Close talkers

One of the Super Bowl commercials that continues to be aired is a toothpaste commercial starring Luke Wilson. In his role, he is a self-professed and proud “close talker.” This is someone who violates another’s personal space, speaking only a few inches from the person’s face.

This commercial is a little unnerving, primarily due to my history of working with a close talker. My colleague was an otherwise pleasant and charming person, but this habit was not his best attribute. Plus, he was in senior management.

My boss would do his best to have some form of interference in-between him and our close talker. He would use a desk, a table, a couch, et al, anything to provide distance. I followed his advice as well, but it was not fool-proof. Elevators were risky with our close talker.

There was an instance when our close talker cornered the company CEO in an elevator. He got the full force of close talking and left the elevator shaking his head.

I recognize cultures vary. I also recognize the US culture is more informal than many. Yet, invading personal space is still a no-no when talking. It would have been so very helpful if the CEO called him aside in private and shared a few tips. In our case, we just need more tables.

 

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Farm bankruptcies on the rise

There have been numerous stories on the rise in farm bankruptcies in 2018. Picking one from December 1, 2018 in the Lincoln Journal Star by Matt Olberdin called “As ag economy continues to struggle, farm bankruptcies rise,” through October, bankruptcies in a seven state region including and around Nebraska are up 45% compared to all of 2017.

Trade issues and low crop prices are two main issues driving down farm incomes. Coupled with rising interest rates and property taxes, and it is a tougher road for farmers. Per PBS Newshour, trade issues means tariffs getting in the way of the farmers’ markets.

These farmers use Chapter 12 bankruptcy that makes it easier to file and reorganize. This approach allows a higher debt limit as well. Per The Wall Street Journal, farm bankruptcy filings are the highest they have been in ten years.

As with the shutdown, real people are impacted by ill-conceived decisions by the President. Loyalty to a President becomes tough when you cannot feed your family and may lose your livelihood. With the tariffs blocking markets for the farmers’ products, the buyers must look elsewhere. These farmers will have to dump product or let it go to waste.

This is a key reason economist say trade wars cannot be won. More people lose than win on targeted tariffs. Yet, this does not seem to bother the man in the White House. That is troubling and sad for our country.

Corporate shareholders are acting on climate change

While fossil-fuel funded politicians avoid addressing climate change and strip away governance enabling industry polluters, shareholders have been picking up the baton. Last week, Reuters published an article called “Chevron ties executive pay to methane and flaring reduction,” which defines specific gas emissions targets.

The article penned by Jennifer Hiller notes that it is not just executives with incentive plan targets to reduce emissions. 45,000 employees also have incentive plan emission targets. In other words, their pay is tied to combatting climate change. The intermediate goal is to reduce gas emissions by 25% by 2023.

While Chevron is the first to tie incentives to reducing gas emissions, in the month before the current US President announced our pullout of the Paris Climate Change Accord, three energy companies -ExxonMobil, PP&L and Occidental Petroleum – announced shareholder votes requiring management to report on efforts to address climate change. The Exxon-Mobil vote is telling in that they face a shareholder lawsuit and one by the New York Attorney General, Barbara Underwood, for misrepresenting the impact of climate change on their business to investors.

Per The Guardian, the NYAG lawsuit notes Exxon’s “longstanding fraudulent scheme” to downplay the impact of climate change including under-representing the “proxy costs” of fossil-fuel extraction. This lawsuit follows a three-year investigation and uses Exxon’s own research and scientists’ speeches against them. Before they took a “global warming is a hoax” public relations stance around the turn of the century. Exxon was active in climate change research. Even Shell produced a video in the 1990s that was made for educational purposes about the dangers of climate change.

But, it does not stop there. Well before fossil-fuel company shareholders made these impositions on management, more forward thinking companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, IKEA and Walmart have invested in renewable energy like wind and solar energy. IKEA and Walmart are using their expansive store rooftops to place solar panels, while the three technology companies have used all of the above renewable energy strategies to power their  data centers. In my state of NC, these companies have helped propel the state forward as a top four solar energy state.

Let me close with my favorite Super Bowl commercial of last week, Budweiser produced a commercial that noted their beer is now being produced by wind energy. Seeing the Clydesdales meander down a road surrounded by windmills was a beautiful sight. It showed this is not a future goal – it is here. And, just to show it is making a difference, over 1/3 of Iowa’s electricity is produced by wind energy and Germany just announced renewable energy now exceeds coal energy as the biggest electricity source and they plan to be 100% renewable energy powered by 2038, twenty years from now.

