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Archive for November, 2013

A touching naturalization ceremony in Chicago

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013
Mayor Emanuel speaks at the naturalization ceremony/photo courtesy of Rudy Urian

Mayor Emanuel speaks at the naturalization ceremony/photo courtesy of Rudy Urian

The large winter garden room on the 9th floor of the Harold Washington Library is flooded with sunshine and packed with people from 26 different countries. The weather may be cold outside, but in here, the room is full of warmth and anticipation.

It is the naturalization ceremony for 73 new citizens, accompanied by their family members and friends.

The ceremony started solemnly, with Paul Phillips, Supervisory Immigration Services Officer at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services serving as master of ceremonies. Rey Colon, Alderman for the 35th Ward in the city and Brian Bannon, Chicago Public Library Commissioner, delivered welcome remarks. Students from the George Westinghouse College Prep Color Guard did a wonderful job in conducting the Presentation of Colors and National Anthem.

Taking Oath of Allegiance/photo courtesy of City of Chicago/Brooke Collins

Taking Oath of Allegiance/photo courtesy of City of Chicago/Brooke Collins

Then we all joined the audience to take the Oath of Allegiance and the Pledge of Allegiance.

I was deeply touched. Fifteen years ago, I was among those sitting in the audience and being sworn in as a U.S. citizen. When it was my turn to deliver the “congratulatory remarks,” I shared my feelings and thoughts.

I congratulated them from the bottom of my heart, knowing well the long process each of them had to go through in order to arrive at this stage.

I shared with them the journey I had taken, coming to the U.S. as an international student in the mid ’80s and speaking “Chinglish” that was difficult for everyone to understand. But the U.S. is a country largely built by immigrants and it embraces diversity. I was very lucky to receive a lot of support and help from many American friends, mentors, and even strangers.

Indeed, all of us are truly lucky to be in this land of freedom and opportunities. Here, in this open and welcoming society, we can overcome many hurdles and flourish. We should all take advantage of the opportunities to set up our goals and work hard to achieve them. We should all join our fellow Americans and make our contribution to this country. Of course, we should all join force in helping other immigrants in their effort of obtaining their rights and becoming American citizens as well.

New citizens!

New citizens!

Mayor Emanuel delivered a very personal and moving speech. He talked about how his grandfather came to this country at a young age and welcomed everyone.

“Whether you are from China or Chili, Poland or Pakistan, … you can call Chicago home,” said Mayor Emanuel. He said Chicago is the most American of American cities and generations of immigrants have come here to give themselves and their children a chance that they could not have had anywhere else.

I walked away feeling elated and inspired. Judging from the buzz among the crowd, I knew I was not the only one feeling this way.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary movie by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. Visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com for more information.

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Presidential Apologies

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

2nd Obama Picture 075

 

It is not often these days that you hear our leaders apologize for their many mistakes misdeeds or misdemeanors. A case in point is the recent disastrous Republican house decision to shut down the government. A decision based upon misguided politics rather than policy, which cost the country an immediate estimated $24 billion, and by all accounts will shave at least 1/2% off economic growth of the US in 2013, and the extra hardship that will bring to millions of Americans

It is even rarer to hear apologies from the President. However President Obama has had to apologize, for the computer system failures at the launch of the Affordable Care Act, and now to maybe millions of citizens who were holding mainly high cost, low benefits insurance policies, which have been cancelled. He had assured the public, that any citizen that wished to keep their existing policy, would be able to do so. This is not proved to be the case. I think we know what he had in mind. The Affordable Care Act would be able to give cover to those policyholders, for the most part lower cost and with increased benefits. On that basis those policyholders would be very eager to have their existing insurance policies cancelled. The computer problems made it impossible for those millions of policyholders to sign on for new and more beneficial coverage. The President was correct to apologize to the public not only for the computer glitches, but also for being unable to deliver on the promise to those citizens. He has promised to do everything in his power to put things right. However the buck has to stop somewhere, and ultimately it is the President’s signature piece of legislation, and his responsibility to see that the initial launch was executed efficiently. If this legislation and indeed the Affordable Care Act is to be saved, it is essential that these computer problems are addressed, corrected, and allow the public to review, investigate, and sign on when their choices have been made. The November 30th deadline must be met, not only for the sake of this policy which for the first time in the history of the United States will provide healthcare to up to 30 million uninsured Americans, but also to allow improvements to the policy to be made as the years go by.

