, he was not afraid to take action. He also did not hesitate to act when the war was brought to him. He also ignored the Washington precedent on serving two terms when he thought that the country needed continuity in those turbulent times.

FDR is also best remembered for his famous line on not being afraid in his first inaugural address.

"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

Franklin Roosevelt was not afraid to be great.

If you know what Winston Churchill did for Great Britain in World War II you also know he was not afraid to be great despite enormous odds and criticism. All of this was recently portrayed in the movie, "The Darkest Hour".

People can say a lot of things about Donald Trump. However, they cannot say that he is afraid to be great.

Most Presidents never become great because they are typical politicians. They try to play both sides. They are afraid of offending anyone. They don't take strong stands. They are risk averse. They don't put themselves out there to succeed...or fail. In short, they are afraid to be great.

President Trump's recent decision to meet with North Korean President Kim Jong Un is a perfect example. No U.S. President has agreed to meet with a North Korean leader since 1953. The reason---we are still technically at war with North Korea. Hostilities ended in that war with a ceasefire. There was never an official ending to the war.

Why do most political observers, pundits and the press say it is a bad idea to meet with Kim?

Tom Fernholz in Quartz explains why every other President considered it to risky to meet the North Koreans.

In international diplomacy, the leader-to-leader meeting is the highest level of commitment available. No prior White House would send the president into a summit that has not been pre-scripted with guaranteed results. Should there be no agreement, there is no face-saving blame to be put on negotiators, and little room left for diplomacy. And while the White House says this meeting is not a negotiation, that only raises the question of what the president is even doing there.

In effect, it is like a high wire artist performing without a net. Very few aerial performers are willing to do it anymore. Even fewer politicians are these days. They are so afraid to take a risk because they might be criticized they never give themselves a chance to succeed.

This caused CNN host Erin Burnett (certainly no Trump fan) to say this on her show the night of the announcement that Trump was willing to meet Kim.

“Just an extraordinarily evening and of course opening the door to the big question, if President Trump can truly solve this problem, that would be going down as a great president. And there’s no way around that. That is the reality here," 

Of course, great Presidents usually come about by facing great challenges. In many respects, the times make the man. It was certainly true with Washington, Lincoln and Roosevelt.

Greatness does not follow when taking the easy road. It only graces those who are not afraid of the challenge on the hard road.

Success is never assured. Trump may fail bigly. However, he is not afraid to be great. That in itself is a rare commodity. Keep that in mind as you listen to those who criticize Trump.

You cannot be great unless you are not afraid to be great.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Higher Cost of Education

We spend over $500 billion per year on higher education in the United States.

44 million Americans now owe $1.5 trillion in student loan debt that was borrowed to pay for their college and other post-secondary school education expenses.

As I have written before, Americans owe more in student loan debt that the entire GDP of Russia.

The financial costs of education in the United States are mind-numbing but I am just as concerned about the costs that society must bear for what is being taught in our colleges and universities today.

We used to think of universities as a place where open and free debate, discussion and discourse took place. You respected divergent views and you respectfully dissented where necessary. College was where you went to find out that perhaps you did not know everything about the world that you thought you did when you were 18 years old.

What we see today is far different. It is not uncommon that conservatives and those who do not espouse liberal thought are condemned and shouted down. Instead of protecting free speech, college administrators cop-out and disinvite the speakers because they can't provide the necessary security.

What have our colleges and universities become?

I highlighted some of the insanity that reigns on college campuses during the GOP primaries in 2016 about the students at Emory University (I am an alum of its law school) who complained to the college administration about messages in chalk written on campus sidewalks.

Students at Emory University protested on Monday after finding support messages for Donald Trump written around the Atlanta campus in chalk, according to The Washington Post.
Charging that the drawings, which said things like “Trump for Pres” and “Vote For Trump,” left them feeling attacked, students demanded the university’s administration take action, reported the student newspaper, The Emory Wheel.
The Wheel says that 40 students gathered in an outdoor space on campus holding signs that included messages like “Stop Trump,” and chanted to the administration, “You are not listening! Come speak to us, we are in pain!”

“This wasn’t ordinary campaigning,” Jonathan Peraza, a freshman student and a member of student minority group LatinAction told The Daily Beast of the drawings. “It was deliberate intimidation. Some of us were expecting shootings. We feared walking alone.”

The administration allowed the chalk messages to continue in specified areas. However, when you consider the response given to the aggrieved students you begin to understand why we see these kinds of actions by students.

This is what President James W. Wagner said in response to the protestors' concerns.

