While my guitar gently weeps

George Harrison of The Beatles was overshadowed by the prolific song writing duo of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Yet, he was an excellent song writer as well. One of his best songs he wrote paired him with Eric Clapton – “While my guitar gently weeps.”

I use this song as a metaphor as many of us are exhausted by the US President and his daily lying and bullying, that we just feel like weeping. But, while we weep, important things are not getting done and some things that should not be are occurring. So, while our collective guitars gently weep;

– our planet continues to heat up and wildfires become more prolific, drought areas become more parched, farms are more at risk, and our coastal cities have many more days of sunny day flooding;

– our oceans have islands of plastic both above and below the surface, landfills are teeming with plastic, especially after China stopped taking plastic shipments at the first of the year and our coral reefs are dying due to a multitude of factors;

– our US debt has passed an unhealthy level of $22 trillion and is expected to grow to over $33 trillion by 2027, with this fiscal year deficit getting closer to $1 trillion, likely exceeding it next year (this is on annual budget of $4 trillion);

– our allies no longer trust the US and its bullying President, so we will continue to suffer as other countries and companies therein seek other avenues for their supplies and products looking for market stability – they will deal with us, of course, but are finding other sources, as well; and

– our democracy is under threat by a regal minded and thin-skinned man who lives in the White House who denigrates any person or entity that does not adequately genuflect to his greatness, which is far more perception than reality.

There is, of course, many other reasons to weep. We need to address real problems and not cause other ones. We are exhausted by the focus on one man 24×7. It is truly all about The Donald.

I sure wish to hear George and Eric playing this song and make it all better.

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A simple economic question

As the US President seeks to close our borders and retrench from global markets, there is a simple question to ask. Let’s set aside what’s right or wrong from a humanity and safety standpoint. Let’s focus on a simple economic one.

Do we grow our economy more by letting people bring their ideas, work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit to our country and making it easier to do business with us, or do we accomplish more economic growth by closing our borders and forcing other countries and businesses therein to look to other markets for sales and supplies?

This thought struck me Sunday morning as I caught the Women’s Open Championship in the UK. What struck me is there were not any American golfers among the top two pages of the leader board. Thinking back to the World Cup in Russia last month, the American team was not present for this global event.

I recognize these are sporting events, but they are metaphors. If you don’t keep up, the world will move on. But, not keeping up does hit our economy, as well. In the US, unemployment is low, but we are having a hard time filling higher tech manufacturing jobs. US customer service jobs abound in Asia and the Philippines. And, many of our IT jobs are being done by people in India or who have moved here from such locations.

The first book which spoke to this is The World is Flat,” by Thomas Friedman. We live in a global economy with a global workforce. Employers need the best, cheapest talent they can find. The more commoditized the job, the pendulum swings to cheapest. The less commoditized, the pendulum swings to best. If we cannot fill the jobs here, they will be filled elsewhere. And, it should be noted that companies are leasing robots for $18 an hour, if they cannot fill the job.

We must be mindful of a key data point, immigration is accretive to our economy. Since Innovation is portable, new talent coming here brings more innovation. And, jobs are created around the Innovation. So, we need to be welcoming with better governance over immigration.

We also need to be easier to work with than we have become. When an entity makes it more difficult and less profitable to partner with, its trading partners look to other sources of sales and supplies. This has been happening for the last several months. And, as one farmer said, a subsidy won’t help if the customers go away.

Sadly, this issue has now been politicized, with fear and over-emphasis of causes. As I briefly noted above, the key reasons some areas are suffering are due to chasing cheaper labor and technology. The last issue is the larger concern as a CFO noted  in the book “The Rich and the Rest of Us,” by Cornel West and Tavis Smiley, “employers would do without employees if they could.”

So, look back at the simple economic question. What kind of country do we want to be? Then, add in the seasonings of doing the right thing and being safer. Global commerce actually makes the world safer, as you are less likely to go to war with your trading partners.

 

Cognitive dissonance prevents further unraveling

I have been using the analogy of a wound ball of yarn unraveling to describe what is happening with Trump voters. The outer layers represent the more moderate and rational voters who have seen what Trump represents and their support is unraveling. As the ball gets smaller, the unraveling becomes more difficult as the yarn is coated with cognitive dissonance.

One dictionary defines cognitive dissonance as “the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change.” A definition I hold is calling the dissonance a “disharmony” that is upsetting to the person as it is at odds with what they believe.

When a person is confronted with facts that diminish their belief, they often run home to some source of information to tell them the facts are not true. This is s key reason people like watching pseudo-news sources that tell them what they want to hear. Some even rely on the President’s tweets as a source. But, that is not news – that is opinion from a biased source.

