Breaker Morant – a terrific Aussie film about a true story

The following post was written a few years ago. My wife and I re-watched another great film from Australia yesterday called “The Man for Snowy River.” It reminded me of this movie, which remains a favorite of mine.

When I am asked to list my favorite movies, I will usually include a film made in 1980 in Australia called “Breaker Morant.” The movie did not get enough airplay here in the US, so if you missed seeing it, that would not have been a difficult task. The movie was directed by Bruce Beresford, but starred several terrific actors who would go on to fame – Edward Woodward (an English actor), Bryan Brown and Jack Thompson. A key role was also played by a younger actor, Lewis Fitz-Gerald. Woodward would play in the US television series called “The Equalizer” while Brown would appear in a number of films like “Fx” and “Australia.” Thompson would also appear in “The Man from Snowy River,” another favorite of mine from Australia, as well as “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”

The movie is about three men who were convicted as scapegoats for committing war crimes they had been authorized to perform during the Boer Wars in South Africa. The men were part of a guerilla team called the Bushveldt Carbineers, who had to resort to unusual tactics to remain safe and be effective. It is based on a true story from the novel “Scapegoats of the Empire” by George Witton. Lt. Harry Morant, played by Woodward was a former horse-breaker on which the title is based. He is a former Englishman of society who is forelorned over a lost love, so he has devoted his career to helping the military fight in faraway places. He is also an acclaimed poet, which is part of his fabric and the movie.

Brown plays Lt. Peter Hancock, who is Morant’s trusted friend, but a man with faults and desires which make him less than perfect like everyone else. Fitz-Gerald plays a more naïve young soldier who gets caught up with the others just doing as he is told. Thompson plays the second lead character as Major J.F, Thomas, an unprepared, but eventually very capable and practical attorney who defends the three in a court-martial trial. He was picked because the leaders wanted someone not to defend them well, but the opposite occurred.

The three are on trial as the British leadership wanted to distance themselves from the Bushveldt Carbineers’ tactics, which were successful. They also were on trial for killing a priest who was a Boer spy before he could get back to share his reconnaissance. The tactics included placing the captured military leaders in the front of returning horse soldiers from battle, as it dissuaded the Boers from attacking them. This was a guerilla type war, where new practices were being done and confirmed at the higher ranks.

Yet, as the war was winding down, the British leadership needed to provide a peace-offering, so the three were put on trial as scapegoats. I will hold off on the conclusion, although some of it is obvious from the title of the book. If you do watch it, know that the movie shows the horror of war, the lack of humanity that can be all-encompassing and how soldiers just doing their job often pay for the sins of their leaders. I also like the fact that they do not promote the three on trial as better men than they are, especially Hancock and Morant. These are cynical and worldly men who realize what they are up against.

If you have seen it or take the chance to do so, I would love to hear your feedback and thoughts.

Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein levels GOP after General Milley book

In an article by Ken Riley of Mediaite called “Carl Bernstein Absolutely Levels GOP for Ignoring Threat Posed By ‘Crazy, Delusional, Authoritarian, Dangerous, Criminal’ Trump,” Riley reports on comments made by Bernstein in an interview on New Day. Excerpts from the article follow, but the entire article can be linked to below.

“Bernstein joined New Day on Thursday to discuss ‘I Alone Can Fix It: Donald J. Trump’s Catastrophic Final Year,’ the incoming new book about General Mike Milley from the Washington Post‘s Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. He was specifically asked for his thoughts about how Milley not only compared Trump to Adolf Hitler, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff also began to formulate a backup plan in case Trump tried to launch a coup.

Bernstein began by commenting that the report, while ‘extraordinary,’ merely confirmed, ‘what we already knew, that we had a crazy, delusional, authoritarian, dangerous, criminal president of the United States.

His character, his authoritarianism, his recklessness, his homicidal negligence through the pandemic. All of this was known to our leaders, and the party of Trump and the party of McConnell and what we saw in the insurrection. These are all things that were embraced up until the last minute by McConnell and Republican leadership. And they continue to be embraced: Trumpism, in all its derangement, terror and horror.

