Sustainability

Sustainability is an underappreciated word. It is essential to most aspects of life, such as exercise, relationships, saving, or business or governmental decisions.

Beginning with exercise as an example, you need to start out like you can put out. Think what you are trying to accomplish and do sustainable exercises. I used to jog often, but my efforts would wane and I would need to start again.

Now, I exercise daily after I shower for about fifteen minutes altering the routines each day. They are a series of Yoga, Pilates, isometrics and light weightlifting. I balance that with 2 to 3 mile walks or hikes and yard work. My goal at age 59 is to be flexible and toned able to get around on my own for the rest of my life.

The same holds true with financial decisions. A word of advice is pay over time what your budget can support. Save with each paycheck to create a dollar averaging effect that is not hinged on stock market rises and falls. Be wary of buying on ego – buy on sustainability (master bedroom downstairs will become a must at some point and most cars and SUVs look similar no matter the price).

Our government could learn this as well. We are borrowing from our future to make a long running pretty good economy a better one. We are on an unsustainable path toward debt and we have exhausted a few measures that would let us recover from the inevitable fall.

We are reversing a trend of treating our environment better by removing some needed regulations and allowing polluters to pollute more. We are peeing in our own swimming pool. At some point, there is a financial and health reckoning with these environmental degradations.

Sustainability is the key. It may be a boring word, but it is an essential one. Start out like you can put out.

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A little bit of this and that

It is a rainy Sunday, so it is a great day to drink coffee and read. Since I am struggling for a longer post subject, here is a little bit of this and that for your reflection and thoughts. In no particular order:

There are many people who will tell you what is wrong with the Middle East, but I don’t believe it is a solvable problem. There are too many passionate religious and tribal differences that cross borders. Unless like minded people had control over their situation, did not need to rely on others and could respect the rights of others, peace is simply not achievable. In my simple view, the best anyone can achieve is to place lids on simmering pots on a stove.

The global economy is expected to grow by 3.9% each of the next two years, up from slightly lower results in 2016 and 2017. Yet, Christine LaGarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, cautioned at Davos last week over concerns of socio-economic inequity and the rising debt in the US. Not everyone is benefitting from the growth which will cause greater uncertainty and unrest.

In a very interesting and not unexpected development, Canada and other nations completed the TPP, which is the Asia-Pacific trade agreement the US exited, When the US tried to negotiate a bilateral agreement with Japan, the Japanese trade leaders suggested the US reconsider the TPP instead. The US finds itself on the outside looking in. I find it interesting that the US President said in an interview which will air tonight that he would reconsider the pullout from Paris. It is hard to have a relationship when you are not in the room with others.

On a related subject, if Brexit follows through with the commitment to leave the EU, other cities will continue to benefit from EU headquarters migration from London. Paris, Dublin and Frankfurt are each benefitting from conpanies moving EU headquarters. A softer Brexit will help reduce the migration, but it will continue.

I guess if there is a theme to all of these subjects it is working together across country borders and regions within is more productive than going it alone. Yet, one thing remains true – collaboration is hard work. It requires give and take. If one party gets everything it wants, then the others will not, so detente is harder. So, when I hear someone who likes to win say an agreement is a disaster, I don’t put as much credence in those comments. Lifting all boats makes more money for everyone. A man won a Nobel prize for this concept. So, let’s work hard together for peace and prosperity for all. It beats the hell out of the alternatives.

 

Tell me why the CFPB is a disaster

In the current fued over who should lead the US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, what should be focused on is why the President and Republicans are calling the CFPB a “joke” or a “disaster.” This agency has penalized banks, credit card companies, lenders, etc. almost $12 billion for aggressive marketing practices, selling products people did not ask for and outright fraud.

Over 90% of this money goes to the affected customers who have been cheated. A good example is Wells Fargo being fined $150 million for setting up accounts for people that did not authorize them, so employees could meet a bonus goal. Another is Bank of America being fined over $780 million for selling services customers did not ask for. Other brand name organizations have also been fined for bad practices.

The organization has also helped over 29 million people with issues and education on financial matters. Since, financial issues are complex and so many were harmed during the housing crisis, the CFPB seems to be a big help to everyday Americans.

The reason for the comments by the President and Republican legislators is the CFPB is working too well and banks don’t like this. It is far from a joke or a disaster, so reporters need to ask the speaker of such a comment as to why they say this? The pat answer is the CFPB has too much authority and too little oversight. Yet, it was set up to be removed from the political process for these reasons. Banks, et all don’t want to be fined for their business practices, so they fund politicians to diminish the CFPB’s clout.