He suggested the university would make “immediate refinements to certain policies and procedural deficiencies; regular and structured opportunities for difficult dialogues; a formal process to institutionalize identification, review and addressing of social justice opportunities and issues; and commitment to an annual retreat to renew [their] efforts.”

Leave it to an academician to use so many words and still say nothing about the issue at hand.

I would have thought it would be sufficient to laugh, tell the students to grow up and suggest they get back to class. I might have even given them some chalk to draw a picture of Bernie or Hillary if they so desired.

This week I was dismayed to find my undergraduate alma mater, Miami University, involved in similar craziness. To make matters worse, the university's women's center is funding the foolishness.

CampusReform.org reports that ""The Women’s Center at Miami University is paying students to organize events that promote “social justice and radical feminism” on campus.

The university is paying students to promote radical feminism?

Can you imagine what would happen if a university was paying students to promote "radical conservatism" or the "right to life" movement?

Seven lucky students get a paid internship to organize events for students such as World Hijab Day and Male Ally Day. By the way, doesn't it seem a little contradictory that radical feminists are promoting National Hijab Day?  

One of the current interns in the program, Elisabeth Dodd, a social justice major, had this to say about her university.

The school is “physically very heteronormative, white, sexist, and very problematic in general and exclusionary. Very hierarchical. Student workers aren't valued as much, and there's not a lot of visibility,” Dodd commented, labeling the architecture of the school’s student center one of the main social justice issues on campus, saying it creates a false perception of diversity.

The architecture of Miami's student center is one of the main social justice issues on campus?

How is that possible? The radical feminist intern explains.
"In our student center, everything is glass. And it kind of felt like students are on display,” she explained. “The actual set-up of the student center...Miami definitely advertises its students, in a way that isn't comfortable for everybody.” 
Miami advertises its students and that is a social justice issue?

What do you then call a student who walks across campus? Are they not displaying themselves? Or what about all of the students who are posting (and advertising) everything about their lives on social media everyday? I was not aware that these were social justice issues.

Here is an exterior image of Miami's Armstrong Center.

Here are a few images of the interiors of Miami's student center.

I dare say that if this student believes that the student center architecture is a big social justice issue I hate to think what she will think when she is working in some cube farm after graduation. I guess that assumes that a social justice major would even be interested in working for someone who had a big, bad and evil profit motive.

All of this makes you wonder where all of these students are getting these incredibly inane ideas.

I can't imagine that there are that many parents, who produce students with enough intelligence to attend schools like Emory and Miami, who are filling their children's heads with these ideas.

That means that our educational system, beginning in kindergarten, is largely responsible.

The cost of education is high.

The resulting costs to society of students who graduate with ideas in their heads like those at Emory and Miami is much higher.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Expectations Define Us

Expectations define us.

I like what Henry Ford said on this subject many years ago.

"Whether you think you can, or think you can't, you will be proven right."

Those that expect a lot out of themselves usually accomplish a lot.

Those that others expect a lot from also typically accomplish a lot.

Who are those that best establish expectations for us in our lives?

Parents. Teachers. Coaches. Clergy. Bosses.

There is probably no more important person in anyone's life in establishing expectations than a parent. The right environment, encouragement and expectations coming from a parent (preferably two parents) can make a huge difference in someone's life .

I have written before about the high expectations that Asians place on their children.

They typically expect more of their children and they generally get it. Look no further than entrants to competitive schools, the numbers of Asians who are accomplished pianists and violinists or the young Asian women that are on top of the money list of the LPGA.

There is also little doubt that the expectations that teachers and coaches place on their students and athletes can change the trajectory of their lives. For example, the high school teacher in Middletown, Ohio who helped change the expectations of J.D. Vance in Hillbilly Elegy.

There is probably no coach who set higher expectations for his players than Bobby Knight. Most believed that his manner and methods were beyond the pale but Knight got more out of his teams than almost anyone thought possible.

He had a record of 102-50 as the head coach at West Point at a time when there was a height limit of 6-6 at the Academy. Before or since, it has been rare to see West Point have a winning record in basketball. (Fun fact- West Point is one of only 4 schools that have been eligible for the NCAA tournament from the beginning and have never made the field).

In 4 of his 6 years as head coach at Army, Knight took his team to the NIT post-season tournament. This was at a time when only 22 teams made the NCAA field and only 16 were invited to the NIT.

By comparison, West Point has only made the NIT field once in the almost 50 years since Knight left for Indiana. At Indiana, Knight won 3 National Championships, 1 NIT championship and 11 Big Ten Championships. He won 902 games over the course of his career.

Despite all this success, Knight only coached one player in his entire career that became an NBA All-Star. That player was Isiah Thomas.

