Opportunity missed – a revisit

Happy New Year. This is a repeat of an old post from five years ago. Its message is still apt.

One of my favorite quotes about opportunity is “Opportunity is missed because it is often dressed up as hard work.” To me, this speaks volumes. Too many look for easy answers, when success comes from doing some heavy lifting.

Along these lines, in his book “Outliers,” two of Malcolm Gladwell’s four traits of successful people involve opportunity. I should mention the other two are being smart or talented enough and putting in 10,000 hours or more of practice. But, the two pertinent to this discussion are recognizing opportunity and seizing opportunity.

A quick example illustrates this point. By the time he was age 21, Bill Gates was one of the top programmers in the world. Why? He had the opportunity to work on the mainframe computer after 1 am at the University of Washington. As Gladwell points out, it was recognizing this opportunity and getting up or staying up to program while others slept or had fun. He was learning.

Gladwell points out that even the smartest of people sometimes overlook opportunity. In a genius grant project, money was given to watch these geniuses flourish, but many of them were not successful. The reason is they missed opportunity. The ones who were successful either saw opportunity or had someone who brokered opportunity for them.

Some very smart people fail to see that they are in competition for people’s time, interest and money. By waiting until something is perfected or their schedule frees, that opportunity may be gone.

So, what conclusions can be drawn from this brief discussion. First, don’t be frightened of hard work. A man will never be shot while washing the dishes.

Second, keep your head up, network, ask questions and just be involved in your surroundings. Connect dots by looking for or asking about things you see in someone’s office or something you saw online.

Third, be prepared for these moments. Do your research on companies and people that you are meeting with. This will help in making those connections.

Fourth, seize opportunities. If you are driving and see an interesting shop – stop the car and pull in. This is a metaphor for business, volunteer or investment opportunities. Since the average person has had eleven jobs by the time they’re forty, take a chance on something that interests you. But, honor that interest and invest your time in it. These life experiences will build your wisdom.

Opportunities abound. Look for them. Seize them. Work them.

Good economic news per Jennifer Rubin and Wall Street Journal

In an editorial by Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post called “Opinion: Biden gets an early Christmas gift: Good economic news,” she discusses the good economic news hearing into 2022. In excerpts below, she cites The Wall Street Journal and The Conference Board to support her claim.

“Presidents have some control over fiscal policy, but markets, the Federal Reserve and, yes, the state of the pandemic have a lot more say on how the economy is performing. Nevertheless, if President Biden can be bashed for bad economic news during his presidency (e.g., inflation), then he also should get some credit for successes. And right now, there is plenty for him to crow about.

Heading into the new year, the economy looks in better shape than Biden’s legislative agenda. The Wall Street Journal reports: ‘A booming U.S. economy is rippling around the world, leaving global supply chains struggling to keep up and pushing up prices. The force of the American expansion is also inducing overseas companies to invest in the U.S., betting that the growth is still accelerating and will outpace other major economies.

With a projected 7 percent annualized growth rate for the fourth quarter, the United States is running circles around Europe and China. That relative strength against the rest of the world, reflected in a strong dollar that lowers the cost of imports for U.S. consumers, matters greatly.

The economy grew 2.3 percent in the third quarter (higher than the expected 2.1 percent). Moreover, for all the talk of inflation and the pandemic, consumer confidence is through the roof. ABC News reports: ‘The Conference Board, a business research group, said Wednesday that its consumer confidence index — which takes into account consumers’ assessment of current conditions and their outlook for the future — rose to 115.8 in December, the highest reading since July.

…Furthermore supply chain woes are showing signs of abating. As Biden said at a meeting on Wednesday with his supply chain task force, “Packages are moving, gifts are being delivered and shelves are not empty.” He was also able to point to concrete steps his administration has taken to address the issue, such as obtaining the ports’ agreement to operate 24/7.

The full editorial can be linked to below. Rubin’s first point about presidents getting too much credit and blame for the economy is a good one. Yet, they do provide headwinds and tailwinds, usually a little of both. Biden’s predecessor inherited an economy that was in its 91st consecutive month of economic growth in January 2017 with six consecutive years of 2 million plus annual job growth. To his credit, it continued and was lifted some by a temporary sugar rush of the corporate tax cut in 2018, before falling back to previous levels after the sugar rush waned. Once the pandemic hit, all bets were off and we retrenched.

