Holiday Wish for Politicians, Candidates and Voters

Happy holidays to all. I wanted to close the year with a few holiday wishes to various constituencies – politicians, candidates and voters – as we move into a full campaign year.

For all parties, I strongly encourage you to read “That Used to be Us” by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum. The subtitle is ” How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We can Come Back” and I think it should be required reading for all politicians and candidates. The voters would be benefit greatly as well as it will help us keep the first two groups honest and focusing on the right things.

I wish for politicians and candidates to focus on things of import and less on platitudes. The Republican debates have tended to focus on the less important things and we need to ask tough questions about where we are as a country and how do we do what is needed on the major issues of the day. We have tended to dumb down the debates about issues that have been decided (abortion) or that run counter to what is actually happening (global warming). It is hard for me to take someone seriously who wants to do away with the EPA or will choose which judicial rulings he will obey.

I wish for politicians and candidates to think more before they speak. Our problems are complex and deserve well thought out answers. Herman Cain was toast long before his personal crises, as he had not done any homework in preparation for the most important job in the world. I also wish for politicians to tell the truth or use meaningful information to support a cause. Not all data is equal and biased survey data needs to be identified and ferreted out. I have taken a survey gleaned by Newt Gingrich’s team and, frankly, it was biased from the outset and I told them so.

I wish for politicians and candidates to collaborate with others. They do not have all of the answers and some don’t have a good hand to begin with. So, it is imperative they collaborate with others across all spectrums. This is a major reason I am an independent voter. Collaboration is the key to our success.

I wish for voters to take everything a politician says with a grain of salt. With the infamous words uttered by Senator Kyl earlier this year when he was caught in a lie, “please don’t interpret my comments as being factual,”  he gave us the proper advice. Senator, we will take that advice to the bank. We will not believe anything you say from this point forward. The Democrats should not gloat as they have tended to misrepresent a fact or two, as well.

We voters also need to keep the politicians and candidates between the white lines. We should consider all portrayed facts or survey data in the right context. Who conducted the survey? Where did the facts come from? Does this person have a history, both good or bad, with the subject? Some congressman are supported by lobbying groups and they will vote 100% of the time on issues in favor of the lobbyist’s cause. Their opinions should be discounted as being overly biased.

Our problems need serious people and serious discussions to address them. Going back to the book noted above, we have wavered from our mission, but we can rectify our problems if we think long term and approach our problems together. If we continue our partisan bickering, we will likely fail in these endeavors.

Thanks for reading. I wish for each of you and all of us, a prosperous New Year.

America is Still a Pretty Cool Place

Looking back at the year during this holiday season, I am reminded while America is far from perfect, we still live in a pretty cool place. Seeing the staged tears film sessions in North Korea over the past few days, where if you don’t mourn publicly enough over the death of Kim Jong Il you could be arrested, is one of those reminders. Seeing women continue to be treated as possessions in the Middle East is another reason. Seeing Bashar Assad cleanse away his opposition in Syria is yet another. And, seeing the genocide continue in certain African nations is even more telling.

Our founding fathers got it mostly right when they set up and then improved our system of government. We did remedy the two major shortcomings – freedom for slaves and the right to vote for women later in our history – yet the foundation was there to build upon. Our system of governance is of greater importance than its incumbents, who bring their human frailties and biases into the mix. And, when those incumbents dishonor the positions, we should seek remedies by voting them out or advocating for their censure (or removal) if the deeds are unethical or worse.

We should embrace our freedoms and enjoy the security afforded us by our governmental construct. There is a key reason why our founding fathers have a separation of church and state. They or their forebearers escaped religious persecution in England. We should praise our freedom of religion, but must guard against letting the religious beliefs of one group overshadow the rights of another.

We should relish in our ability to have the peaceful transition of power. And, when people advocate the abuse of that peaceful  transition, we should shine a spot light on them and say do you realize what you are advocating?

We should celebrate our right to question our leaders and voice our displeasure at how things are being done. Seeing people harmed, raped, tortured and killed for voicing their concerns in Syria or Egypt should make us feel grateful to live here.

We should highlight the freedoms of women as a beacon of hope. Countries that suppress women are being inhumane first and foremost, but they are suppressing the talents and ideas of half of their population. If the more important first argument fails to convince these leaders, the second argument would say you are competing in the world economy with one arm tied behind your back.

Finally, irrespective of your feelings about our President, as an African American his winning the White House is a reason to highlight the greatness of America. We have come along way since the pre-Civil Rights era. We still have a ways to go, but we are headed down the right path.

Let’s thank each of us for what we have here in America. I wish to each and everyone a safe and enjoyable holiday season and a prosperous 2012.

What Americans Want?