My strong advice to banks is to stop screwing people over and maybe you won’t get fined. Stop selling people products they don’t understand such as variable or pick-a-payment mortgages. Stop selling them products and services they did not authorize. My sister is dealing with one of these banks right now on a credit card account she did not open.

So, Mr. President tell me again why the CFPB is a disaster? And, tell me how attacking this organization helps those voters who put you in office? To be brutally frank, when this President uses the word “disaster” it usually means he is being untruthful about something.

 

Sunday sermon-ettes, the sequel

Good Sunday morning all and enjoy the day. A few tidbits have been bouncing around in my head, so I will commit them to writing for your review and critique. The tidbits are light on religious tone.

Guns and butter: For some reason, in the US we spend more time discussing protecting the right to own a 34th assault weapon than feeding 34 people. We have far too many food deserts in our country where the closest food is a convenience store. Far too many in our country are undernourished. Yet, pick up any local paper on any day of the week, and you will find multiple gun killing stories. Better gun governance is essential, but it is a nonstarter with the NRA who is more interested in gun sales. I think our priorities are off.

Kicking poor people in the teeth: Along those same lines, our President is pushing the Republicans in the Senate to vote on whether to kick 22 million Americans in the teeth or 34 million, many of whom are in poverty or near poverty. It should be noted the President said he would not touch Medicaid. I guess that detail escapes him in his desire to have a photo op of him signing something.

Brexit is a hard pill to swallow: The word Brexit sounds like one of those new fangled drugs to cure something you did not know you should worry about. I think voters were not told the whole story and many are wishing they had a do over. As foretold, the financial companies who based their EU regional business in London, are making definitive plans to move. Bank of America just announced a move to Dublin, Citigroup is moving folks to Frankfurt and other places, and Japanese banks are doing likewise. While I  understand the desire to fully govern your future, the UK is harming its future growth. That is not just my opinion, but that of financial experts.

Shrinking to greatness is not a good strategy: Speaking of financial growth, limiting relationships with other countries is not conducive to growth. And, a venture capitalist noted that what creates jobs is customers. Plus, when we discuss global trade, we need to reflect the whole picture and that is the foreign owned companies who make things here with American workers. Why? Selling big durable products is more cost effective and less risky if they are not shipped from abroad. Just ask BMW, Toyota, Husqvarna, Michelin, Mercedes, Volvo, Mitsibishi, etc. about their plants here in the US.

The bible says many things: There is a minister who upsets a few applecarts by preaching that the bible should not be cherry-picked to support points of view. His obvious example is in Genesis where God tells Adam and Eve to go forth and multiply and then gets mad at them when they like being naked with each other. The question is how did they know how to go forth and multiply? The minister’s premise is we should take away the overarching messages that are taught therein and remember the context of when the bible was written.

So, on that note, go enjoy your day, whether you choose to practice your multiplication tables or not.

 

The exact opposite of what is needed

Since tribal fervor gets in the way of good information sharing and debate, we end up with laws, bills and executive orders/ comments which are the exact opposite of what is needed. This troubles me greatly, as if you took the time to look at data and explained what the change would do, people would not be supportive of the change.

Here are a few working examples:

– Treating Muslim Americans poorly, blocking travel from Muslim countries, and criticizing the London Mayor who is an exemplar of successful Muslims in the western world make us less safer. Ostracizing Muslims feeds into the recruiting messaging for Islamic extremist groups; welcoming Muslims and involving them in conversations and diligence is making us safer.

– Defunding Planned Parenthood will increase the abortion rates, health care cost and poverty. Poverty is highly correlated with larger family size. Family planning reduces the number of unwanted pregnancies. Plus, women’s health for low income families improve which saves money.

– Cutting back on renewable energy investment and tax breaks will be dilutive to job increases and rural economies. Many of the solar and wind energy jobs are occurring in rural settings where they are needed. The market for solar and wind energy continues to rapidly grow as the prices fall. Investment in these areas is accretive to growth.

– Regulation is not the enemy. Inefficient and ineffective regulation are. Dodd Frank needs improvement, but we need to be mindful of the changes. The ACA needs improvement, not repeal. Very few industry leaders advocate for regulation – it does not mean they don’t need them, especially when greed exists. We need to govern our regulation either paring, repealing or improving where needed. Here is an example – when Erskine Bowles was asked to head the Small Business Administration he reduced the application for assistance from 42 pages to two.