Biden and Trump invested in stimulus payments to get the economy going providing money to spend. And, it helped tide us over until more of us started working. Was it the best use of funds? Arguably. Some contended we should have provided the subsidies to employers to keep people employed. I would preferred to have seen that, as people would still be tethered to their job. The recently passed Infrastructure Bill will provide some additional tailwinds as would the Build Back Better bill that is still waylaid.

Inflation is of course a concern. Yet, politicos like to highlight bad news when their tribe is not in charge and lessen the focus on good news. In addition to the new COVID strain, what gives me pause is the stock market continues to remain at record high levels. The question is how long can it remain there? If you know that, you are way ahead in the game.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/12/22/biden-gets-an-early-christmas-gift-good-economic-news/

Minimum wage continues to increase in many places

The minimum wage continues to rise in a number of places. Effective next year,81 jurisdictions will see tangible increase to amounts already above the nationwide minimum wage. Per a USA Today article yesterday called “Minimum wage is about to rise in 21 states, 35 localities as more embrace $15 an hour,” the national minimum is of less importance in more places.

A few paragraphs from the piece follows, with a link to the entire article below:

Twenty-one states and 35 cities and counties are set to raise their minimum wages on or about New Year’s Day, according to a report provided exclusively to USA TODAY by the National Employment Law Project (NELP), a worker advocacy group.

Base hourly pay will climb from $11 to $12 in Illinois; from $9.25 to $10.50 in Delaware; from $9.50 to $11 in Virginia; from $12 to $13 for most workers in New Jersey; and from $10.50 to $11.50 in New Mexico.

Since some governments will act later in the year, a total of 25 states and 56 localities – a record 81 jurisdictions – will lift their pay floors sometime in 2022, according to NELP….

Besides California and New York, nine states are headed to a $15 pay base over the next four years – Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Virginia. They’ll join 50 localities at or on the way to $15, including Chicago, Minneapolis and Washington, D.C.

All told, by 2026, about 40% of the U.S. workforce will be covered by $15 minimum wage mandates, NELP figures show.

Separately, at least 100 or so mostly large companies already have raised their pay floors to $15 or higher, including Best Buy, Costco, Wayfair, The Container Store and Southwest Airlines, according to the NELP study.”  

With living wages for individuals, two-person and greater families at a higher rate than the national minimum wage, it is good to see these jurisdictions and employers recognize this. Right now, retailers, restaurants, customer service jobs are available. Just check out the signs for hire when you walk in the door. People have been voting with their feet doing other jobs instead. Some have decided to do a compilation of independent contractor jobs to get by, rather than work on someone else’s schedule.

Having worked as a volunteer to help working homeless families, these wages increases are good to see. Too many of our clients were working at insufficient wages at multiple jobs to meet the rent demands. The demand for workers is also good to see as people will have more choices. With any job, but especially a customer facing one, do yourself a favor and make yourself valuable. Do these things and you will see some success – show up, show up on time and show up dressed with a helpful attitude.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/markets/minimum-wage-is-about-to-rise-in-21-states-35-localities-as-more-embrace-15-an-hour/ar-AARYykL?ocid=msedgntp

Art by the incarcerated proven to reduce recidivism

“Do you believe in redemption?” asks a senior Maine prison executive during a piece on CBS Sunday Morning News yesterday called “Art by the incarcerated. The piece can be linked to below, but here is a summary of its theme.

“Inmates at Maine’s state prisons, many of whom are facing decades behind bars without a chance of parole, are finding new purpose through creative expression, making artwork and crafts for sale outside of prison walls. Correspondent Nancy Giles reports on a program that correction officials say has reduced recidivism dramatically.”

The art these incarcerated men are creating ranges from paintings to carvings to furniture to crochets to dollhouses and other crafts. Their creations are sold in nearby shops and presented in galleries. Some men will never get out due to their crimes, yet those who do have one thing largely in common – they do not return.

The recidivism rate, where inmates are sent back to prison, has reduced to 5%. That is not a misprint. Saying it differently, only 1 in 20 of these men return to prison. These incarcerated men have gained a new purpose and focus for their post-prison lives. As the inmates noted, they have families on the outside who still care for them. So, for their loved ones to see their artwork in a gallery or to be able to buy it in a store is beyond encouraging.

As the above executive noted, regardless of one’s political beliefs, we are spending $46,000 per annum to incarcerate someone. If we do not teach them how to do better once they leave and address the underlying problems, then that $46,000 is a bad spend. The men have learned a new calling, either through teaching or being self-taught. One man learned to carve an elaborate Golden Eagle from a book. Another called his skill “learning by trial and error.”

