All over the place

My favorite conservative pundit is David Brooks, who appears every Friday on PBS Newhour and NPR to recap the events of the week. I have found his voice one of reason, even if I do not agree with everything he says. I have also read several of his books on subjects like building character and community.

He has been an even-tempered critic of actions, decisions and behaviors of the US president. Last Friday, he used the word “inconstancy” of the president as a great risk in addressing COVID-19. The president will change his position within the hour, he consistently misinforms where it needs to be corrected, and he naysayed the severity of the coronavirus through the end of February, so we lost six weeks.

And, the misinformation continues today. So, much that NPR and other news outlets stopped covering his press conferences live. Building off Brooks’ term, I would say the president governs “all over the place.” He will change his tune due to criticism in the news or if he likes a message from one of his sycophants.

One of the better news shows happens to be a comedy show called “Last Week Tonight” starring John Oliver. The focus of this past Sunday night show is the danger people are being placed under by poor leadership, but also by sycophants.

Oliver notes this theme that danger to the American economy is far worse than people dying is beyond misguided. It is dangerous. He highlights words by the president, conservative host Glenn Beck and the Lt. Governor of Texas who downplay the health risk and speak of economic Armsgeddon.

As Oliver points out it is easy to talk big with others taking the risk with their lives. Then Oliver points out the economic fall out of overwhelmed hospitals and people dying. We are witnessing even now the cost of early inaction.

We must focus on the health of people first and foremost. I fully understand the need to help financially people who are in need due to layoffs or hours reduction.

Yet, while we missed opportunities to plan, we cannot miss any more. We must listen to the truthtellers and ignore those who are politicizing and trying to obfuscate the truth.

As Oliver addressed critics, he said he wants the president to succeed at helping fight this virus. But, he cannot be when his primary mission is how he looks. Perhaps Brooks comment a few months back is the more pertinent one – the president lacks common decency and a sense of empathy. That speaks volumes.

Debt, risk and lies

The following is a comment I posted on our friend Jill’s blogpost where she has penned an excellent letter firing the president. See below for a link. There is good back and forth between two of her followers, which is good for its content and civility, the way it should be. Since the debt came up as one issue, as a failing of many presidents including Obama, I used that as one example. These are the views of this independent voter who has been a member of both parties and defines himself as fiscally conservative and socially progressive.

Just taking the debt as one issue, while Obama will be remembered as a pretty good president, to me a key failure was to put on the shelf the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Act. Dems and Reps did not like it as for every $1 of tax increases it asked for $2 of spending cuts. Obama should have said, let’s start with this and make changes. What both parties fail to understand is we need both spending cuts and tax increases to solve the debt – the math will not otherwise work.

That was when the debt was about half of what it is now. I find the Freedom Caucus who got elected on reducing the debt the height of hypocrisy when they voted for a tax law change in December 2017 that increased the debt by $1.5 trillion – we did not need that, so now when we spend $2 trillion because of COVID-19, we have to go deeper into the well to borrow money.

On top of the many reasons not to vote for Trump (climate, environment, corruption, chaos, lying, global leadership retrenchment, et al), his cavalier short term financial focus to prop up a long running pretty good economy to be a little better for a little while was indicative of why he had six corporate bankruptcies and other failed investments. Even on the COVID-19, his primary focus has been his image, first, the stock market second (his proxy for the economy) then the people, third. This is not a recipe for good decisions and is one reason for his inconsistency.

But, at the heart of all of this, is I do not believe a word the president says and that makes me sad. All presidents lie to some extent, but this one is the most corrupt and deceitful president in my lifetime including Richard Nixon and he was a crook.

But, before we burn the government down, please read Michael Lewis’ “The Fifth Risk,” which reveals the true risk heightened by this “chaotic and incompetent” president’s White House (per conservative pundit David Brooks) and that is the gutting and hamstringing of people who know what they are doing to serve us. Could they be more efficient, always? But, for the very large part, they are dedicated public servants trying to do a good job. Lewis based his book on the required briefing materials prepared by the outgoing administration that went largely unread and not even picked up when briefings went unattended by incoming (or not even appointed) Trump people.

YOU’RE FIRED!!!

Listen to the truthtellers – sample letter to editor

Misinformation and disinformation abound with COVID-19. The line we must use when we see incredulous Facebook posts or hear fabricated conspiracy theories (like Bill Gates concocted COVID-19 to make money), or the simple echoing of misinformation by the president, is “I would encourage you to listen to the truthtellers.” When asked, you can mention the doctors and scientists. If asked to elaborate further, you can say “Listen to the people not patting themselves on the back telling what a great job they are doing.”