John Wooden coached 10 players at UCLA who became NBA All-Stars.

Dean Smith coached 11 players at North Carolina who became NBA All-Stars.

John Calipari Of Kentucky had 4 former players who were all NBA All-Stars in the 2018 game alone!

Love him or hate him, Knight set high expectations that often resulted in his players achieving results on the court much beyond what might be expected of their talent level. His expectations defined his teams.

A business leader who set high expectations for his employees was Jack Welch of GE. Welch retired as CEO of GE in 1981 after 20 years on the job. His successor, Jeff Immelt recently retired after  nearly 17 years on the job. Immelt took over with GE stock at $40/share. It is now trading below $15.

Here is what Forbes magazine said about Welch's tenure at GE.

Prior to Mr. Immelt GE was headed by Jack Welch.  During his tenure at the top of GE the company created more wealth for its investors than any company ever in the recorded history of U.S. publicly traded companies.  GE's value increased 40-fold (4000%) from 1981 to 2001. He expanded GE into new businesses, often far removed from its industrial manufacturing roots, as market shifts created new opportunities for growing revenues and profits.  From what was mostly a diversified manufacturing company Mr. Welch led GE into real estate as those assets increased in value, then media as advertising revenues skyrocketed and finally financial services as deregulation opened the market for the greatest returns in banking history.

A defining characteristic of Welch was that he had high expectations of his people...and of himself. He also was not afraid to change his expectations and attitude if he saw the need.

When Welch first became the CEO of GE he famously stated to all his GE business unit leaders that he expected them to either be first or second in their respective markets. If they were not, that business unit would be fixed, sold or closed. He ran the business with an expectation that was almost a fervor regarding being a market share leader.

However, in later years he came to understand that there can be a danger in establishing expectations with human beings. The desire to be #1 or #2 in market share caused many business leaders to try to restrict their definition of the market. It was easier to be a big frog in a small pond and satisfy Welch's expectations for the business.

Welch came to understand that the expectation to be #1 or #2 in market share was resulting in lost growth opportunities. He reversed the expectations and asked the same business units to consider a different share perspective where they were to define their market share as no more than 10%.  This then created an expectation to look for new growth opportunities that might not have been considered before. For example, manufacturing businesses now considered after-market and service opportunities to be in their market expectations.

The result--GE's revenue growth rate more than doubled in the last half of the 1990's. All because the boss changed the expectations of those who reported to him.

Welch's expectations defined GE.

What are your expectations of others?

What are your expectations of yourself?

Are your expectations high enough?

These are important questions to consider as expectations ultimately define all us.

You cannot reach the stars unless you first set an expectation to reach for the stars.

Expect success in all you do and all those that you teach or lead.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Leverage and the Long Game

Another week and the mainstream media and the political pundits are expressing shock at something else that President Trump is doing.

Last week it was Trump's announcement that he was introducing tariffs of 25% on imports of steel and 10% on aluminum.

It is totally predictable that the Trump bashers are arguing that such a move will create chaos and set off a trade war that will badly damage the U.S. economy.

Never mind that Trump was pretty clear about where he stood on this issue during the campaign. This should be no surprise to anyone

You also have to consider that if Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders had done the same thing that they would now be hailed as saviors of the American worker.

It also seems to be lost on these people that Trump is always playing a long game rather than the short game that most politicians are concerned with.

Trump always has longer-term objectives in mind. In this case I am sure that he is looking at the broader overall trade implications for the United States in the global marketplace. This tariff announcement might just be a part of longer-term negotiating strategy on broader trade agreements.

Trump is also keenly aware that if the United States does not have a healthy domestic metals capability there will be serious national security implications in the future. In fact, the law that allows him to impose tariffs gives the President that discretion due to national security concerns. It goes without saying that it is difficult to build personnel carriers, tanks and airplanes without steel and aluminum.

The United States already cannot produce the steel that it currently consumes. In 2016, domestic steel production amounted to 78 million tons. However, it had to import 21.7 million net tons to meet domestic consumption needs. The entire European Union had net imports of less than half of that amount.

Net Imports of Steel-2016
Credit: www.worldsteel.org

On the other hand, China had net exports of steel in 2016 of 94.5 million tons, Japan had net exports of 34.5 million tons and Russia 26.9 million. Note that China annual steel exports alone are more than the entire U.S. domestic consumption of steel!

Steel Exports-2016
Credit: www.worldsteel.org

Let's just say that Trump understands better than most that you are not in a strong position as a country if you are dependent on your biggest geopolitical foes for one of the key commodities needed to sustain your economy or to protect yourself in the event of war.