The fledgling program was fueled by a $2 million donation by Doris Buffett, who is from the area. Her last name shows a relationship to her wealthy and philanthropic brother. One of the co-curators of the museum noted when she first met these men, she was struck by how unlike they were from her initial perceptions. She noted how “kind” they were.

These are the kinds of stories that need a wide audience. Teaching people new skills pays dividends. Not only to them, but the dividends are paid to society by helping them avoid future incarceration and contribute to the economy and community.

https://www.cbs.com/shows/cbs-sunday-morning/video/jhvysgpZoc2YkgKnrfuiUzZtEz86p2TF/art-by-the-incarcerated/

Interesting news item on lead pipe and paint removal

In the midst of all the falderol about the former president’s last Chief of Staff, something good is happening. Part of the recently passed bipartisan infrastructure bill will help with lead pipe and paint removal. This has been a festering problem and not just for the folks in Flint, Michigan.

In an article called “Harris announces Biden administration’s new lead pipe and paint removal effort,” by Kevin Liptak and Kate Sullivan of CNN, it speaks to why this is a concern and what is going to happen.

“Vice President Kamala Harris on Thursday announced a new administration push to eliminate lead from water pipes and homes in the next decade using billions in new funding allocated through the new bipartisan infrastructure law.

‘Here’s the truth, and it’s a hard truth: Millions of people in our country, many of them children, are still exposed to lead every day,’ Harris said at the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations in Washington.

The vice president said many parents across the country have told her they were worried ‘that every time they turned on the faucet to give their child a glass of water that they may be filling that glass with poison.’

‘The science is clear about what drinking water from a lead pipe can do to the human body,’ Harris said. ‘For adults, it can cause an increase in blood pressure and decreased kidney function. In children, it can severely harm mental and physical development. It can stunt growth, slow down learning and cause irreparable damage to the brain.’

Through the administration’s new Lead Pipe and Paint Action Plan, agencies will take a number of steps meant to remove the toxic metal from places where people live, work or go to school. Harris said the push would focus on communities that have “historically been left out or left behind.”

The Environmental Protection Agency will begin the process of writing new regulations that would protect communities from lead in drinking water; the Department of Labor will form technical assistance hubs to fast-track removal projects with union workers; agencies will commit to removing lead service lines and paint in federally assisted housing; and a new Cabinet group will focus on lead removal in schools and child care facilities.”

The Infrastructure Bill is about ten years over due in my mind. It has long been supported by the US Chamber of Commerce and the labor unions, as it helps invest in America and creates jobs. And, it has always received bipartisan support. Ironically, the last former president spoke of improving infrastructure during his 2016 campaign, but missed a chance to address it during his term.

This aspect of the bill is vital as it is addressing something that is harming our children. And, that is certainly a very good thing.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/white-house-to-announce-new-lead-pipe-and-paint-removal-effort/ar-AARSxCE?ocid=msedgntp

Speaking of old work suits

I wrote the other day about sorting through my remaining work suits and sports coats and slacks donating the lion’s share and saving a couple for funerals and weddings. It reminded me of some funny work clothing stories that occurred to me and others. Some I may have written about before.

There was the time I put a Mickey D’s coffee in the car coffee holder without the lid to let it cool, only to see it slosh over on half of my dress shirt when I had to veer in traffic. I was beyond the halfway point, so I had to go on to my meeting with this large brown stain. Note this was before Mickey D’s was sued for serving scalding hot coffee.

There was the time I was headed to a board meeting with a colleague and I had a flat tire. I left him in the car, since he was the lead speaker, and changed the tire during a hot summer day. We arrived right on time, but I had to run to the restroom to wash up and felt sweaty the whole meeting. By the way, the meeting went well, building off the goodwill of tire changing.

There was the time I made a speech in the winter-time dressed in a wool suit. Very bad idea. A heated room plus nervousness leads to sweating. And, more sweating. I think I sweated more that day than at my wedding altar in August.

There was the time a colleague had an ink pen explode in his pocket leaving a large black circle on his white dress shirt. He spent half the meeting trying to cover the stain with his suit coat. We thought he was going to rip his coat lapel off.

There was a time a female colleague was walking in her dress pump shoes and her heel caught one of those steel grates on the sidewalk that cover basement areas. She left her shoe behind and had to go retrieve it. This happened to my wife’s shoe as well.