As the conversation continued to address the full connotations of Milley’s remarks, Bernstein offered his disgust over the likelihood that they will be ‘dismissed immediately’ by the Trump movement. As he mused on Milley directly tying neofascism to Trumpism, Bernstein asked ‘how did we get to a place where the leader of the American military compared the president of the United States to Hitlerian fascism?’”

I truly am tired of writing about the most deceitful and corrupt acting president in my lifetime, which now must include the word seditious to describe his actions. His actions and statements are overt and it puzzles me how so many critics can be so easily dismissed. His followers have shown a desire to stick with a person who is well-documented by numerous resources and people as untruthful.

It may go down in history as one of the biggest con jobs. But, don’t take my word for it, just read some of what the former president’s Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said. Or, if you don’t like his comments, the former president’s Secretary of Defense James Mattis said “Donald Trump does not even try to unite us.” Yet, the most all encompassing comment comes from Michael Cohen, the former president’s attorney and fixer (why one needs a fixer is in and of itself a concern), when he said under oath to Congress “Donald Trump is a racist, he is a con-artist and he is a cheat.”

Carl Bernstein Rips Republicans Ignoring Threat From Trump (mediaite.com)

Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman – meet in the middle to help the environment and livelihood

The overarching theme of the book “Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman” by Miriam Horn is to accomplish lasting, impactful solutions (in this case with climate change and environmental concerns) we need to work with folks in the middle. In essence, the folks in the extremes are too strident and reluctant to compromise.

A good example comes from the Montana rancher as he combats climate change and environmental degradation caused by fracking for natural gas. He works with folks who will address the environmental issues, but permit him and his family to make a living ranching. He notes the fracking companies paint a picture that is far rosier than it is, while some extreme environmentalists want everything to stop and do nothing with the land. At personal risk, he built a coalition of ranchers, environmentalists and government officials who were willing to follow his lead to preserve the environment while permitting the ranchers to do their thing.

The Kansas farmer speaks to working in concert with the land and learning and sharing best practices with other area farmers and the agro-economics people at nearby Kansas State University. Farmers want to maximize a sustainable yield on their crops, but climate change and water concerns increase the challenges to do so. He emphasizes growing what grows naturally in the area. There is a reason wheat and alfalfa are cash crops in Kansas. He notes the farm to table concept is not necessarily ideal – it would be a waste of water and land to try to grow everything everywhere. As for climate change, they work with legislators to protect the water resources, but have to stop short of using that term with their representatives. They gain collaboration by speaking to what is happening, not identifying its lead cause.

The book focuses on five professions in total, although only three are listed in the title. The other two are Shrimper and River Captain. Skipping over the fisherman and shrimper, who are each impacted by the environmental waste and degradation worsened by climate change, let me finish up with the River Captain.

The Louisiana based river man moves frieight up and down the Mississippi River. He understands the importance of experienced teams who know the river going both ways, with high, low or medium water levels. He has seen the significant dissipation of the wetlands in the Bayou which are causing huge problems to many, Engineers tried to outsmart the river and failed. In fairly dramatic fashion, the Gulf of Mexico is absorbing land due to rising sea levels and fewer buffers, So, they are working with scientists, businesses, and even the petroleum industry to slowly rebuild the Bayou.

Note, there are pros and cons to each set of solutions, so getting to the best answer requires honest input on the costs and risks to people, environment and livelihoods. And, some of the answers are counterintuitive. For example, not sending barges down the Mississippi means more truck traffic which pollutes the environment, degrades the roads and heightens risk for other drivers. With more electric trucks, this would lessen the risk, so that is a factor in risk/ benefit trade-offs. The farmer’s comment about farm to table also deserves scrutiny as farm to table also helps to lessen these trucking risks and costs. Yet, on a large scale, the point about growing stuff that is more natural to an area is profound and will lessen the impact on water resources which are dear.

It should be noted working in collaboration is how business and government work best. Yet, collaboration is hard work. For those who block the consideration of solutions, they need to be sidelined. In our toxic tribal political environment, we must remember each side does not own all the good ideas and both sides own some bad ones. Let’s follow the lead of these folks who get their hands dirty, understand what is happening and work together.