U.S aluminum production has also been dropping steadily. Only two smelters remain fully operational in the United States today. Eight smelting operations have either gone out of business or have seriously curtailed operations in the last three years alone.

Production of aluminum has dropped so much that Iceland now produces more primary aluminum than the United States does!

At the same time, demand has gone up nearly 40% in North America since 2009.

This means that the United States is increasingly dependent on aluminum from foreign sources. And the largest global source is China.

In 2000, China produced only slightly more than 10% of the world’s primary aluminum. It now produces more than half of the aluminum in the world. As a result, the United States is steadily being squeezed out as a producer of aluminum.

There is nothing like a little context to better understand that Trump may not be as "crazy" as he is made out to be. Is it possible that national security might be more important than the cost of your beer can going up a penny?

Trump was also derided for taking to Twitter and stating that "trade wars are good, and easy to win."

I don't know that is always true but it is a lot easier to win a trade war when your country is importing a lot more than it is exporting. And that is the case with the United States today---by a wide margin.

In 2017, the United States imported $2.343 trillion and only exported $1.547 trillion---that is a trade deficit of almost $800 billion. I dare say that other countries would feel much more pain from a trade war than the United States.

Take a look at the list of countries that are selling more to the United States than they are buying. The chart below shows the trade deficit of the United States with various other countries in BILLIONS of dollars.

Which countries are #1 and #2 on the list?

Which countries has Trump talked the most about regarding trade?

Trump also has a few other topics of interest beyond trade with these countries like a border wall (Mexico) and assistance in dealing with North Korea (China).

Do you think that might also be part of his long game?

2017 U.S Trade Deficits by Country

The United States does have some trade surpluses with a few countries but they are far less significant than the amounts in which there are trade deficits. You might notice as well that these are not generally countries producing large amounts of steel and aluminum.

2017 U.S. Trade Surpluses by Country

Beyond thinking about the long term, rather than the short term, Trump also understands that in order to do deals and reach agreements you need to understand your strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of your adversaries. You also have to be able to apply leverage when you have it. Most everyone on the planet is driven by enlightened self-interest. There are not many who have something that they are going to give up willingly.

25 years ago (pre-NAFTA), the United States had a $5 billion trade surplus with Mexico that has become a $71 billion deficit. The U.S had a $23 billion trade deficit with China in 1993 that has ballooned to a $375 billion deficit.

More power to these countries for taking advantage of our foolishness. Our elected representatives literally gave away substantial portions of our domestic economy by thinking short-term rather than long-term. They had the leverage of having the most attractive market in the world and yet they gave it away to China, Mexico and other countries for nothing. I have written about this previously.

The foolishness is over.

Donald Trump thinks long-term.

And he understands the use of leverage.

And despite what the media wants you to think...Donald Trump is no fool.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Boycott the National Pedestrian Association

It is a good thing there is not a National Pedestrian Association (NPA).

It would be under vicious attack right now by the mainstream media and the liberal left.

Pedestrian deaths in the United States have risen to unacceptable levels. It would be unconscionable for any organization to be standing up for the rights of pedestrians considering the carnage that we are seeing on or about the nation's roads.

The Wall Street Journal reported recently that the last two years have seen almost 6,000 pedestrian deaths nationwide.  Let's put that number in context---that is over 16 people each and every day.

The National Rifle Association is under relentless attack right now after 17 were killed in the Parkland school shooting recently and 374 homicides were committed by rifles last year. 16 times that number of pedestrians were killed last year.

What is most troubling is that the number of pedestrian deaths has been increasing dramatically the last few years. In fact, pedestrian deaths have not been so high since 1983.

As recently as 2009 there were only 4,109 pedestrian deaths in the United States. This means that there has been almost a 50% increase in pedestrian deaths in the last eight years.

This is also despite the fact that deaths in automobile accidents have generally been on a steady decline since the early 1970's.

Motor Vehicle Deaths by Year
Credit:Wikipedia Commons

When you look at motor vehicle deaths based on miles driven the improvements in safety are even more dramatic.

Credit:Wikipedia Commons

Looking at these statistics it almost seems as if pedestrians are under attack. After all, they are defenseless crossing or walking along our roads while drivers in the those cars are safely ensconsed in their vehicle complete with seat belts, air bags and a ton of steel.

What is even more troubling about pedestrian deaths is that the deaths are disproportionately coming from males in the population. It looks like a prima facie case of discrimination.

70% of pedestrian deaths are males.

Children are also disproportionately the victims in pedestrian accidents.

21% of pedestrian deaths are children 14 years age or younger.