Saturday songs for reflection

In an effort to offer a diversion, I thought it might be fun to take a peek at songs written about Saturday. Here are five that offer a little variety.

Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting by Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
This song is more rock and roll than other Elton/ Taupin songs giving a nice change of pace.

Here is the chorus:
“Oh, don’t give us none of your aggravation
We had it with your discipline
Oh, Saturday night’s alright for fighting
Get a little action in
Get about as oiled as a diesel train
Gonna set this dance alight
‘Cause Saturday night’s the night I like
Saturday night’s alright alright alright, ooh”

Saturday In The Park by Robert Lamm performed by Chicago
This is my favorite song about Saturday. Lamm captures the fun day at the park attitude. Here are the first two stanzas:

“Saturday in the park,
I think it was the Fourth of July
Saturday in the park,
I think it was the Fourth of July
People dancing, people laughing
A man selling ice cream
Singing Italian songs
Everybody is another
Can you dig it (yes, I can)
And I’ve been waiting such a long time
For Saturday”

Saturday Night by Bill Martin and Phil Coulter performed by Bay City Rollers
This is a fun song, but my least favorite on this short list. I do remember the song punctuating “The Midnight Special” hosted by Wolfman Jack. Here are the first two stanzas:

“S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!
S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!
S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!
S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y night!

Gonna keep on dancing
To the rock and roll
On Saturday night, Saturday night
Dancin’ to the rhythm
In our heart and soul
On Saturday night, Saturday night.”

Another Saturday Night by Sam Cooke
A close second to Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park” is Sam Cooke’s classic. It has been covered by Cat Stevens, Jimmy Buffett and others, but Cooke’s version is like velvet. Here are the first two stanzas.

“Another Saturday night
And I ain’t got nobody
I got some money ’cause I just got paid
Now, how I wish I had someone to talk to
I’m in an awful way
Let me tell you ’bout it, lookie here
I got in town a month ago
I seen a lotta girls since then
If I could meet ’em I could get ’em
But as yet I haven’t met ’em
That’s why I’m in the shape I’m in.”

Come Saturday Morning by Fred Karlin and Dory Previn performed by The Sandpipers
This is a nice little tune released in 1970. The Sandpipers give a harmonized 60’s feel to it, but it has been covered by Tony Bennett and Liza Minelli to name a few. Here are the first two stanzas.

“Come Saturday morning
I’m goin’ away with my friend
Well Saturday-spend ’til the end of the day-ay
Just I and my friend

We’ll travel for miles in our Saturday smiles
And then we’ll move on
But we will remember
Long after Saturday’s gone.”

Let me know what you think. Did I miss one of your favorites? I toyed with adding Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” which starts out “It is a pretty good crowd for a Saturday, as the regular crowd shuffles in.” But, with Saturday not in the title, I left it out, except for this honorable mention.

Listen to the truthtellers

We need to listen to the truthtellers on the COVID-19 pandemic. They are the ones who deliver facts, seek more data and don’t pat themselves on the back. They will also say we don’t know yet, more often than the back-patters.

An ER nurse earlier in the werk said what has surprised her is the number of people between ages 25 and 54 that are coming in with the virus. Last night, PBS (or it may have been ABC) reported that younger folks who have diabetes (or pre-diabetes) or asthma are at higher risk. So, everyone is at risk to some extent.

We are behind where we need to be due to both the naysaying (calling it a hoax) from the White House and sheepish other politicians, the elimination of the Global Pandemic group in 2018 and the elimination of some US CDC epidemiologists in China in 2019. We are doing things now that should have been planned back in January. The legislators were forewarned by National Security folks, so the pandemic risk was known.

Even still, too many have parroted the president’s early naysaying (which lasted to the end of February) and more have gotten sick or died, even a few parroters. This echo effect is what is dangerous given the misinformation which continues to today.

David Brooks, the conservative pundit, called the “inconstancy” of the president on these issues as a major risk. He cited the president’s downplaying of needed ventilators one hour and issuing an emergency declaration for more ventilators the next. He tends to react to remedy any bad press rather than plan ahead.

I heard yesterday, NPR and other news outlets are not broadcasting the White House press conferences wall-to-wall” due to the misinformation from the president. They do report on what the truthtellers are saying, as good information is discussed. But are they are not covering the president’s talking points live.

So, folks young and older need to listen to the doctors and truthtellers. Their lives may depend on it.

Sidebar: If one of your friends, colleagues, relatives, bosses or other co-workers routinely bragged on what a great job they were doing, what would you reaction be? If the boss’ direct reports bragged on the boss on a routine basis, again what would your reaction be? The same question should be asked when it happens at the uppermost leadership levels in our country.