It was pointed out by my wife today, that there had been no apologies from our previous President George W Bush. His mistakes, led our economy to the verge of bankruptcy, causing a worldwide recession, from which we have yet to recover, and also took us into an unnecessary and disastrous war in Iraq, with the loss of nearly 5000 U.S. Services lives, 150,000 Iraqi lives, and 4 million displaced citizens of that country. All of this at a cost to the U.S. Treasury of over $1 trillion, not even included in our budget, but while still pursuing and legislating tax cuts and loopholes for the wealthiest corporations and individuals in this country. When asked about these decisions, Bush responded that he could not think of one mistake that he had made during his presidency, and that he was comfortable with all of his decisions including the invasion of Iraq.

The Republicans are rubbing their hands with glee over Obama’s current difficulties, despite the fact that these problems are hurting millions of citizens eager to get insurance coverage for their current health issues, or for their families. Why was there no such indignation, during the Bush years, about his decisions, which have continued to affect the lives and well-being of hundreds of millions of citizens around the world?

 

Ellis M. Goodman, Author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

 

Attending the Carl Sandburg Literary Awards Event

Friday, November 22nd, 2013
A photo of all the authors featured at the event

A photo of all the authors featured at the event

It’s hard to believe the glamorous event took place almost a month ago. It felt like yesterday.

More than 750 people gathered together to honor the Carl Sandburg Literary Awards recipients: Isabel Allende (fiction), Michael Lewis (non-fiction) and Christine Sneed (21st Century Award). Over 70 authors in the greater Chicago areas or have written about Chicago were also featured at the award dinner event. I have always loved Allende’s writing, and her memoir about her daughter Paula especially touched me. I felt so honored to stand on the same stage with these literary giants.

photo 2The event is also the Chicago Public Library Foundation’s largest annual fund-raising dinner. Each author hosted a table of ten, and a total of 1.5 million was raised for the evening. Quite impressive.

It was a very exciting evening for me, meeting other fellow authors and talking with the M.C. of the event, Bill Curtis, who has been a supporter of Mulberry Child movie.

Chicago Mayor speaking at the event

Chicago Mayor speaking at the event

The guests on my table happened to a group young professionals—most of them lawyers. They are open and curious and eager to learn more about China and my experience growing up there. I very much enjoyed the evening and the sharing of our life stories growing up in different parts of the world.

I had the opportunity to exchange a few words with each of the award-winning authors and had them sign copies of their books respectively. I walked away feeling very much inspired.

Link to the photos of the evening event:

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. Visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com for more information.

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Bermuda Is Another World

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

 

English: The Beach at Astwood Park in Bermuda.

 

My wife and I recently spent a week in Bermuda with some friends from London. We have been going to the island for nearly 50 years and looking back, the one thing that strikes us both, is how little it has changed. In this fast moving global world, Bermuda has managed to stay relevant, prosperous, and remarkably safe with an unspoiled environment. If your idea of a vacation, is gigantic hotels, with floating bars and pools, casinos, global brand shopping, zip lining or bungee jumping this is not the place for you. Bermuda is still about unspoiled pink beaches, turquoise water, beautiful sunsets and relaxing days and balmy nights.

That is not to say that Bermuda cannot provide the best for its tourists. There are now first-class hotels along with the traditional quaint cottage colonies, the majority of which overlook their own private beaches. There is wonderful golf, endless tennis, and of course sailing, water skiing, fishing, scuba-diving, or just plain snorkeling in the clear waters, teaming with multicolored fish. Bermuda also has its fine restaurants, great bars, music, parties and dancing for the younger set. It is still a great family location for that perfect vacation. For those brave enough, you can rent motor scooters and buzz around the winding narrow lanes, through the tropical breezes and the aromas of the endless flowering bushes and trees. Stop at a deserted beach in a little bay, have a swim, relax in the sun and then head off to lunch or dinner at one of them many small old world pubs and restaurants along the way.