Wednesday wanderings early in July, 2021

Crosby, Stills and Nash sang:

Just a song before I go
To whom it may concern
Traveling twice the speed of sound
It’s easy to get burned”

Simon and Grafunkel added:

“Slow down, you move too fast
You got to make the morning last
Just kicking down the cobble stones
Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy”

In our 24 x 7 world of social media and pseudo and real news sources that tell us what to think, everything seems like a problem of urgency. Isn’t this horrible and we must act? Part of this is very real, as in this big world, something bad is happening somewhere. Since “if it bleeds, it leads” or is there is conflict between sparring legislators, it makes the news.

Good news stories do get reported, but in inverse proportion to their occurrence. The good news stories are far more common and everyday, but are not deemed newsworthy. I recall a silly example on a music show called “Where are they now?” which usually highlights a band that had success, then fell apart. They filmed one on the group Kansas, but it never aired. Why? The band members were all living normal lives, so it was not titillating.

Yet, the other part of these pervasive bad news stories, which can be tragic and dispiriting, is the news that needs to be talked about, but does not get much coverage. Here are a few.

  • We have a global fresh water problem that is only being made worse by climate change.
  • That climate change problem is no longer a future event – it is brandishing its fangs now with more wildfires, droughts and stalled weather patterns, along with more intense hurricanes and tornados.
  • On the good news side, renewable energy is growing at a rapid rate now that cost of production is economical and fossil fuel companies are being held more to account by shareholders and judges..
  • There is a poverty and hunger problem in the US and abroad. Too many Americans go to bed hungry. Too many Americans live beneath or at paycheck to paycheck.
  • The US has a huge debt and deficit burden that was already bad before the pandemic relief and tax cuts – now it is far worse, with interest cost becoming an increasing part of the budget.

These issues don’t get talked about enough. Even on the better news stations, the focus is way too much on which political party benefits from an issue. The issue itself gets less reporting than who benefits. In fact, wedge issues are seized to beat the other party over the head with, even if the problem has been around for years. I have long grown weary of problems not being addressed, because of optics. Do something.

But, back to CS&N and Simon and Garfunkel, let’s also balance all of this with the good stuff that is going on every day. I recognize there are too many folks that are wound way too tight. They seem looking for a fight if some thing or some person makes them do something. Get over it. The world does not revolve around you. If you have to wear a mask to get in some place, then you know what you need to do.

Yet, we should endeavor to leave all of our encounters on a better footing. Somewhere in some book I read, some guy called this rule golden. Something like treat others like you want to be treated. Now, that is something to evangelize.

The Soul of America

Whether you are familiar with Jon Meacham, you may be familiar with his work. The Pulitzer Prize winner is one of America’s “explainers” of our history offering a needed context given what was going on at the time. He has written several biographies of presidents, including his most recent one on George H.W. Bush, as well as ones on Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and the relationship between FDR and Winston Churchill. He even spoke at Bush’s funeral at the behest of his wife, Barbara Bush. If I had to sum up who Meacham is – he is an astute student of history. And, he has many admirers including noted historians Walter Isaacson and Michael Beschloss.

I recently read his excellent book called “The Soul of America,” where he is his usual informative self. The subtitle is “The Battle for our Better Angels.” He notes we have had battles of trying to do the right thing throughout our history, yet sometimes it has been hard to work our way there. Here are a few examples:

During the 1920 and early 1930s, over 25% of the US Senate and over 100 members of Congress had an affinity for the KKK. This stunned me, as looking back we would hope that leaders would have seen the KKK for what it was. Yet, even today, we are seeing a rise of White supremacy with some comments being parroted by a couple of elected Congressional representatives. And, after the popularity of “Birth of a Nation,” a very racist movie, and the example of the Tulsa massacre and many lynching’s in the south, it should be less surprising. In fact, it took a couple of KKK leaders openly espousing violence toward Jews, that caused an upset stomach for some of the sympathetic legislators, and they started to distance themselves from the KKK.