Did I tell you about the time…?

We all need some outlets from the news of the day, the Coronavirus. Words like “flatten the curve” and “social distancing” are in many discussions. So, with a Thank-God-its-Friday sense of purpose, here are few things I want to share.

Did I tell you about the time…

– I called the Senator’s office and shared my concern with the staff member and learned I was speaking with the wrong Senator’s office? Oops.

– I said to a small gathering in front of our Health and Wellness coordinator, that we need to do these Mobile Mammogram screenings for our employees to honor “Breast Awareness Month” in October. She corrected me saying that would be “Breast Cancer Awareness Month.” Oops.

– I watched a colleague walk into the wrong gender bathroom by mistake at a client’s manufacturing plant only to see a line of three women looking puzzled as he walked out? He said he thought it was pretty progressive move to have a tampon machine in a unisex bathroom (this was 1985). Oops.

– I listened to a colleague recounting small talk with a female prospective client who had picture of Don Knotts in his Barney Fife deputy uniform in her office; after multiple probing questions he learned that she just had a crush on Barney Fife? Oh my. Don’t tell Thelma Lou.

– I watched a colleague try to take a charge from an opponent during a league game for our company basketball team; he did not want to get hurt, so he started falling before he was hit and slowly fell to his backside chuckling all the way down? Ouch.

– I almost fell on my backside at our wedding when we were lighting the unity candle and stepped wrong off a step, catching myself without too much notice? Almost oops.

– I did fall on my backside at a community play, when we returned to our seats after intermission, and my folding chair back leg was off the two-feet high choral riser; as I sipped my wine, my first thought was my date was going forward, but it was me falling slowly backwards to a loud crash? Ouch, indeed. My ego was more bruised than my tail bone.

– I was working with my son last week to pull up some stumps from trees that we had cut up after they fell; as we pulled the stump as I squatted using my weight, the stump freed itself and landed me on my backside. Oops.

We have to be able to laugh at ourselves and these events. My bride is still my wife. The date went out with me again. The Health and Wellness coordinator and I still laugh about the story. I reminded the faux charge basketball player of the story when we met up again after twenty years to laughter. The Senator staff member and I had a good chuckle and I am sure she shared the story. And, my son, my wife and I laughed about my stump removal techniques.

Have a great weekend. Laugh and the world laughs with you. Especially when you fall on your backside.

Poor (or not so poor) Richard’s Almanac

One of my two North Carolina Senators is Richard Burr. While I do not agree with everything he opines, this independent voter has voted for him on occasion and against him as well. Yet, he has always seemed to be one of the more reasonable Republicans and Senators in office. I have actually even met him twice, once at a meeting about the state’s homeless population and once at my boss’ request to brief him on employer health care issues when he first ran as a Congressman.

So, this makes it even more troubling that he has been alleged of insider trading on stocks to pocket the upside gain on hospitality stocks when he had knowledge those stocks would suffer as the coronavirus became more known. He and Kelly Loeffler, the new Senator from Georgia, have been accused of such. From a Reason.com article called “Senators Richard Burr, Kelly Loeffler accused of coronavirus motivated insider trading” (see link below):

“Plague trading? Privately, Sen. Richard Burr (R–N.C.) warned constituents weeks ago that coronavirus was “akin to the 1918 pandemic,” NPR reports. Publicly, he towed President Donald Trump’s line that the new disease would not be a big deal.

Worse still, ProPublica reports that Burr sold off between $600,000 and $1.7 million in stocks on February 13, suggesting that he used his private knowledge about the coming economic impact of the pandemic to prevent personal financial losses. Burr chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and is a member of the Health Committee. At the time he sold the stocks—a significant proportion of his wealth—he was being briefed regularly on COVID-19.

It was the largest single-day stock trade for Burr in 14 months.”

Insider trading is a crime for “named executives” according to the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). Note Burr is not a named executive of these companies. Yet, it is also in violation of the STOCK (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) passed in 2012, which Burr ironically voted against. This act was passed after “60 Minutes” did a report that noted former Congress members were leaving office much wealthier than when they arrived due to insider knowledge. This is where Burr’s action may lead to trouble for him.

People may not recall the Enron scandal which hit the fan in the early 2000s. This is where Enron executives had over 40 fraudulent schemes to hide losses and artificially prop up earnings for stock appreciation and bonus determination. What is also infuriating, the CEO told employees to keep buying and not divest Enron stock, even when he knew the price was artificially propped up. He and his CFO went to jail for securities fraud. Senator Burr was telling people the president’s party-line of not to panic about the coronavirus and this will blow over, when he had been briefed as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committee to the contrary.