Where is the outrage? 75 times the number of children will be killed this year as they walk the streets in the United States as were killed in Parkland school shootings.

Many of those will undoubtedly be walking to or from school.

None of this should mean that the school shootings should not receive the utmost attention and action.

However, as I often have written in these page, context is everything when assessing anything.

If you are finding yourself getting overly worked up for or against gun control or the 2nd Amendment and the news of the day, my advice to you would be to pay closer attention when you cross the street.

The odds are much greater that you will be hit by a vehicle than shot by a rifle.

You also would be wise to not be reading BeeLine as you are walking down the street.

I doubt it is a coincidence that the rise of pedestrian deaths closely correlates with the rise in smartphone usage.

Of course, it would be easier to blame the National Pedestrian Association!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Politics and Policing at Parkland

Several BeeLine readers have asked me if I was going to write anything in the aftermath of the horrific Parkland school shootings in Florida.

I told them I did not plan writing on the subject as I have written extensively on the subject over the last several years. One of my most popular posts of all time was written shortly after the mass killings in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut, "Are We Looking At The Right Target?'

There is not anything in that blog post that I wrote over five years ago that is not true today. However, I decided to write something after I discovered some troubling information in the aftermath of the shootings.

Yes, a rifle was used to commit mass murder at another school.

However, once again the act was perpetrated by a mentally unbalanced, disaffected young person who many people had expressed serious concerns about before the incident.

The fact also remains that deaths by any type of rifle (homicide or suicide) is exceedingly rare in a nation of 320 million people with over 110 million rifles (there are also an estimated 86 million shotguns and 114 million handguns).

In 2016 (the most recent year of data) only 374 homicides were carried out with rifles.

That is less than the murders committed by knives (1,604), hands, fists and feet (656) or blunt objects such as hammers, clubs etc (472).

It is true that rifles (especially assault-type weapons) have the potential to create much more mayhem than knives, hands and hammers. I have no problem in considering stricter background checks or increasing the age to purchase a weapon. These seem reasonable policy solutions without encroaching too much on the 2nd Amendment.

However, I am not optimistic that merely passing some gun control measures will dramatically reduce the risk of a future school shooting.

The United States has always had rifles and other guns. Why didn't we have school shootings when I was growing up? Or even when my own children were going to school? What we are seeing is a relatively recent development.

What has changed? Is it the guns or something else?

As I asked over five years ago, "Are we looking at the right target?"

Could it have something to do with culture?

Broken families? Fatherless homes? Violence in television and movies? Video games? The internet? Poor mental health screening and services? Less school discipline? Less religious teaching? Too much political correctness?

You might ask what role could political correctness have anything to do with these shootings?

As the facts are coming out in the Parkland case I have found several items that indicate that politics seems to have been more important than policing. It is extremely troubling.

We have all seen the reports of how a sheriff's deputy who was stationed at the school did nothing to try to engage the shooter even though he was on the school campus and had a gun and a bullet proof vest on.

School Resource Officer Scot Peterson was subsequently suspended ( and resigned) and was called a "coward' by many. However, a police union official stated that Peterson believed that he did his duty.

“He believed he did a good job calling in the location, setting up the perimeter and calling in the description (of Cruz),” said the union official, Jim Bell.

What do you notice about this that we would not have seen 25 years ago?

How about a police officer being called a "School Resource Officer"?

Is it possible that when your title is "School Resource Officer" you don't think it is in your job description to engage a killer? Perhaps you believe that your job is to marshall the right resources but you do not have any responsibility to respond yourself?

Why is it that what we used to refer to as a police officer is now called a "School Resource Officer"?

It is political correctness.

Broward County seemed to be more concerned with using law enforcement resources for counseling and collaboration rather than policing crime and maintaining a safe environment for teachers, students and staff.

What really makes you scratch your head on this one is that Peterson had a base annual salary of $75,673.72 as of 2016 but that did not include longevity (he had been with the Sheriff's department for 23 years) and first- responder bonuses (emphasis added) according to the union official.

Don't you think someone should be at least asking this guy to pay back the first-responder bonuses he was paid over the years?  It doesn't seem that he earned them.

Even more troubling is the information that has come out about the so-called "Promise Program" in the county that was instituted back in the 2011/2102 period that I have learned about due to excellent research work by The Last Refuge.

A great outline of what the "Promise Program" was about can be found in this unrolled Twitter thread. It is more than troubling. It shows the truly tragic dimensions that politics and political correctness have in all of this.