When you hear a politician, Congressperson or Senator use this phrase, it oftentimes is followed by extreme rhetoric rather than more reasonable discourse. It is standard phrasing for people who have tended to not do their homework. So, usually I am skeptical of the next sentence following this phrase.

Whether it is Senator McConnell, Senator Reid, Speaker Boehner or Congresswoman Pelosi matters not. Senator DeMint used this phrase again yesterday before he recommended severely gutting programs that would help people in need. This phrase was used on both sides of the political spectrum when the Super Committee on Deficit Reduction failed to the do their job over the past few months.

I cannot speak for the American people, but the legitimate polls I have seen reports on or read about tend to say the American people are extremely dissatisfied with Congress and say the number one issue by far is the economy. To state the obvious, Congress includes all 535 people representing their states – Democrats, Republicans and Independents. It is a collective failure and I look to their leaders on both sides to find a remedy. It also includes the White House as well, so the President needs to be included in the mix.

The other issue that the polls say Americans want addressed is the economy. That does not mean spending time deciding on whether “In God We Trust” is our motto or pushing forward pet issues on either side of the aisle. It means we want our leaders to discuss openly and constructively how can we get the economy moving again and how can we create jobs for our unemployed citizens.

This American would like our leaders to do their jobs rather than worry about keeping their jobs. I do not care where the idea comes from, but good ideas need to be solicited, welcomed and discussed. Oftentimes in brainstorming sessions, the most elegant idea is the not the first one thrown out – it may be the one spawned by an idea mentioned by someone else. I do not care who gets credit for the idea. I do not remember the source, but I read once that a great leader actually defers credit to others. The one who wants to show others it is his or her idea would run counter to that premise.

Brainstorming is a collaboration of ideas and idea creation. The art of collaboration holds the keys to our problem-solving. Those who do not collaborate are being short-sighted and may be missing out on the best solutions. So, when I see the lack of collaboration or when pundits advocate for such, we need to kindly ignore them and restate that a vital part of the job of our leaders is to do just that – collaborate. At least that is what this American wants.

When Leaders Let You Down

There is a growing tide of frustration and futility with various leadership groups whether they be governmental or business. This is one of the reasons the “occupy” and “Arab spring” movements have come into existence. In my 32 years of adult life, I have noted that great leaders should be applauded as they can make a positive difference. Yet, the number of leaders who do not fit this bill outnumber those who do. And, even when you do have a leader who has potential greatness, his or her efforts may be thwarted or watered down by others who have other agendas.

A major concern of mine is when people who are at the lower end of the economic strata are impacted by poor decisions of leaders or decisions that do not pan out as intended or are not given time to succeed. Oftentimes, the less fortunate pay the price for these failures through corporate downsizings or fewer goods and services. For example, a major reason for the financial crisis is due to poor stewardship at the leadership levels, where banks chased short-term profits via returns on riskier mortgages or mortgage securities. Consistently, across the sequence of events, the risk was misrepresented and understated from lenders fudging numbers to make a loan work, house buyers who did not question the terms of the variable mortgage, banks believing if they bundled bad risks together would be less bad, and rating agencies who stamped AAA ratings on these mortgage-backed securities as they were sold to investors looking for more return.

Yet, when the house of cards fell, tens of thousands of people were let go by a bank to pay for the sins of the leaders. This also happens in merger settings, when companies cannot figure out how to grow organically, so they merge with another entity and take out tens of thousands more. This latter point is important as it is not unusual for leaders to not know enough about their business to understand how to grow it.  Or, they do not have the patience to wait for the investment to turn into a profit and abandon the efforts too soon. One of my clients used to say “we step over quarters to pick up nickels here.”  So, when these events occur, there is a tendency to go to what they know and cut headcount. In my mind, you cannot shrink to greatness and usually headcount reduction or buying your own stock back are signs of weakness. This is another reason I favor high dividend paying stocks, as I trust leadership less to know what to do with reinvested profits not paid out as dividends.

Unfortunately, the leadership vacuum is worse when we look at governmental leaders. The extreme cases occur in the dictatorships where the leaders go well beyond graft and skim off the top. For example, the fact Hosni Mubarak had US$ 80 billion in wealth should be a telling sign, especially when most of Egyptians live off less than US$ 2 a day. This is a key example of why Arab spring occurred. However, beyond the extreme cases, we can look to the western world for poor leadership.

With the lack of collaborative dialogue and polarized posturing, even the best of leaders have a hard time functioning. Yet, the best leaders choose not to run. I have mentioned before about the sad slate of GOP candidates, when the best one, who believes in global warming and evolution, has no chance of being elected. I am fearful one of the others might win, and given their poor stewardship over issues, this troubles me greatly. So, what we are left with in governmental leadership are people who don’t understand or take the time to understand the subtleties of our complex problems. They miss the interconnections of issues and potential solutions. This is why collaboration is paramount.