Baseball, Kangaroos and Mr. Robinson

What, you might ask? One of best baseball players passed away earlier this week. Frank Robinson is the only major leaguer to win the Most Valuable Player award in the American and National Leagues. Even though others got more notoriety, Robinson was an excellent player and a born leader.

He was also outspoken which leads me to the kangaroo thing. He held a Kangaroo Court in the locker room after games, complete with a judge’s wig. The purpose was to tease players with small fines when they failed to sacrifice for the team. For the non-baseball fans, the failures focused on not bunting a player over, hitting to right field to let a runner go from first to third base, not running out hit balls that looked like outs, overthrowing the cut off man, etc.

Although, he had individual success, his teams succeeded. The Baltimore Orioles won two championships and played in four World Series, while his Cincinnati Reds played in one. That is what mattered most. He helped his team focus on what made them win.

He was an obvious choice to be the Major League’s first African-American manager. Since he was outspoken, he said a black manager won’t truly be treated fairly until he is fired like all other managers. In other words, if he did not succeed, his race should not stand in the way of his firing. That is a very profound thought.

So, let’s toast the life of Mr. Robinson. He hit many homers, more than only a few players, but he played and coaxed his team to win. And, that is the true goal, for the team to win, not just achieve personal success. There is a reason he became a manager. Kanga would be proud of this Roo named Mr. Robinson.

This, that and another thing

Now that the state of the union and Democrat rebuttal are behind us, it would be nice if an independent voter had a turn. On the talk (and some shouting) shows, the independent views do not get heard enough and that is disappointing. For once, it would be illuminating for a member of neither party to share their thoughts.

For example, we might learn:

  • Global warming really is a concern and we should be doing something about it. On Bill Maher’s Friday show,  he noted that Senator Marco Rubio used the argument against the President for declaring a national emergency to build the wall, as what would stop President Kamala Harris from doing so to address climate change? Maher correctly pointed out the latter is becoming a national emergency, while the wall is not even a top ten issue and is overblown as a solution. He also noted, with the very real concerns over Miami, Rubio may become the Senator of Atlantis.
  •  A growing debt which is around $22 trillion with an annual deficit about to hit $1 trillion is a problem, especially with the deficit in a good economy. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget models the debt to be around $34 trillion at the end of the 2027 fiscal year. We must have spending cuts and revenue increases both. The math will not otherwise work. If a politician tells you differently, he or she is lying to you. Don’t let them.
  • The Affordable Care Act and Obamacare are the same thing. So is KyNect in Kentucky. Too many people still don’t realize this in the GOP. But, don’t look to politicians to solve this, as they really do not understand how our complex healthcare system works. We need to stabilize the ACA and stop sabotaging it, as the GOP has done.  My recommendation as a retired benefits consultant, actuary and manager is to fund money promised to insurance companies to pay for adverse selection and committed to deductibles, copays for people beneath 2 1/2 times the poverty limit. I would also expand Medicare as a pilot, measured effort to retirees below age 65, such as 60 or 62. This will reduce the cost rate in the exchanges and Medicare. The remaining states need to get off the dime and expand Medicaid – it is a no brainer per GOP Governor John Kasich.
  •  Addressing America’s crumbling infrastructure would help rebuild assets and provide good jobs. We also need to build on the community college system with some added funding to retrain people to do the jobs of the future, as technology claims even more (this is the major threat, not immigration or trade). Also, building on the bipartisan idea pitched to the President last year by Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman from Ohio, we should co-invest with car manufacturers to retool plants to make the cars in demand and keep the factories open. This idea was ignored and the President was offended when GM announced some plant closings.
  •  There are so many more ideas around rethinking ill-conceived tariffs and trade fights, poverty issues, and gun governance, but let me make a general statement that is important. Start treating our allies and citizens with fairness and dignity. Stop the adversarial BS. A country and business makes more money long term by having a productive long term relationship. We need to stop measuring success on short-term transactions. Listen to your advisors as they actually study our problems. And, stop beating up on a free press. From where I sit, they are not perfect, but the true journalists try to get it right. The main source of fake news in the country sits in the oval office and he only cares about looking good.

Well, that is enough for now. I would love to hear your thoughts.

We have all done dumb things

Let me first say, Ralph Northam, the governor of Virginia, must resign. He made a series of poor decisions in his past and has handled this whole escapade poorly. There has been a breach of faith with his constituents.