He also noted that President Dwight Eisenhower was not too keen on Senator Joe McCarthy of communist witch hunt fame during the early 1950s. But, the president recognized that McCarthy had too big a following to be ignored. So, he tolerated McCarthy without actively supporting him. What was surprising to me is attorney Roy Cohn, who advised McCarthy, knew his boss tended to make things up and was reckless not doing much homework, which would eventually become a problem. By the time Joseph Welch, the US Army’s Chief Counsel famously asked McCarthy, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” McCarthy was already beginning to fade. In fact, an earlier quote of Welch’s was also condemning of McCarthy’s clumsy efforts. “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.”*

Let me close with a quote from Eisenhower on leadership that is telling. Apparently, one too many folks was offering the WWII European Allied Commander advice. “Now, look, I happen to know a little about leadership. I’ve had to work with a lot of nations, for that matter, at odds with each other. And, I tell you this…you do not lead people by hitting them over the head. Any damn fool can do that, but it is usually called ‘assault’ – not ‘leadership.’ I’ll tell you what leadership is. It’s persuasion – and conciliation – and education – and patience. It’s long, slow tough work. That is the only kind of leadership I know – or believe in – or will practice.”

The book is a good read. I only mention these three examples, as I don’t want to give too much away. America’s history, with all of its warts must be understood. If we do not learn lessons from our history, we are destined to repeat our failures. Already, we are seeing a rise in White supremacy along with the untruthfulness of a demagogue who rose to the presidency before he was not reelected. Trying to convince people he was reelected is akin to the recklessness that is used to define Senator McCarthy. We must guard against such untruthfulness as people get hurt when they believe such.

*Note: Trusted newscaster Edward R. Murrow would prove to be McCarthy’s most ardent critic. One of his many quotes is “We must remember always that accusation is not proof and conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law.”

The Power of Habit (updated)

We are creatures of habit. A book I often cite is called “The Power of Habit – Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” by Charles Duhigg. My niece thought I might like this and she was correct. I would encourage you to read it as well, as it articulates how much of what we do each day is based more on habit that is ingrained in each of us or in our organizations.

A friend who taught philosophy at University shared with me that Aristotle felt habits reigned supreme. In his “Nicomachean Ethics,” as referenced in Duhigg’s book, Aristotle said:

“…just as a piece of land has to be prepared beforehand to nourish the seed, so the mind of the pupil has to be prepared in its habits if it is to enjoy and dislike the right things.”

A few examples from “The Power of Habit” might help reveal further Aristotle’s belief. Paul O’Neill is a great example. In short, he came in and transformed Alcoa as its CEO in a very unheard of way. It unnerved so many financial experts, they told people to sell the stock once they heard O’Neill’s first speech. One analyst later said “it was the worst piece of advice I have ever given,” as under O’Neill, Alcoa’s earnings and stock price soared for many years. What did he do that was so unusual and successful? His first focus was to make Alcoa the safest company it could be, as its safety record was atrocious. In other words, he wanted to change Alcoa’s bad safety habits.

He consciously picked this as he explained later, as it was the one thing we could get management and labor to agree on – a safer workplace. So, what happened? Communication between the line workers and management improved as accidents and how to prevent them had to be reported within 24 hours. He showed by example, after a tragic death, that this mattered to him and was not window-dressing. He changed the habits of executives, managers and line workers by insisting that we cannot condone safety problems and must avoid them at all costs. Through the improved communication, other benefits occurred – processes had to be improved to make them safer, the workers were empowered to share ideas on how to improve processes, and management’s goals could be communicated more readily. By emphasizing the importance of safety habits, the company got better. And, so did results.

Another good example about habits is regarding Starbucks. There is a moving story about how a young man had fallen into bad and even criminal habits. His drug problem caused him to lose everything time and time again. Then, someone suggested he try to get a job at Starbucks. Someone gave him a chance and mentored him. But, it was really the Starbucks training that transformed him. The training told him how to serve customers well. It told him how to address situations with an irate customer. It taught him the need to be organized, as if you were not, the customer would be ill-served. This consistent training replaced his bad habits with new habits. He built on his success by first building his self-esteem through better habit. And, it spilled over into his personal life. Now, he is managing a Starbucks and improving his education.

There are numerous examples in the book, but one my niece and I both found interesting is about the fabric freshening product called Febreze. Now, you may not know that Febreze was almost pulled from the market as its sales were almost non-existent. It was a flop. Febreze’s inventor had found a way to chemically remove bad odors from fabrics. When it was first marketed, the elimination of bad odors was the pitch. Yet, that pitch only sold to people whose houses were a total wreck and reeked. The average homeowner did not buy it, at least buy enough of it. Before Proctor and Gamble (P&G) pulled it, they did more research of their target buyers.