In the US, economic disparity is shameful. We have about 50 million Americans living in poverty and the increases in salary and wealth for the more highly paid have dwarfed those who are at the lower-income levels. As noted earlier, the pursuit of profits is more short-term in focus, as we don’t have the patience to wait. Plus, less enlightened leaders pursue profits through cheap labor. This is why textile plants have been closed in England, New England and now the South and those jobs have moved to China and Vietnam.

The answer to this kind of problem (or any problem) is multifaceted, so be wary of panaceas. They do not exist. We cannot create another problem with our solutions. We need to think longer term about our solutions and build a plan to get there. We have to think beyond elections and ask ourselves “what do we need to do?”  The answers are less black and white and more shades of gray.  So, our leaders have to be good listeners and facilitators of discussion. They cannot be threatened by people asking questions. An old CEO once said “you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion.”

This last point is vital as no one can lay claim to all of the ideas. We have to collaborate and we have to listen to those closest to the problems. In business, this would be customers and those who serve them. In government, this would be the constituents and those who are helping serve them. We need to listen less to the lobbyists who are biased in their views. They are a data point, but that is all they are.

So, with our imperfect people, we cannot expect perfect leaders. But, what we can hope for are leaders who will listen, collaborate and lead. If they do the first two, then they can make up for any shortcomings.

God is not an American

“As we pray to the Lord, who we know is an American…
he supports us in war and presides over football games.”

Don Henley of The Eagles in “Frail Grasp of the Big Picture”

I begin with these song lyrics as they come from a tongue and cheek song about how we lose sight of the big picture with misconceived beliefs that make us focus more on our differences rather than our common problems. The provocative title of this blog is to state an obvious point that is oftentimes lost on people of strong faith in our country – God is not an American – he is bigger than that and so must we be in our thoughts and practices.

Our country has been taken hostage by a very ardent religious right whose intolerance is causing us to be worse citizens of the world and in our own country. The greatness of our country is our diversity and we should embrace our various cultures and coexist in our vast melting pot. There is a reason our founding fathers believed in a separation of church and state. Their parents and the founding fathers themselves left religious persecution in England to begin a new life in our country. So, it was imperative to them to grant the liberty of freedom of religion, but separate that from the state of government.

We need to be more tolerant and respectful of everyone’s beliefs. I have observed in my 32 years as an adult those who are the least tolerant of others, tend to require the most tolerance of others in dealing with them. As we are human, we bring our imperfections to bear on every issue – we are all biased in some way, prejudiced to some degree and generalize when we should not. There is a body of people in our country who have tended to treat all Muslim Americans, for example, with a generalization based on the acts of a few who have imposed terror on the world.

The flak over Lowe’s and other sponsors dropping ads for a documentary about Muslim Americans is very unfortunate. The documentary is designed to be inclusive and show Muslims are not terrorists. The group who caused the issue has a mission of maintaining and improving the moral character of the US. To me, this group is hypocritical, as a key tenet of morality is treating people fairly and tolerating our differences. We teach our children this in our own home – respect people’s beliefs and treat people like you want to be treated.

The same holds true with other disenfranchised groups – such as gays and lesbians, immigrants or people of color who are still fighting an uphill battle. Or, even the Occupy movement. Each group deserves respect, the same freedoms and an attempt to understand their views. I am reminded of the WWJD bracelets asking “what would Jesus do?” From my studies of the bible, Jesus tended to hang out with the disenfranchised people more than He did the Church leaders. In fact, He had a disdain for the hypocrisy in some of the leaders of the day. I am not saying Church leaders are hypocrites as I work with many in our charitable efforts to help the impoverished, but I do believe we need to focus more on inclusion, compassion and tolerance rather than highlighting our perceived sins and imperfections.

When we witness intolerance, we should identify it as such and call it out. This is easier said than done. At a very minimum, we should not advocate such behavior or, if we can, help the person see the other side of the equation. That is the only way we can break down the barriers. If get people to see another’s point of view, that will promote greater understanding of our differences.

Finally, this is bigger than America. The world has looked upon us to be the “shining light on the hill.” They need us to be the moral compass we once were. That is one reason why those outside of the US favored Barack Obama 4 to 1 over John McCain. They saw him as a beacon of hope. That was an unfair burden to place on anyone, but for an African American to win the most important job in the world, showed many that we are a great country.

My wife likes to sing the old song when I make a comment about our lack of tolerance – “United we stand, divided we fall …” So, let’s relish our freedoms, embrace our differences, be inclusive in our mindsets and work together to solve our problems. And, let’s pray to God for help in granting us wisdom and compassion to address our problems and those of others. I hope He does not care who wins a football game.