When incumbents dishonor the office, action must be taken. It need not always be resignation, but some formal censure or pulling of appointments to committees could be in order. It is vital to protect the auspices of the position. The Catholic Church failed to learn this regarding sexual assault and rape with Penn State and Michigan State Universities doing the same.

Unfortunately, my former party did not heed this lesson as the current US President should have been removed from the campaign when he confirmed what others had accused him of before the so-called “locker room talk” became public – sexual assault. Now he continues to defame the office with his untruths, bullying and demeaning of anyone who is in his way or he perceives to challenge his message.

Setting all of this aside, we have all done dumb things in our past. All of us, even the Pope. This is even more true when we were young and impressionable. We have done things in group settings, where we may not have been strong-willed enough to tell the group we should not be doing this or I choose not to do this. Three teen boys with free time is the makings of some poor decision-making.

The key in looking back is to come clean. Was this an isolated incident or a pattern of behavior? Are they otherwise exhibiting reputable patterns of behavior since that time? How is the person reacting to the resurfaced information? Did they fess up or go into protection mode as the governor has done?

What worried me about our newest Supreme Court justice is there seemed to be a pattern of behavior as a teen and young man that was troubling. Yet, once it got political, the truth was overshadowed by messaging. What also was overshadowed by accusers is his behavior since being a responsible adult. I would have liked all of this to have been handled more judiciously, yet I must confess the judge was in attack mode and the issues should have been raised much earlier before it became a crisis.

In a recent post, I mention the number 19 is the numerator of a favorite example. The person who does the right thing 19 times out of 20 is different from the person who has a less stellar track record. The President is untruthful 69% of the time and as Thomas Wells, an attorney who worked for him, said, “Trump lies every day, even about things of no consequence.” For the former person, you would tend to give him or her the benefit of the doubt.

Let me close with an observation we all need to consider. Not only have we all done dumb things, in today’s world, those things are recorded. For some reason, politicians tend to forget that things are recorded. Representative Anthony Weiner is a smart man, but doesn’t he know that sending a picture of his manhood is easily shared and not easily erased?

So, politicians or any officials need to come clean, preferably before they run.The sad part is since we are in a “gotcha” culture, people with pretty good records will choose not to run. And, that may be more harmful to our country.

 

America falls on the Corruption Perceptions Index

This is probably not what those Americans with red ball caps with MAGA on them envisioned when they signed up on Team Donald. Per watchdog group Transparency International, in 2017 the US fell four grade points from 75 to 71 on the Corruption Perceptions Index falling out of the top twenty. A score of 100 means a country is very clean and a score of zero means it is very corrupt.

Per an AP articles called “US Rank on corruption index seen as a ‘red flag,'” The “ratings reflect a deterioration of rule of law and democratic institutions, as well as rapidly shrinking space for civil society and independent media,” the Berlin-based organization said.

The organization also said, “A four point drop in the CPI score is a red flag and comes at a time when the US is experiencing threats to its system of checks and balance, as well as an erosion of ethical norms at the highest levels of power.” Full democracies scored an average of 75 on the CPI, meaning we have fallen beneath the curve.

This is not a surprise and is confirmation of what I have been asking of Senators and Congressional representatives to do. My questions have been two-fold. (1) What will it take for you to remember to whom you swore an oath and do your job pushing back on a President who is damaging our relationships with our allies and demonizing the free press and anyone who dares criticize him. (2) Is this the man you wish to spend your dear reputation on?

To be brutally frank, I am at a loss and I tell them so. Unfortunately, the staffs are the only people who hear my concerns and emails get a boiler plate response. It truly saddens me to say I don’t believe a word the President says, as the odds are in my favor. It further saddens me that so-called leaders of our country have looked the other way when simplistic solutions to complex problems are deployed as panaceas. It is hard enough to govern with truth and facts, but nigh impossible when the man in the White House has run off his advisors and wasn’t really listening to them in the first place.

Please join with me and ask our leaders to remember their oaths. Doing the right thing should not be as hard as it has become, but we must go down that path. We have some hard truths that continue to evolve about this President, with six of his relationships pleading guilty or being convicted and one under indictment. As the 37th President found out, when people are going to jail it is no longer a witch hunt. And, it is not ironic the man under indictment also worked for the 37th President.

We are better than this. If we told the US soldiers, that freed the remaining Jews from the death camps at the end of WWII, the leader of the free world in less than 75 years would be Germany, they would not have believed you. It is hard to fathom, but it is true. That is what is at stake. Is this what MAGA means?