English: A view of Front Street at the corner ...

You can also use the excellent ferry service which goes from one end of the island to the other. Start in Hamilton and head for Dockyard. This was a former British Naval base for over 200 years, now converted into shops, restaurants, a Museum and a dolphin show! At the other end of the island you can visit the ancient small port town of St Georges, with its winding cobbled streets, and stocks in the main square, reminding us of how felons were treated in years past.

Bermuda was discovered by Juan de Bermudez in 1547. Fifty years later it was colonized and claimed for Britain by Sir John Somers. It is now Britain’s oldest colony and has the oldest Parliament outside of London. The Queen is represented by a Governor, but the island is independent, in that it has free democratic elections. The Prime Minister, Cabinet, and members of Parliament represent the different “parishes” covering the 22 miles of this string of islands. Bermuda is not part of the Caribbean. In fact it is hundreds of miles north of the Caribbean, and its nearest landfall is approximately 650 miles away in North Carolina.  It sits in the Atlantic Ocean, in the middle of the Gulf stream providing a subtropical climate, to this fertile land which originally was a volcanic cluster peeking out of the ocean. The island has a population of approximately 60,000 people, 40,000 of which are black or mixed race descendants from early slaves. The 20,000 white people, are either descendants from the original families that colonized the island, or British expats who came to Bermuda, working for the government, the British Navy, or internationally-based businesses. Bermuda is the largest insurance market outside of Lloyd’s of London. It is a tax-free haven that attracts not only the global insurance companies, but also multinational companies who have made their headquarters there.

Bermuda 0.35 Picture

Over its 400 year history, Bermuda has reinvented itself many times. As an early colony and safe haven port for the British Navy, to an early tourist destination for Americans on cruise liners, to a tax haven for banking and international business, and most recently home to the largest reinsurance market in the world.

Insurance, international business, and tourism are the lifeblood of Bermuda today. The cruise liners have grown larger over the years to the extent that many of them can no longer tie-up downtown in Hamilton or St George’s. But they still come with larger groups of tourists, who have little to spend. Since it is less than 2 hours flying time from the major east coast cities in the US, it still attracts honeymooners, families and regular vacationers to its sunny shores. Friendly faces and an unspoiled environment, should ensure prosperity for Bermuda for many years to come.

Go see for yourself.

 

 

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

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To Split or to Itemize?

Monday, November 18th, 2013

 

by:  Toby Harris – A Student at St. Andrew’s University, Scotland

The Dinner Bill Etiquette Analysis…

Eating out causes problems – “How do you cover the tip?” and “What is the bank note and change scenario?” are among some of the multiple concerns that need to be addressed. Whilst you do not want to come across as a cheapskate, at the same time, you do not want to over-pay. How should one break up the bill at the end?

Different scenarios call for different approaches. The most common and difficult of them all is when some people booze up and others do not. Five friends may go out for a meal, some drink, others stick to the product of the kitchen tap – beverages distort the overall bill. Non-drinkers are well within their rights to not split the final bill if they did not drink. Nonetheless, it is the responsibility of the drinkers to alleviate this burden, jump on the bill and insist on the structure of payment. The drinks bill should be dealt with at the drinking contingent’s discretion.  However, speaking out by the non-drinkers can be somewhat uncomfortable. Whilst it is never nice to be seen to ‘nit-pick’, you do not want to be taken advantage of. It is the responsibility of those that have the larger bill to seize on this opportunity and cough up the extra cash without hesitation.

At the same time, pedantic itemizers are a production of the anti-Christ. They are equally, if not more, uncomfortable to eat with. If my main course was £6 and yours was £8 – that is just luck of the drawer – we ordered what we wanted, we saw the price of our respective dishes – split the bill and stop being dramatic! If you are going to squabble over every single dime, it is not worth eating out in the first place. Why would you be happy to pay £6 but not £7 – is that one extra pound a real deal breaker to the social arrangement?