He argues that he was selling based on public knowledge, but the above paragraph reveals concerns. Right now, a shareholder of Wyndham Resorts, one of the stocks, is suing the Senator for insider trading. I am certain other shareholders will be asked to join the lawsuit to make it a class action. They will have standing, meaning they lost value, while Burr sold and pocketed gain on the advance knowledge.

A recent poll in The Charlotte Observer, cited 50% of all NC voters and 31% of GOP NC voters want Burr to resign. Even Fox News talk show host Tucker Carlson has asked for his resignation. This is why it is critical that elected officials must be divorced from the handling of their investments, either placing them in blind trust or selling them. It should be noted NC Congressman Robert Pittenger resigned his position two years ago due to his unethically remaining involved in the management of his business when he said he was not.

Senator Burr, I recognize this an alleged crime, but the optics look very poor. I know you asked for an investigation, which sounds good, but if it is done correctly, it may not come out in your favor. Even if it does, the shareholder lawsuit will be even more invasive. I do not see you escaping hard scrutiny. It is sad that you will likely be remembered more for this, than other more reasonable efforts you have made. I know you have announced last year you won’t be running again in 2022, but you may be forced to reconsider this.

Sens. Richard Burr, Kelly Loeffler Accused of Coronavirus-Motivated Insider Trading

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly – a synopsis

Clint Eastwood’s most famous spaghetti western is “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” The title is a common framework to define a series of events, even preceding the movie. Using it one more time, let me frame a few issues with the coronavirus.

The Good

The few silver linings are seeing people going beyond the call of duty to help. The healthcare providers are heroes putting themselves at risk without all of the tools and resources needed. Volunteers and other good folks are doing their best to help through many means. As Mister Rogers said in times of crisis, focus on the helpers.

Seeing people come together to check if people need food shopping done or errands run is inspiring. Some employers are going beyond the call to help.

Another good outcome is the air quality has improved in major cities and carbon ouput has declined. Why? Fewer drivers and less travel. The lessening carbon output is actually noticeable from space in historical problem areas.

The Bad

Being unprepared to start with. I have shared before examples of budget cutbacks causing key staff cuts hindering the ability to help. Then, when a crisis occurs people look back and say how could this happen? In this case, the Global Pandemic team was cut (once again) in 2018. And, in 2019 the tariff war with China caused the elimination of CDC epidemiologists on site in China to be cut.

These absences with the naysaying early on by the US president has left us in a catch up mode. More people have gotten the illness and exposure continues. Fortunately, more active shelter in place and social distancing measures are helping fight the risk led by state, local and now federal leadership. Hopefully, the stimulus bill will pass to open up funds to help.

The Ugly

The uncertainty and those who have lost their lives and loved ones. We are learning more things, but we still do not know as much as needed. We need data, tools, resources and money. We should not take this lightly. The stimulus bill will help, but it will not be a panacea. The financial recovery will take time, but the health risk must be the focus.

People are out of work and companies need customers. Hopefully, the risk curve can be flattened, but safety must be the primary lens. We need to avoid being too impatient and further exposing folks prematurely.

This is a long haul battle. But, the next few weeks and months are critical.

The primary focus on the economy is not just make believe

The coronavirus is a tough one. It may be less deadly than other illnesses, but it is still killing many and impacting others. And, while we have heard the young need to worry the least, the numbers indicate that people the ages of 54 and below are the largest group being hospitalized. One ER nurse said it surprised her how many younger folks were being stricken.

Yet, deal with it we must or it will overwhelm our healthcare providers. We simply do not have an abundance of free beds. We are still awaiting a workable vaccine. So, we must do what is asked of us to control its spread. We must “flatten the curve” of the virus.

But, this social distancing has caused our global and US economy to understandably grind to a halt. In essence, our economy is simple – people who need things buy them from people who have them to distribute and so on down the supply line. When people stop buying things, the supply chain grinds to a halt.

Focusing on the economy, people impacted by the virus and the companies that have had to furlough them, is not unwise. But, it cannot be the primary focus. It is an important one, but keeping people safe is the key. Getting them money to buy groceries, medicines and non-durable products is important. Making sure they have a job to return to is important.

But, we cannot lose sight of what this virus can and could do. One of my concerns that precedes the current tenure of the incumbent president, is the significant majority of his decisions can be traceable back to his fragile and large ego. He cannot tolerate looking poorly or accepting blame for anything. So, that has always been his top-of-mind mission. It is also one not conducive to solving problems.