Through this research, they discovered a habit in housewives (please forgive the gender reference), who after they made their beds with new linens, they purposefully inhaled the crisp, clean laundered smell. In fact, after they did any cleaning, the desire for a clean-smelling house was habitual. P&G realized people did not crave scentlessness, instead they crave a nice clean smell after they’ve spent 30 minutes cleaning. With this focus, a new marketing effort was launched and within two months sales doubled and then took off, spawning dozens of spin-off products. P&G’s Febreze provided the reward of a clean-smelling house to someone who cleaned it, which was the cue for the reward.

I use cue and reward, as these are two of the tenets of understanding and changing habits, whether they be smoking, nail-biting, eating bad snacks, drinking, etc. In short, Duhigg articulates:

1) Identify the routine (what leads to the habit and why, when and how does it occur?)

2) Experiment with rewards (to change a habit, a new reward has to be substituted, but it has to be fulfilling, so experimentation is needed)

3) Isolate the cue (what is truly the cue; what more than any other thing is causing the habit?)

4) Have a plan (this is what am I going to do about it, this is in my control to change and if I write down my plan, I will have a better chance of success).

One example was an office worker and his craving for a mid-afternoon donut, muffin or unhealthy snack. The routine was the person would leave his desk from boredom, being tired, just to get up, etc. and would go to the vending machine for a snack. The reward was the snack. The cue was harder to find, as various paths led to the reward. It turned out the cue was the time. Invariably, between 3 and 3:30 pm, the person would get the unhealthy snack. So, he noted this in a plan to do something differently. He experimented and felt if he purposefully socialized with others for ten minutes instead of getting a snack, the new reward would satisfy him. So, he planned and executed the plan by getting away from his desk at the same tim each day, forming a new habit. Instead of eating, he would talk with colleagues.

There are other habits noted that have been replaced by new rewards. The key is to find a new reward. If you drink, substituting something that takes the place of the drink will make it a new habit. It could be drinking fruit juices, hot tea, coffee, etc. or it could be taking a walk after dinner, when your old habit of drinking most occurred. The same would hold true with smoking. You have to find a new reward to replace the smoking reward. Otherwise, the old habit will have a better chance of returning.

Let me close how Duhigg did referencing a passage from William James’ book “The Principle of Psychology.” Note William’s brother Henry is an author of some renown.

“All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits – practical, emotional, and intellectual – systematically organized for our weal or woe, and is bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.”

Habits can be good or bad. If they are the latter and you want to change, the above steps are worth considering. The book is a good read, with many understandable examples. I highly recommend it. Let me know what you think.

Words of a caution about a ‘deformed party’ construct

The following is an excerpt from an article called Trump’s Big Lie Devoured the G.O.P. and Now Eyes Our Democracyby one of my favorite authors and columnists, Pulitzer Prize winner, Thomas Friedman. Friedman wrote “The World is Flat” and “That Used to be Us: How America fell behind in the world it created and how it can come back.” A link to the article in Jill’s post “We are not okay” can be found below.

” Here is what Representative Anthony Gonzalez, one of the few Republicans who voted to impeach Trump, told The Hill about the campaign within the party to oust Representative Liz Cheney from her House G.O.P. leadership position, because of her refusal to go along with the Big Lie:

“’f a prerequisite for leading our conference is continuing to lie to our voters, then Liz is not the best fit. Liz isn’t going to lie to people. … She’s going to stand on principle.

Think about that for a second. To be a leader in today’s G.O.P. you either have to play dumb or be dumb on the central issue facing our Republic: the integrity of our election. You have to accept everything that Trump has said about the election — without a shred of evidence — and ignore everything his own attorney general, F.B.I. director and election security director said — based on the evidence — that there was no substantive fraud.

What kind of deformed party will such a dynamic produce? A party so willing to be marinated in such a baldfaced lie will lie about anything, including who wins the next election and every one after that.

Another favorite conservative pundit Michael Gerson said it more bluntly about the Republican leaders who support this path forward. He said you either have to be a “sucker or a liar” to be a leader in the new GOP. The Democrats are not perfect and, while I agree on many of their policies, not all curry my support. Yet, the Democrats are at least discussing issues while the GOP is just adrift supporting the most deceitful, corrupt and seditious president in my lifetime, including Richard Nixon.