Toby Blog re Splitting the Bill

Complications arise once again if the majority of the social party orders starters but one solitary individual does not. Pressure mounts and several thoughts enter the mind of the single-course muncher.

1)   “Should I just eat a second course because I am going to have to split it between all the guests, even if I don’t want it?”

Or:

2)   “Should I be brave and stand up for my right to eat a single course? I am not hungry enough for two – why should I conform? What’s more, I am not content to pay for an overpriced started that I did not particularly desire.”

Itemising can be awkward but it is down to the discretion and gumption of the single course eater.

Bank notes: if my meal is £6 and I pay with a £10 note – I will wait and I want my change. If the dinner is £8, after paying the waiting staff a tip – I think I can let it go. £7 is a tricky one – it seems wasteful to forego £3 when your meal is £7 – it is 43% of your overall dinner cost.

At the same time, the worst of all social diners are the ones that I call “the opportunistic grabber”. They are the type that have an accumulated meal cost of £12 but only carry a £10 note on them. Usually, they’re “broke” thus deferring responsibility to the rest of the table to settle up the shortfall. There are always “free-riders” that look for that extra bit of subsidy from the other guests. It is embarrassing dinner etiquette that should be named and shamed as it places a strain on the social dynamic when it needn’t do so. If you eat, you pay. If you know you want £12 of food – carry the correct change on you.

Saying that, there is a hefty difference between those that you can tell are in it for the group-dynamic subsidy, which contrast to those that may ask the occasional favor. The latter may have forgotten some cash, left in a rush or the restaurant may be slightly more expensive than they initially anticipated. In this instance, sharing is caring. We all have an instinct to decipher “the opportunistic takers” from “the forgetful one-off mistakers.”

The dos and don’ts of eating out are challenging and adults appear to handle it effortlessly. It must come from years of experience, on mass discussion and a personalized tactic to avoid these financial encounters. It is testing when social meets financial and whilst standing your ground, you have to be cautious not to appear like a penny-counting Scrooge.

Jamie Dimon Time To Go

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013

JP Morgan Chase

I met Jamie Dimon in Chicago a few times during his tenure at JP Morgan Chase. I even attended a couple of his semi-private dinners. He is undoubtedly charismatic, personable, and an inspirational speaker and motivator. He is considered an outstandingly talented banker by his peers, and has clearly worked his magic with the Obama administration and the US government. However during his tenure as chairman and CEO over the past five difficult economic years, he has presided over a cascading list of disasters. The recent flurry of adverse publicity over the record-breaking pending fines and penalties of $13 billion, in response to shoddy financial practices contributing to the meltdown and great recession, is only part of the story over the last 2 ½ years. It is worth looking back and remembering the series of fines and settlements that have been negotiated by JP Morgan during this period.

 

Jamie DimonApril 2011. $56 million. Settlement for overcharging and foreclosing on military personnel. How disgusting was this?

June 2011. $153.6 million. Misleading buyers of hedge fund securities.

July 2011. $229 million. Rigged bidding process for reinvesting bond transactions.

August 2011 $88.3 million. Violating sanction orders by entering into business relationships with Iran, Sudan, etc.

February 2012. $5.2 billion. Paid a share of this fine levied on a group of banks for
“shoddy loan servicing… And faulty foreclosure processes.”

February 2012. $110 million. Settlement of consumer litigation.

March 2012. $150 million. Investing pension funds in risky, structured failed investment vehicles.

November 2012. $229.6 million. Misleading investors about the quality of mortgages contained in mortgage-backed securities.

January 2013. $8.5 billion. A share of this settlement, including a group of other major banks, for “Robo signing” and other foreclosure abuses.

March 2013. $100 million fine in respect of the agreement to return $546 million to customers of the collapsed MF Global Holdings.

August 2013. $410 million in settlement of FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) charges.

September 2013 $920 million in penalties to US and UK regulators relating to $6 billion trading losses in London.

October 2013 $5.1 billion. To federal housing agency for misleading Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac about risky mortgage loans.