So, unraveling those inner layers is harder. The key to getting through is listening to them and asking follow-up questions. I have cited the example of how an African-American man was able to convince over 200 KKK members to cede their robes. He asked them questions, listened to their answers and followed-up with probing questions. This is as ardent a group of people as could be found, but even an object of their hate was able to reach them and alter their beliefs.

So, in this spirit, here are a few opening questions to pose to folks who disagree with your opinions. Then, listen and follow-up with more probing questions.

– What are your thoughts on placing tariffs on countries?

– What are your thoughts on the President’s meeting with Vladimir Putin?

– What are your thoughts on rolling back environmental regulations?

– What are your thoughts on the economy and our rising debt burden?

– What are your thoughts on the lack of efforts to rein in increasing health care premiums?

– What are your thoughts on better governing immigration issues?

These questions may not lead to opinion changes, but it may help gain some common ground and reveal the problem is more complex than being discussed. Some issues are not being discussed much at all.

Cognitive dissonance is a powerful coating  of protection. Emotion won’t crack it. It can only be unraveled through dialogue.

Media – focus more on the problems needing solving and less on who wins

The main stream media is doing a better job on focusing on the issues, but they still have a bias toward conflict. Who wins and loses based on the airing of an issue or problem is covered way too much for my taste. The end result is problems and their many causes do not get addressed or are oversimplified, so they go unsolved.

The dilemma is we citizens lose. The focus must be on the issues rather than who benefits from whatever hits a news cycle. Substance matters more than image. Here are a few examples to digest.

We have a poverty problem in the US. It is not just a declining middle class. Too many are living beneath paycheck to paycheck or are one paycheck away from being in trouble. The United Nations just released a report that confirms the US has a poverty problem citing numerous examples and numbers. Instead of asking lawmakers what are we doing about it, the media focused on the Trump administration admonishing the UN for the report. The problem exists whether or not it makes Trump look bad, as it took decades to decline to this point. Addressing poverty is more important.

We have a significant and growing debt problem that has been made worse by the Tax law passed in December. The economy was already doing pretty good with a long growth period. Yet, rather than address our debt, we borrowed more from our future. This malfeasance must be highlighted. Yet, most of the focus is on the economy doing well and its impact on the midterm election. Note the economy would have done well without the tax change, but we have a day of reckoning coming that will require more revenue and less spending. What are we going to do about it now, especially with a good economy?

The Affordable Care Act has needed improvements and stabilization for some time. The American public favors this as do lawmakers from both parties. Yet, the media focuses too much on the political  impact of an ACA that could be doing better. Not only has the party in power not helped the ACA, they have sabotaged it making premiums go up even more. As I see it, the President and GOP own the ACA. Letting premiums go up hurts Americans. If the ACA fails, our poverty problem will get even worse and the economy will suffer.

Issues like immigration, climate change, water shortages, tariffs, exiting international agreements, eg, all need to be focused on. We need to drill down on what makes sense in a data driven and reasonable manner. Attempting to resolve issues based on optics of winning or losing won’t solve anything. And, that is what our President and legislators seem to be more interested in.

So, media please start asking our leaders what they plan on doing about these problems and asking them to explain why certain measures don’t seem to be helpful.  And, leaders stop worrying about keeping your job and start doing your job.

Infrastructure, India and Intellectual Capital

These are three very powerful “I” words – Infrastructure, India and intellectual capital. They are related in one key fashion. The failure of the US to address each of these issues has hastened its forthcoming demise as the world leading economy. China, of course, plays a key role, but we sometimes lose track of the other fastest growing economy in India, who has been creating a technology proficiency that rivals and may surpass Silicon Valley.

Per Vice News, India is well positioned for two key reasons. They have one billion people and are much more heavily focused on STEM education than the US. Even if the US had the same focus, India is three times larger and has been doing major call center and technology outsourcing for US and other companies for years. Now, they have companies that only focus on the domestic market in India. And, one other key is important. Indians who have traveled to the US to be educated are returning home rather than staying here. Why? Opportunity back home and the fact the welcome mat has been thrown away by the current US President for immigrants of color.

The other two “I” words are crucial. India is investing in their infrastructure and intellectual capital. The US has forgotten what got us to a world dominant economy. In the book “That used to be us: How America fell behind in the world it created and how it can come back,” by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum, it describes an America that used to invest along with a blend of local government and private funding to do great things. Now, we are more concerned with cutting revenue to dare fund things like our dilapidated infrastructure and intellectual capital.