The Broward County School Board and District Superintendent, entered into an agreement ("The Promise Program") with Broward County Law enforcement officials to stop arresting students for crimes. Perhaps the motive was high-minded at the beginning not wanting to see students saddled with a criminal record for petty crimes. However, bigger political issues soon took over as attractive state and federal grant money is given to school districts that are doing the best job in curbing juvenile delinquency.

It did not take long for school administrators and law enforcement to want to keep improving their statistics. Over time more and more crimes were overlooked so their statistics would look better and better and more and more money would roll in for the fabulous job they were doing at reducing juvenile delinquency.

Of course, it did not take long for students (and others) to figure out that they could do a lot of illegal things and never be held accountable. Criminal gangs even started to recruit students to do their dirty work knowing this.

This entire situation also forced the police to cover-up a lot of what was going on. For example, when they did not solve a burglary or robbery they could not return the goods to the lawful owner because this was "evidence" of a crime that they never wrote up in a report. It ended up being stored at the police department as lost goods found on the side of the road.

A lot has been made of the fact that in the aftermath of the shooting that the Broward County Sheriff's office had been notified 23 times about concerns people had about the accused Parkland killer. Everyone is asking how come nothing was done?

The Last Refuge puts all of this in perspective.

The Broward County Sheriff’s Office (BSO) didn’t “miss warning signs” or make “mistakes” in not writing up reports. The Sheriff’s office did exactly what their internal policies, procedures and official training required them to do, they intentionally ignored the signs, and intentionally didn’t generate documents.
It is important to understand the policy here. Broward County law enforcement (Sheriff Israel), in conjunction with Broward County School Officials (Superintendent Runcie and School Board), have a standing policy to ignore any criminal engagement with High School students.
When the police are hiding current, actual and ongoing unlawful conduct as a matter of standard procedure on a regular basis, what do we expect the police would do with reports of potential unlawful conduct? Of course they would ignore them.

So many are making so much of guns. Why do we hear so little about everything else that I mentioned above?

And why do we continue to put political correctness ahead of common sense and public safety?

The tragedy of Parkland provides a powerful reminder of those dangers.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

What's Your Longitude?

I wrote in my last blog post that "Self-Esteem Is Overrated."

Parents of Asian ancestry are not as concerned about the self-esteem of their children as Western parents are. They push their children to work hard and hold them accountable for results.

In order to excel at anything you need to work at it. Few children will naturally want to work or practice the necessary time to excel. Asian parents push their children to work hard and are not as concerned about overriding what the child wants to do as Western parents are.

Asian parents actually create a "low-esteem" environment for their children. They do not praise their children for their talent. They praise their children for their work ethic and effort. Asian students are no more "talented" that anyone else. Their success is a function of the expectations of the family and just plain old hard work, practice and study.

Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers attributes it to a "rice paddy" attitude. Simply stated, tending to a rice paddy is a 360 day, 3,000 hour per year activity. It is exacting, hard work where effort and dedication make a huge difference in results. The peasants that tended these rice paddies may be long gone but the culture carries on in their progeny. Gladwell makes the point that there is nothing that indicates that Asians are naturally any better at math, science or music but each requires hard work, persistence and doggedness. It is more attitude than aptitude.

I think it also stems from another factor. The sheer number of people on the Asian continent that anyone has to compete with in that part of the world. It is simply harder to feel that you are unique or special when you are competing against BILLIONS of other people.

I came across an infographic recently that illustrates this point in a compelling way.

Take a look at this chart prepared by radicalcartography.net based on global population in 2000 that shows where humanity lives on the planet based on longitude.

If you live in the Western Hemisphere it is almost as if you are living alone.

However, do you think that someone who comes from an Asian background might understand that they are competing with a few other human beings in anything that they want to do?

It reminds me of my college graduation day when I was feeling pretty good about myself having earned my diploma but then looking around at the other 3,000 students in the building that had done the same thing.  I felt pretty good walking into the ceremony, I didn't fell quite as good walking out. I realized I was a number. Everyone else was also a number.

What was I going to do to distinguish myself against all those others who were just like me? I realized I had really accomplished little to that point. It was up to ME to find ways to separate myself from the crowd going forward. I came in thinking I was at the end and realized I was really just at the beginning. There is no end if you want to excel and separate yourself---Asians parents understand this better than anyone else in the world.

Here is the chart that shows the world's population distributed by latitude.

There are also a lot of humanity living within a relatively small bandwidth of latitude in the world. Again, a lot of this is owed to major population centers in India, China and Japan.

 Of course, in the world we live in today it does not matter which longitude or latitude you live in.

You and your children are potentially in competition with all 7.6 billion other human beings.

Asian parents understand this better than anyone.

If you doubt it look at the entrance data for high schools in New York City that are based on a competitive exam.