 

The bank has announced, that it set aside $23 billion to meet all outstanding penalties on charges and legal costs in relation to these matters. Wall Street and investors have taken this in their stride. Given the size of JP Morgan, these charges are, amazingly, not considered material, and now these announcements have been made, the share price has soared. But this may not be the end of the story. It now appears that there is a possibility that JP Morgan will face further charges in connection with the $50 billion Madoff Ponzi scheme, and the banks hiring practices in Asia and possibly elsewhere.

There are those that say JP Morgan is being hounded by the authorities, and it is unfair, because this all comes down to a few rogue traders, and some of the businesses they were more or less forced to acquire by the government. This may partly be true, but it cannot hide the culture at JP Morgan that has led to these abuses. JP Morgan Chase, the largest US bank, with over 250,000 employees worldwide is a massive enterprise to manage. Certainly one cannot expect the chairman and chief executive to be fully briefed or in control of multibillion-dollar trading every day of the year. JP Morgan has been described as being too big to fail, but perhaps it is also too big to manage. Paul Volcker’s plea that our major banks should distinguish between banking and investment banking looks to be the only solution that might head off another global financial crisis. JP Morgan and other major banks in this country, are less about banking and more about gambling. It is far more profitable for them to take depositors funds and trade with them than it is to make those old-fashioned asset-backed loans to individuals and businesses.

Why should all this responsibility fall upon Jamie Dimon? Because, as the chairman and CEO he has created the culture of bonuses, greed, resulting in risky practices. The mission of the Bank these days is all about JP Morgan and not about the customers. 75% of JP Morgan’s profits come from trading. Over the past few years lending has played a reducing role in the activities of the bank. Business customers, particularly middle market customers, had been leaving in droves. But as long as those fees and trading profits are rolling in, I suppose neither Jamie Dimon, his Board of Directors, and his ridiculously highly paid traders and executives really don’t care.

Jamie you have done extremely well for yourself for your executives and for your shareholders. But the bank’s name is tarnished, and even though we live in an era where no one appears to take responsibility for any of their actions, whether they be corrupted politicians, greedy executives, overpaid celebrities, and even highly paid bankers, the buck has to stop somewhere. Despite a considerable charm and talent the only honorable course you can follow is to resign.

So Jamie – Farewell. It is time to go.

 

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

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An informative symposium on The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

Sunday, November 10th, 2013
Betty Friedan, American feminist and writer.

Betty Friedan, American feminist and writer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I must admit I haven’t read Friedan‘s The Feminine Mystique when I attended the day-long symposium at the Newberry Library last Friday. I read the book’s chapter summary online to get an idea and showed up at the symposium hoping to get some information on the feminist movement in the U.S.

The event was held in honor of the 50th anniversary of the publication of the book. It brought together acadmics and activitists to reflect on the significance, influence, and controversy The Feminine Mystique has generated. Norton Publishing has recently released a new critical edition of the book, edited by Lisa Fine and Dirsten Fermaglich, who were present and shared their process of putting the work together, a fascinating talk.

photo 2Hitorians such as Elizabeth Fraterrigo at Loyoal Unversity Chicago and Kathrine Turk at University of Texas shared their insights about the “second wave” feminist movement in the 60s, and a couple of panels participated by writers, consultants, and activitists also shed light on their experiences and opinions.

Lisa Fine and Kirsten Fermaglich at the Symposium

Lisa Fine and Kirsten Fermaglich at the Symposium

I found the symposium very informative—not only the talks given by the speakers, but also comments made by the audience. The large Ruggles Hall at the Library was packed full, however, most of the attendees, including a few men, were older people. I am not sure if it is because these people went through or participated in the women’s movements of 60s and 70s, or younger women today do not think the book or the movement is relavent to their lives today.

In many ways, women’s position has changed significantly over the last 50 years, and in others, no so foundamentally at all. I walk away wanting to know more about the women’s movement in the U.S. and to read this new edition accompanied by selective critical articles on the book and the movement.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. Visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com for more information.

 

 

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