Since the president thrives off the stock market (his main barometer for the economy) success, the fact it has tanked due to the virus reflects poorly on him. It matters not that any president does not have a huge impact on the economy good or bad, but as Warren Buffett said of the current president, “If he is going to take the credit for the rise, he must take blame when it falls.”

So, many fear that decisions will be made that prop up the stock market, but put us at risk. And, until people start buying more things, taking more trips, etc., the economy will still lag. Yes, the economy is important, but let’s focus on it from a people impacted lens. The article below is telling.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/opinion/trump-is-in-a-frenzy-over-the-economy—not-so-much-the-virus/ar-BB11Bkcf?ocid=spartanntp

Build bridges not chasms – a revisit

I wrote this seven years ago, but it seems to resonate even more today. The title is a quote I heard from a hero of mine, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. She was being interviewed on PBS Newshour about her book “My Beloved World.” She said we should “build bridges not chasms” which is a tremendous life lesson. This one resonates with me and echoes my admiration for the “dot connectors” in the world. It is also the serum for the toxic fever of tribal-like chasm building we seem to be infected with.

Well, how do we go about living this lesson? How do we build bridges and not chasms?

– First, we should look for ways we are similar. While we remain diverse, as humans there our similarities that cross all faiths, ethnic groups and countries. We want a safe and secure future for ourselves, but especially for our children. When I look at various religions, I am not surprised by the common thread of the Golden Rule which permeates them.

– Second, find these common threads. When I walk into someone’s office or home, I search for common experiences. I look at pictures of children, diplomas displaying education, trophies or pictures of sports or activities, etc. What can I talk about that will connect us better? Also, I take delight in finding out a similar passion or story. The other day I learned of a similar passion to help the homeless people among us from an unexpected source. We are now sharing information, books, etc.

– Third, an old boss said, “you have two ears and one mouth” use them in that proportion. We cannot listen if we don’t hear. We need to know what people’s concerns are before we can begin to help them. We have far too many people who like to hear themselves talk. My wife is the best of listeners. As a result, people flock to her as she will listen to their issues, interests, aspirations and problems.

– Fourth, look for the opportunity to compliment someone or reinforce an action. I am not advocating false praise, but I am advocating a supportive word or gesture. When you step up to the counter to be served by the exhausted clerk who is doing the best he or she can when the boss understaffed a shift, you can make a world of difference by some acknowledgement of their tribulations.

– Fifth, along this same line, you can never thank people enough. We tell our kids “people don’t have to do anything for you.” So, when they do, you should thank them for it. And, mean it. Even in this Twitter, text, Facebook and email world, a call or handwritten note speaks volumes. Yet, use whatever media you prefer to say thanks.

– Sixth, an old colleague used to say “you can never have enough cups of coffee with people.” Remember that and reach out. It is a low-key investment of time as it is not as intrusive as a meal. And, conversation will occur.

– Seventh, never hesitate to include others in meals or outings. Especially meals. If a friend of your child is over, ask them to stay. My wife and I made a conscious decision to have a house the kids like to come over to. Our kids love this. Their friends do as well as we make them feel welcome. Trust me on this. There is no greater sound on earth than hearing your children laughing.

– Eighth, laugh at yourself. Let me say this loud and clear, “you are not perfect.” Neither am I. So, be prepared to laugh at your mistakes and don’t be afraid to tell the stories. It will truly endear you. I found that my kids like me telling about the times I screwed up. We sometimes are in stitches. Why? Because they see it is OK to screw up. The world will not end. And, the old line is true, “laugh and the world laughs with you.”

– Ninth, LTFU. This is a pre-Twitter acronym. It stands for “Lighten the Eff Up.” We take ourselves too seriously. We make mountains out of very small mole hills. Many of the things we fret over are not that important. Trust me. Those folks that are reading texts and emails at stop lights (and God forbid in traffic), I can tell you right now, that text is not that important, even without reading it. I told a colleague one day, “I am going to take your I-Phone and throw it in the ocean.” He was constantly reacting to the messenger and not the message. So, issues got blown out of proportion.

– Tenth, help people in need. You both benefit from the transaction. Those in need benefit if you are helping them climb a ladder. You benefit from the psychic income of helping someone. It is a powerful elixir.

– Eleventh and last, getting back to the Golden Rule, treat others like you want to be treated. That is by far the best lesson in the bible and the ones some religious leaders tend to forget. If we do only this, the world will be a better place.

These are a few thoughts on how to build bridges. I am sure I have left off several good ones, so please feel free to share. We are a planet of fixer uppers. We should give each other a break as we need a break from them. Justice Sotomayor has it right – let’s build bridges.