Asian students make up only 15% of the students in the New York City school system.

However, this year they received 53% of the offers for placement at the top high schools.

On the other hand, Black and Hispanic students make up 71% of New York City schools but only received 10% of the offers.

Even more interesting is the fact that more Asian students (who only make up 15% of enrollment) took the entrance exam than any other ethnic group!

Do you think all those students decided on their own to take the entrance exam?

If you don't have any expectations, how will you ever get any results?

Perhaps Asian parents know something that others don't.

Their attitude as parents is the result of the longitude of their family culture. As a result, they understand competition in a much more personal way.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Self-Esteem Is Overrated

One of the reasons that I write BeeLine is to challenge my mind. It takes a lot of reading and research to do that. It is also a continuing challenge to take what I learn and turn out a blog that provides the content and context to make it interesting for you to read.

I am also always looking for new perspectives that challenge my assumptions. You can only grow if you are willing to do that. Hopefully, my writing also challenges your view of the world from time to time.

I recently came across some interesting research that has made me rethink some assumptions that I have held.

The first assumption was my belief that most people who got tattoos were insecure or had self-esteem issues. Getting a tattoo represented a way or them to draw attention to themselves and feel more important or special.

This seemed to be supported by a statement I saw one time from a Navy SEALs training instructor when he was asked if there was a way he could predict which recruits would fail BUD/S training. He answered that the best indicator was the number of tattoos the recruit had when he entered training. The greater the number, the greater the odds the recruit would ring the bell.

I also have long thought that a lot of problems in the African-American community were caused by issues of low self-esteem. I often read that low self-esteem among blacks was the root cause of problems ranging from academic underachievement to crime in the black community. .

You even see that in the hype surrounding the new Black Panther movie featuring a superhero who is black. The film has been setting box office records since its release on February 16 due in part to its appeal to African-American audiences.

Consider this recent The New York Times Magazine article "Why 'Black Panther is a Defining Moment for Black America".
Ryan Coogler’s film is a vivid re-imagination of something black Americans have cherished for centuries — Africa as a dream of our wholeness, greatness and self-realization.
 “Black Panther,” ... is steeped very specifically and purposefully in its blackness. “It’s the first time in a very long time that we’re seeing a film with centered black people, where we have a lot of agency,” says Jamie Broadnax, the founder of Black Girl Nerds, a pop-culture site focused on sci-fi and comic-book fandoms. These characters, she notes, “are rulers of a kingdom, inventors and creators of advanced technology. We’re not dealing with black pain, and black suffering, and black poverty” — the usual topics of acclaimed movies about the black experience.
In a video posted to Twitter in December, which has since gone viral, three young men are seen fawning over the “Black Panther” poster at a movie theater. One jokingly embraces the poster while another asks, rhetorically: “This is what white people get to feel all the time?” There is laughter before someone says, as though delivering the punch line to the most painful joke ever told: “I would love this country, too.”

All of this seems to point to African-Americans who are insecure in their own country with low self-esteem that is preventing them from succeeding in America.

It is a common narrative and one that I assumed to be true just as I assumed that insecure people were hiding behind their tattoos.

My assumptions are incorrect.

The reality, based on research I recently discovered, is that black youth actually have self-esteem that is at least as healthy as their white counterparts according to a study done at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Bernadette Gray-Little, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, performed a complex review of every piece of research available on black self-esteem. Using a technique called meta-analysis, her research culled data from the studies and treated them as if they were part of one giant study making her results less likely to be the result of chance.
'There have been inconsistencies in the results of the studies on this topic over time,' says Gray-Little. 'I wanted to see if I could find any basis for a firm conclusion. And if inconsistencies occurred, I wanted to know when and why.'
She found that before the age of 10, whites slightly surpass blacks in self-esteem. Everyone's self-esteem dips in the later years of school. After that, blacks narrowly but consistently surpass whites, up to the age of 21, the upper limit of the study.

This finding led me to look for other research on self-esteem.

It turns out that black women are also consistently found to have higher self-esteem than white or Hispanic women according to an article in Glamour magazine.

They were far more likely to describe themselves as successful (44 percent said so, compared with 30 percent of white women and 21 percent of Hispanic) and beautiful (59 percent, versus 25 and 32 percent). That’s consistent with other studies, says Jean Twenge, Ph.D., who has examined the effect of race on self-confidence. “Research shows black women score higher on self-esteem than women of other races and ethnicities, which may seem surprising, given the long history of prejudice and discrimination they have faced," she said.

And black women who wear their hair naturally have higher self-esteem that those who wear it than those that don't according to this study.