– Pulling back from global leadership will make the world less safer. America helps provide guardrails to global crises. The more we abdicate responsibility, the less safe it becomes for America and the rest of the world. We must be engaged and collaborative.

I have many other examples. What do you think? What are your examples?

 

Friday Freakiness

This title is actually a misnomer in some respects, as the behavior is normative while the statements are not altogether true. In no particular order:

Representative Robert Pittenger from NC described the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau as dictatorial and bad for the economy. In his one sided argument, not once did he mention the CFPB has fined banks, credit card companies, pay day lenders, etc. over $12 Billion for fraud and aggressive marketing practices. Over 90% of these fines go back to consumers. Banks and their funded politicians don’t like the CFPB, but this is government oversight at its best.

In a sadly comical moved during a scary time with North Korea, the US ships that we were told were heading toward North Korean waters were headed in the opposite direction. To see Sean Spicer try to explain away chaos like this adds to the farcical nature of this White House.

The state of Arkansas has decided it wants to be known for executions rather than something more productive. It turns out their killing drug of choice is about to expire, so the Governor and Attorney General decided a dozen death row inmates had to go. With new DNA techniques and the Innocence project, we can not be certain that all twelve are guilty, with at least one still claiming innocence.

Finally, another shoe has dropped on the election influence with a detailed Russian plans being revealed from a think tank who advises Putin to abet Donald Trump’s efforts. What is also interesting is when this think tank thought Hillary Clinton was going to win in October, the strategy shifted to drumming up concerns over voter fraud. It is also interesting that  this is about the same time Trump ramped up the voter fraud issue and said he had to wait and see if he would support the results. To be frank, for anyone to say these efforts did not affect the election results is selling a story without proof. From where I sit, the survey percentile ranges shifted notably after James Comey’s announcement handing the election to Trump.

That is all the freakiness for one Friday. Have a great weekend.

How do employees feel when their leaders let them down?

Organizations are blessed by having hard-working employees who take pride in their work. I recognize not everyone fits this bill, but hopefully an organization has more of those that do than not. Yet, what becomes problematic for these earnest employees is when their leaders let them down.

I am thinking of the hard-working Wells Fargo employees who day in, day out help their customers, who saw leadership create a culture of cross-selling that led to some illegal behaviors. And, when honest employees shared their concern, they were admonished or let go.

i am thinking of the hard-working employees of energy company Enron whose leaders pursued aggressive and fraudulent accounting approaches with various code names to hide profits and dress up earnings. They also told their employees not to sell Enron stock when they knew the price was artificially propped up.

I am thinking of the hard-working folks of Arthur Andersen, who watched client leaders for their Enron accounting team help Enron’s leaders mask inappropriate activities and not catch others. These leaders brought down an accounting firm with an excellent reputation.

I am thinking of the hard-working employees of Duke Energy whose leaders have been less than forthcoming about a significant breach in a retired plant coal ash site knowing for years a problem existed and not moving quickly enough on some current ash sites where seepage into neighborhood water systems were a concern. Duke’s employees were incredulous by these actions.

I am thinking of the hard-working employees of Marsh and McClennan Companies whose leaders set-up and turned a blind eye to a small part of the company that was steering business and not operating in the best interests of the clients. They paid a huge fine and leaders were asked to leave.

These hard-working employees deserve good, honest leadership. The loss in stock price and jobs wear on them, but also the deflated pride in their companies. I worked for a subsidiary of Marsh and McClennan and it embarrassed and upset me that our leadership would do what they did and not address the problem when it was raised. Plus, being a stock holder through a 401(k) plan, stock purchase plan and some options, I was hurt financially as were folks who also lost their jobs due to the resulting downturn. I knew innocent folks who were asked to leave because of downsizing due to the impact of the malfeasance of this small group.

We need our leaders to be strategic and cognizant of issues, but we also need them to be honest and supportive of their employees. When problems arise, they need to be swift and contrite in addressing the issues.  Johnson and Johnson quickly addressed a Tylenol tampering incident many years ago when a nefarious person was removing lids and poisoning the pills. They did what they had to do to weather the storm.

From reading and watching news, apparently more than a few hard-working federal employees are not taking much pride in their new boss. That is unfortunate as they deserve more. So do we, with all of our leaders.