Republicans are being lied to by its so-called leadership. The sad fact is the leaders know they are lying and simply are looking to get away with it. Do Democrats lie? Yes, but the party currency is not deceit which apparently is what matters to the GOP more than anything. We need a viable GOP, but this one is headed down a dark alley.

We Are Not Okay | Filosofa’s Word (jilldennison.com)

The Big Lie has been Altered in Orwellian Fashion

This piece of news gave me a chuckle, but made me sad as it is an attempt to take advantage of the gullibility of followers. For those of who still pay attention to the machinations of the most recent former president, apparently, he does not care for the term “The Big Lie” to define his planned and staged deceitful efforts to call the outcome of the 2020 election into question.

In my view, the reason is it aptly describes his attempts to convey this message of election fraud are untruthful. This is evidenced by his inability to prove in court or get even Republican election officials to say what he wants them to say. My favorite pushback came from his own Attorney General William Barr, who told him in a group meeting that “his claims of election fraud are b*lls**t.” This of course got the AG forced out in a few days.

Now, with an Orwellian flair from the novel “1984,” the former president has repurposed the term “The Big Lie” to mean the election was stolen, not that he is trying to steal it. So, the former president has, in fact, stolen the counterpoint slogan for his own purpose. So, when his followers here the term “The Big Lie,” they will be confused or think the person is siding with the former president’s untruthful ploy.

I used “1984” as a key point of the novel is disinformation. As an example, there are three world powers, with the country the protagonist supports allying with one of the other two against the third. Midway through the book, the alliance shifts, so that enemy is now allied with his country against the former ally. The totalitarian government uses disinformation to convey that this was happening all along and there was no change.

Think of that when you see what the former president just did. He does not like the term “The Big Lie” being pointed at him, so he appropriates the term in an attempt to tell his followers The Big Lie is the election was not stolen. The Big Lie is too on point as the former president is following his modus operandi of deceitful behavior. So, it must be dealt with.

In a nutshell, this is why the former president does not warrant a lot of trust. He has not earned it. So, I will side with AG Barr on this one.

American Winter – what poverty looks like (a reprise from 2013)

The following post was written eight years ago, but unfortunately still applies today. Our situation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, where too many small employers had to close their doors. Some of the observations come from my volunteer work to help homeless working families. If you only have a minute, read the next to last two paragraphs, which speak volumes of why we should help.

There is an excellent documentary on HBO called “American Winter” by Joe Gantz which tracks eight Portland families who are struggling in this economy. Please check it out at www.hbo.com/documentaries/american-winter. This documentary puts a face on poverty and shows what these families are dealing with during the economic crisis. Since I volunteer with an agency that helps homeless families, I can assure you the problems portrayed in Portland are in evidence in North Carolina and elsewhere in the United States. For example, the median family income of the homeless families we help at the agency is $9 per hour. With a living wage in NC of $17.68 for a one adult/ one child family, you can see how people are having a hard time.

These people are living paycheck to paycheck and it takes only one thing to cause them to lose their house. It could be the loss of one job or the cutback on hours worked. Or, it could be a healthcare crisis.  We have people in America who are struggling and even dying because of lack of healthcare. According to The American Journal of Medicine in 2009: 62% of bankruptcies in the US are due to medical costs and 75% of the people whose illnesses caused bankruptcy were not insured or were under insured. This is the key reason we need the Affordable Care Act and for states to permit the expansion of Medicaid to cover them.

Yet, rather than make this about healthcare, I want to focus on why we have people in such crisis. I addressed many of these issues in two companion posts last fall based on Tavis Smiley and Cornel West’s book “The Rich and the Rest of Us.” The first post was written on October 20, 2012 and the second on October 29, 2012. We are not talking enough about our poverty problem in the US. The middle class problem is referenced often, but where did they go? Only a few moved up in ranks, where as the significant majority fell into poverty or near poverty.