There is an association between favorable responses from society, earning middle class income, having advanced degrees and wearing hair naturally among Black women. We also found that Black women who wear their hair naturally generally felt better about themselves. We maintain that feeling good about oneself leads to greater life, career and academic success. 
What really surprised me were the numerous studies that have found that criminals generally all have very high self-esteem. In fact, some studies suggest that there is no group of individuals that have higher self-esteem.

This belief — that increasing self-esteem among the members of society will increase goodness in society — spread through the rest of America like proverbial wildfire.
It turns out, however, that the premise was entirely misguided. There is no correlation between goodness and high self-esteem. But there is a correlation between criminality and high self-esteem.
Florida State University Prof. Roy Baumeister (PhD psychology, Princeton University) has revealed that in a lifetime of study of violent criminals, the one characteristic nearly all these criminals share is high self-esteem.

As I thought about it further it does make sense. Someone who commits a crime must do so with some type of superior attitude. They also must believe they can get away with it. They have too much confidence...not too little.

To take this a step further, research has shown that among adolescents in America that Asian-Americans score the lowest in self esteem.

Large-scale representative surveys of 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-grade students in the United States show high self-esteem scores for all groups. African-American students score highest, Whites score slightly higher than Hispanics, and Asian Americans score lowest.

 I find this interesting when you compare self-esteem to academic results for these adolescents.

SAT Combined Reading & Writing, Mathematics mean scores-2017

Or when you compare it to incarceration rates.

Asians were not included in the data above but the Bureau of Prisons reports that there are currently 2,298 prisoners of Asian descent in federal prisons right now. It is estimated that there are about 18 million Asians in the United States. That would be make the average rate of incarceration for Asians at approximately 127 per 100,000---less than half the rate for Whites and less than 10% of that of Blacks.

Is it a coincidence that parents of Asian heritage have a different mindset involving parenting than other American parents? I have written a couple of times in the past about "Tiger Moms" and their parenting style here and here. Amy Chua wrote an essay in The Wall Street Journal several years ago, "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior". Notice what she says about the subject of self-esteem.

Western parents are too concerned about their children's self esteem.  Chinese are not. Asians assume strength in their children, not fragility.  Therefore, they push hard on them and hold them accountable for results.
Chinese parents believe their children owe them something.  Many Americans seem to believe that since they were responsible for bringing the child into the world that they owe the child in some way.
Asians believe they know what is best for their children and override their children's own preferences and desires. Chinese parents understand that nothing is fun until you're good at it. To get good at anything you have to work, and children on their own never want to work, which is why it is crucial to override their preferences.

Perhaps the ideas that took hold 30 years ago that we needed to make everyone feel good about themselves was based on a bad assumption?

Perhaps we should not have been handing trophies to everyone in the league and telling everyone to celebrate their unique identity?

Could it be that those who are a product of a culture where you are just one of BILLIONS have a better understanding of what it takes to stand out in a crowd  They understand that not everyone is special. You become special through your hard work and your results.

That brings us back to tattoos.

It seems there is at least one study that indicates that those with tattoos have more self-esteem than those that don't. In fact, women with four or more tattoos had more self-esteem than anyone else.

However, women with four tattoos or more also have four times the rate of suicide as women with no tattoos.

Does this suggest that women who have higher self-esteem get tattoos only to discover later that their self-image is not what they thought it was? The real world does not meet the expectations of their world?

Perhaps all of this also explains SEALs and tattoos. Recruits with tattoos are the least likely to survive BUD/S training. That seems to suggest that those that came in with the biggest egos and self-esteem get cut down pretty quickly to size. The reality is a shock that they cannot cope with. As a result, they are more likely to quit.

However, Robert O'Neill (The Seal Team 6 member who killed Bin Laden) stated in his book (The Operator) that most special operators today have tattoos. They must get them after surviving BUD/S and getting their Trident. Perhaps that suggests that those with more humility and lower self esteem going into BUD/S training are stronger of mind and spirit. They believe they have something to prove. However, getting through training really boosts their confidence and self-esteem  (which what the training is supposed to do) leading them to want to display that self-esteem externally with tattoos.

All of this might suggest that, like me, your assumptions about self-esteem are wrong.

The bigger lesson here is that you can never assume too much. You must always look at everything with a humble mind and spirit. Chances are high that you don't know as much as you think you do. You are also likely to not be as special as your mother (assuming you did not have a Tiger Mom) told you were.

The following lesson was written down for us many, many years ago.

When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
but with humility comes wisdom.
                              -Proverbs 11:2

Self-Esteem is overrated. Humility is underrated.

It is the Truth.

No assumption is needed.