Both the US Chamber of Commerce and labor unions have been pleading for years to invest more in our infrastructure. While interest rates were low, it was the ideal time to borrow to invest in depleted assets. Infrastructure investing also would create jobs and enhance productivity, the latter through saving of time by reducing the time when roads, canals, locks and bridges have to be shut down for repair. The President rightfully noted this need on the campaign trail and then shelved a report to do anything about it one month into his Presidency. Who says so? The man he asked to do the report.

Like India, we should be investing in new technologies and our infrastructure. Plus, we should be more welcoming of immigrants, especially those who are educated here. Innovation is portable, so if these folks leave the US, the Innovation will occur elsewhere. This coupled with a better and protective patent system will promote growth.

Like America, India is not perfect. But, they are focused on the future moreso than the US leaders are. We tend to be focused more on protecting legacy industries, than greasing the skids for new ones. Fortunately, other Americans are more forward thinking, in spite of our leaders. But, it would be nice if we helped them out more.

Make America Alone

Unless you are on a diet or workout regimen, you cannot shrink to greatness. Yet, that is precisely the path America is on under the leadership of a man who announces his intent to make the country great again. Instead, he is pursuing a path of making America alone.

Jim Melville, the US ambassador to Estonia announced his resignation last week. Ambassador Melville, a 33 year state department veteran who has served under six Presidents, four of them Republucan, cited his reasons on Facebook. He said he could not support a President who has belittled NATO comparing it to NAFTA and saying it was formed to tap the American piggy bank. He also noted the President’s attack on the European Union as shameful.

Melville is not a lone voice. Other long service ambassadors have departed under this regime and there are a scary number of open diplomat positions. I have made reference to the number of Americans attending global conferences is dwarfed by the number of Chinese who are “working the room.” Diplomats both glean and share information to benefit a country.

This becomes even more troubling when the ultimate US diplomat sitting in the White House is bullying and lying about long time allies, imposing unwise tariffs on such allies and other trading partners, resigning from an important United Nations human rights committee, withdrawing from the Paris Climate Change Accord leaving us as one of three countries to do so, ignoring our allies on not staying with the Iran deal and leaving or discrediting two major trade agreements, one of which went forward without us.

An EU ambassador noted many months ago that America’s strengths are its military and allied relationships. So, going it alone is not a wise move. What is further troubling is this is the path Vladimir Putin wants us to go down, but he is not the biggest benefactor of America’s retrenchment. This path leads to an ascendant China, which has been forecasted for many years. The US President is helping them blaze the trail.

Making America alone is not a fruitful path, at least for America. Please think about that. If you agree, reach out to your Senators and Congressperson.

A few select statements

A counterpoint response to my comment that the President needs to tell the truth more than he does not, might be “all politicians lie.” Yes, they do, but he laps the field at a 69% rate of untruthfulness per Politifacts.  But, he also makes decisions off his supporting lies.

One that gives me concern is “You can win a trade war.” History has shown this not to be true and we will soon be finding out as Canada just added their retributive tariffs to those of the EU and China. By the way, the lone constant in these three tariffs is the US. The impact is already showing up in economic decisions by companies,

Today he said “the tax cut is the reason for our economic miracle.” That is a stretch in that we are completing 108 consecutive months of economic growth today, which is the second longest in US history. He has only been President for a little more than 17 months and the tax cut has only been in effect for 6 months. As for the long term, I am worried about the tax cut increasing our huge and increasing debt. To be frank, the tax cut will help some short term, but hurt us in the long run.

Yesterday, he noted again “Russia said they did not meddle in our election,” to me implying his tacit support. But, the US intelligence asserts with high confidence that not only Russia did, but the Trump campaign benefited from it. Plus, they said the Russians are still influencing opinion and sowing seeds of discord. The question we must ask is why? Why say this? Why let it go on? Why is Congress not more assertive to get to the bottom of this? Why do you people believe him when he calls the investigation a witch hunt?

Finally, the Affordable Care Act is in need of stabilization and select improvements. Instead, it has been sabotaged at the expense of Americans, once by Congress in 2015 and just last summer by the President. When he defunded payments to insurers for copays and deductibles for families making less than 2 1/2 x poverty limit, he said “it would only impact insurer profits.” That is simply untrue. The CBO noted that the impact would increase the debt by $10 Billion. Why? As insurers raise premiums as a result of picking up this unfunded tab, the premium subsidies would climb by $10 Billion. That means it effects taxpayers by that amount.

The sad truth is there are numerous instances where lies and oversimplified problems and solutions have caused policy decisions. It is hard enough to solve problems when we use facts. It is nigh impossible when we don’t. The truth matters.