As organizations have taken efforts to improve their profit margins dating back to the 1980s, we have seen a continuous downsizing and outsourcing of jobs. Since the early 1980s, the disparity between haves and have-nots became even more pronounced with the trickle down economics which has been proven to be unsuccessful, unless you were viewing it from the higher vantage point. As a result, there were multiple pressures on the middle class, which has led to its decline.  It only got worse when the economy went south. While there has been some repatriation of outsourced manufacturing jobs to the US, they have remained overseas for the most part.

So, if the worker did not stay up to speed with new technologies and, even if he did, there are fewer jobs for those without a college education. And, with the economic crisis, we have seen even having a college education is not enough these days. These unemployed did what they must, so where they could, started getting service jobs in retail, restaurant and hospitality industries. These jobs are near or at minimum wage and make you beholden to the number of hours you are permitted to work. Unfortunately, these jobs perpetuate poverty. You cannot afford healthcare and better food options and can barely afford rent. So, if something happens to your hours or job, you may lose your home.

The homeless families I have worked with work their fannies off. There are some I speak with in churches , who believe these families are homeless because they are less moral or virtuous and that is not it at all. Per Smiley and West’s book, poverty is the absence of money. Nothing more, nothing less. A few national stats to chew on:

– 40% of all homeless families in the US are mothers with children, the fastest growing segment;

– 75% of homeless children never graduate which perpetuates an ongoing cycle of homelessness; and

– 90% of homeless children suffer extreme stress; some worse than PTSD that former military face.

I mention these last two items, as even with all I say to the contrary, some people do not want to help the adults, who these obstinate people feel are totally responsible for their plight or are lazy. They see a chronic homeless panhandler on the street and paint all homeless people with that brush. That is a small, small subset of our homeless problem and, while we should help the chronic homeless people, there is a significant majority of homeless people who work hard, but cannot make it. Yet, I try to sell the concept of helping the kids. They did not sign up for being homeless and if we can help them, we can break the cycle of homelessness, the cost of caretaking is less, we gain a taxpaying citizen and we may be untapping a huge potential. The second place Intel Science Award winner in 2012 was a homeless girl, e.g.

We need to help these folks climb a ladder out of the hole they are in. It will be more beneficial to them and our society. And, we must provide educational paths forward, whether it be getting a GED, community or tech college schooling to learn new or improved skills. There have been some amazing things going in community colleges which can provide some paths forward. And, we need to pay people more. We have to improve the minimum wage to get at least to a living wage for an individual. It needs to be more, but if we can make that statement (making the minimum wage = a living wage) it speaks volumes and will help.

One of our dilemmas as a society is we must have a vibrant middle class to flourish. Unfortunately, the American Dream is a myth for many. We have one of the least upwardly mobile countries in the world. So, unless we make changes to our societal investments, we are destined to have only two economic classes of people. If you do not believe me, please check out my blogging friend Amaya’s website at www.thebrabblerabble.wordpress.com and check out the short video on economic disparity in our country. It is atrocious and unforgivable that this can happen in the US.

This is our collective crisis. Please watch “American Winter” or check out the above posts or Amaya’s. While “American Winter” highlights eight families, let me add a couple of more for you. One of our new Board members who works for a large bank was touring the homeless shelter and she came upon a colleague who was employed by the bank who was homeless. This stunned her that someone who worked at reasonable pay could end up homeless. Many live paycheck to paycheck in our country and it only takes a nudge for some to lose their home.

The other person I want to mention was living in a tent with her parents and younger siblings. Her dad was a construction worker and got some handy man jobs, but neither he nor his wife made enough to prevent losing their home. I highlight this teenager, as she would volunteer at a food bank to help others in need. Let me repeat this for emphasis. This homeless girl would volunteer to help people in poverty working at a food bank. We have helped this family get housed and they are climbing the ladder out of poverty. And, this young lady is now in college.

Let me shout this from the rooftops. Please help me become more vocal. We have a poverty problem in the US. We have a homeless problem in the US. We must help our neighbors and by helping them, we will help ourselves and country. Let’s help them climb these ladders. Let’s give them opportunities to succeed. If we don’t then we all will suffer.

Lessons from Sully Sullenberger and Paul O’Neill – a review

The following post was written seven years ago when GM was having some issues that did not get communicated upward and were left to fester. This is not an uncommon problem, nor is knowing about problems and choosing not to act.