The Troubling Pool of GOP Candidates – an Independent’s View

As an Independent voter, I am watching the Republican debates with a hope that a reasonable candidate emerges from the fray. My lens for measurement is someone who could responsibly and rationally run the country, if elected. As I mentioned in earlier postings, I am less enchanted with the candidates who seem to be posturing toward the extreme right of the GOP. That is unfortunate as that is not what most Americans want from what I see in the polls.

By far, the most reasonable candidate on the dais is Jon Huntsman, a former ambassador under two different Presidents, Governor of Utah and someone who speaks fluent Mandarin. The others would not be as good a candidate, which is extremely unfortunate as Huntsman stands little chance of winning. A couple of points to consider:

– Romney is running away from his greatest success, getting a universal healthcare requirement passed in Massachusetts. While not perfect, it made sense then and makes sense now. Our US healthcare system is the most expensive in the world, but according to the World Health Organization, we are 38th in quality. Plus, we are the most obese country in the world according to the WHO.
– Quoting the columnist Mark Shields, Gingrich has “more skeletons in his closet than the Harvard Medical School.” When I look back at Gingrich’s career, the first word that comes to mind is not collaboration. I see someone with a high sense of self . It will be interesting to see the skeletons come out of the closet over the next eleven months.
– Like the former half-term governor from Alaska, I am very hard pressed to take Bachmann seriously as a candidate. Her command of the issues leaves me wanting for more. The occasional witty sound bite does not make up for this shortcoming.
– Ron Paul has a some good ideas, but he also has too many far-fetched ideas that are scary to me and others. I do like the fact he adds some seriousness of purpose to the debate.
– Someone who knows Rick Perry summed him up well for me – “he is all hat and no cattle.” I believe his debate performance has sealed his fate, but his vehement stance against global warming when his state is seeing its impact via the drought and the encroaching gulf on Galveston is mind-boggling. He can pray all he wants, but God gave us a brain for a purpose.

As an Independent, my view is the President, while far from perfect, has not done as bad a job as the GOP would attest. I don’t know how anyone can be judged fairly in this day and age, when the opposing party must disagree with anything you say and do. We need people to govern and not continually run for office – in other words, we need you to do your job and not worry about keeping your job. When Senator McConnell said his first priority was to “make Obama a one term President” it made me furious. Your first priority is to help lead the country Senator.

Neither party has all of the good ideas, so it is incumbent on them to discuss openly our problems and find the best path forward. to resolve them. We have a deficit problem that can only be solved by raising taxes and cutting expenses – the math will not work otherwise. Global warming is here and we need serious discussion on how to best balance the needs of the environment and business. Our infrastructure is outdated and is crumbling in some places – we did not win the Olympics for Chicago because of this issue, so the rest of the world sees this, but we don’t. We must educate our children – we are now 23rd and 27th in the world in math and science. That will not cut it.

And, we must embrace diversity – that is a key reason for our greatness. When we are less tolerant of others, it shows our weakness – we need to call out the intolerant for what they are and support our rights as citizens. I am a huge believer in the COEXIST movement. When a minister burns a Koran in Florida or people picket a military funeral for our country allowing gays in the military, they deserve criticism for being intolerant. They have a right to their opinion, but I have an equal right to ignore or advocate against them.

That is the end of my soap-box for what it’s worth. Help me promote finding the reasonable and collaborative candidates. We certainly need them.

Global Warming Is Far from a Hoax

With the climate change conference occurring in South Africa, I am reminded that we as a country need to get our act together and join the rest of the world – global warming is not a hoax. While The President has taken some baby steps, we are still dealing with one of our political parties denying its existence. As the rest of the world knows, the science is overwhelming and not only is global warming occurring, the impact over the last ten years is worse than expected in the models.

Recently, Professor Richard Muller of Cal-Berkeley, who had been a major skeptic, completed his analysis and reversed his position. What is interesting is the study was largely funded by the Koch Foundation, a major contributor to the Tea Party. He actually was invited to testify in front of a Congressional Committee by a Republican and surprised all with his change of opinion. Yet, this news is still lost on members of the GOP.

The naysayers still cite the emails from scientists who were zealous in the efforts to convince others that this is a problem. What is interesting to me is the misinformation campaign used by President Obama’s predecessor who placed a former petroleum lobbyist as his White House Council on the Environment. It is reported that scientific papers were edited and any reference to “global warming” was expunged. If that is not scary enough, just last month it was reported in Texas, that a scientific paper on why Galveston is being slowly consumed by the gulf waters also expunged the same term so as not to offend the Governor who happens to be running for President. And, if that is not sufficient, the US Department of Fisheries has been tracking the impact of global warming on fish populations for many years.

So, when you hear a candidate espouse that global warming is a hoax or that we should do away with the EPA, please tell them to get with the program and join the rest of the planet before it is too late. If they cannot be part of the conversation, then we should ask them to quit wasting our time. Government and business have to act in unison to invest in alternative energies. Otherwise, every other issue is moot.