I have written before that organizations take on the personality of its leaders. Earlier this week, CEO Mary Barra of General Motors (GM), reported on the findings of an internal audit of why they did not have an earlier recall when problems arose on some cars. Many heard a lot of blame down the ladder, but we did not hear much about culpability at the top. The key question asked, but not answered, is why did people not share their concerns with management that something was amiss? The unstated answer is it is in the culture of the organization, where people at the top did not want to hear of failings or heads would roll. An analyst who covers the car industry noted there was a modus operandi of “don’t mess with the launch of new line.”

I have written before about two leaders, Captain Sully Sullenberger and Paul O’Neill, who was the CEO who turned around Alcoa and later became Secretary of the Treasury under President George W. Bush. They have some good lessons that GM should emulate  going forward. Sullenberger was the right person at the right time as captain of US Airways Flight 1549 that he safely landed in the Hudson River. He not only studied accidents for airlines, he was on task forces to go to crash sites and help ascertain why the planes went down. So, he knew from his research and experience, what he needed to do to safely land in the Hudson.

He also knew what GM failed to remember. He was the leader of the crew, but he understood all to well that each member of the team has a role in the safety of the flight, including the flight tower personnel. His research showed that many accidents occurred because navigators and co-pilots did not feel comfortable offering input to the pilot or tower. A couple of examples might help. A plane crashed in Japan, because the co-pilot had to acquiesce to the pilot due to seniority. In this case, the co-pilot was on record as being correct that the plane was off course, but the pilot’s judgment could not be overturned. In another, the Brazilian flight crew of a doomed flight did not have confidence to disagree with an American flight tower and the plane crashed.

Sullenberger was aware of other examples that had been noted and improved over time. But, what he did every time he had a new flight crew (even one new member), was get them all together to get to know them and encourage them to speak up if they saw something amiss. Anything, even if small. He noted in his book, what gave him great comfort during these few seconds on Flight 1549, was he could hear everyone doing their job. He got quick advice from the tower, his co-pilot and navigator. He shared his thoughts quickly and made sure everyone knew what was going to transpire. When he concluded that getting nearby Teterboro Airport was not possible, he offered up and concluded, “it looks like we will be in the Hudson” which allowed rescue crews to be alerted.

O’Neill joined Alcoa which was struggling. And, his first public comments were “we are going to make Alcoa the safest company possible.” This was an odd mission to start out with and many analysts were not impressed. One analyst told his investors to sell Alcoa stock, which he later added, was the worst advice he had ever given. O’Neill knew that the only thing he could get management and union leaders to agree on was safety. So, that is where he started. He also knew that for safety to be important, managers had to talk to floor personnel to understand better the problems, so that a plan to fix them could be developed. So, communication got better up and down the line. The empowered employees starting sharing ideas on how to improve not only safety, but process as well. The company performance and stock price took off.

Both Sullenberger and O’Neill knew that they were part of a team. They also knew the best ideas can come from anywhere, but especially from those closest to the action. So, it is not only vital, but imperative, that management create a culture where ideas can be shared. Otherwise, you would be flying in the dark. It should be noted at the same time GM was having these troubles, they missed a huge market opportunity. Why? Because they were not listening.

GM piloted the first electric car called the EV-1 in California in the early 2000’s. They did not sell them or market them, but a cult-like following was growing as people who wanted to make a difference started leasing them by the thousands. Eventually, the EV-1 was killed as the result of an alleged collusive effort chronicled in the documentary “Who Killed the Electric Car?” which can be accessed by the link below. The drivers wanted to buy the cars, but GM collected them and shredded them. They wanted no evidence. The Board of Directors of GM asked why the EV-1 pilot was being shelved at the same time they were building Hummers, and management said this is the direction America car buyers want. Hummers are no longer made as they were gas guzzlers.

Here in 2014, GM could have been the predominant player in the electric car market, which will grow as more power stations and better batteries become available. Yet, they chose a short-lived strategy, made other bad decisions and had to be bailed out and only now are seeing the failure of not having an open culture to communication. The lesson that was not said by Barra is we did not have an environment where people could offer input and we would listen to them. She needs to talk to Sully Sullenberger and Paul O’Neill and set a more open path for the future. It is not ironic, that both are known for safety. And, communication.