Dress shoes are slippery on the bottom, especially on ice. I once slipped twice on the icy sidewalks when my dress shoe hit one of those iron grates that cover tree roots. I just had to laugh, as it must have been funny. I was just glad I did not rip open my pants on the sidewalk.

There was the time I had a zipper malfunction on my suit pants. The short-term solution was a safety pin, but it left me with concern, shall we say. The funniest part is I was the source of endless joking for the next several days.

Finally, women have had to deal with the former common problem of stockings or panty hose running at work, as they would catch a corner of a desk drawer or just simply tear. Unless it is cold, most women no longer wear stockings, or at least as much as they used to.

I have had other issues with buttons breaking and shirt cuffs fraying, as dry cleaners will wreak havoc on buttons and shirt cuffs. A tie can hide the top button, but collar buttons are the ones that stand out. Plus, it is amazing what you notice about a frayed shirt cuff in the light of day, that you overlooked in the closet that morning.

Having extra safety pins in your car and desk is a good idea. Women used to have extra panty hose in their desk drawers. Having one of those Tide pens to cover small stains helps too. I never carried a spare shirt in the trunk or desk, but that is not a bad idea. Clothes deteriorate, so stand ready.

Tell me some of your clothing stories. I am sure we all have had a few of them.

Lower-cost clean energy rises in NC

The following are a few excerpts from an editorial written in The Charlotte Observer on Sunday by columnist Ned Barnett. While the focus is on what North Carolina has done the past ten years, it shows what can happen with a focus on renewables and attracting business. It should be noted a lot of NC’s success is in part due to companies like Amazon, Facebook (now Meta), Google and IKEA setting up centers powered by renewable energy, which got the attention of legislators.

“A new report from Environment America Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group gives North Carolina strong grades for renewable energy. In measures of growth since 2011, North Carolina ranks third nationally in solar power, 10th in energy efficiency, 17th in electric vehicle sales, 20th in battery storage of renewable energy and 26th in wind power. ‘It’s amazing the difference that a decade can make and how many people are choosing to embrace renewable energies like solar power,’ said Krista Early, an advocate with Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center.

That growth raises prospects that seemed hopelessly remote just a decade ago: widespread use of electric cars that could eliminate the volatile cost of gas and a power grid driven by renewable energy that will reduce utility bills. North Carolina’s move toward renewables will be accelerated by this year’s passage of a major energy bill, House Bill 951.

Steve Levitas, a vice president at Pine Gate Renewables in Asheville, one of the nation’s fastest growing renewable energy companies, said the new state law will have a big effect. ‘HB 951 is going to drive a dramatic transformation of the state energy sectors,’ he said. ‘It will drive retirement of (Duke Energy’s) coal fleet and will result in more renewables. That’s going to happen.’

The new federal infrastructure law and the possible passage of the Build Back Better bill will also expand the use of renewable energy. While renewables still produce a small fraction of electric power, Levitas said the rising use of solar and wind power will make renewable energy an increasingly cheaper option to fossil fuels. ‘People predicted a long time ago that if you created demand, that would drive down costs and that’s been proven to be true many times over,’ he said.”

Note, while the reference to renewables providing a small fraction of electric power may be true in NC, in places like Iowa, Texas, California, Oklahoma, et al, the percentages are not small fractions. Iowa gets over 40% of its electricity from wind energy while Texas is right at 20% on electricity from renewables, primarily wind energy.

Progress is being made, but we now need to hasten it as we have passed the tipping point. Yet, what business has started realizing the past several years, if they do not keep up, their ability to compete may be compromised. State legislatures must recognize this as well.

Read more at: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/article256092197.html#storylink=cpy

I am thankful (a reprise)

The following post was written nine years ago. We are up to 36 years of marriage and are now retired, my mother has since passed due to Alzheimer’s complications, our children are now adults, my sister moved up here to be close by and the summer moments have subsided for the most part, we think.

In the quiet before we continue our preparations for the feast and family arrivals this Thanksgiving, I wanted to share a few thoughts to my blogging friends. Please feel free to respond with your own as we have a nice community that comes together on-line from around the planet. I have seen other comments and stories on their blogs, but always welcome the company here. I am thankful for….

– my bride of 27 years. We ying and yang pretty well together on our journey. We are both dealing with her extended “summer moments” as she calls this phase of her life. I end up wearing more sweaters as she freezes us all to stay cool, but she in turn deals with my many issues and imperfections and has for years.

– my healthy family of five; we are far from perfect, but we do the best we can. And, when we fail, we help each other up and encourage us to do better. I tell people who are expecting their first child, you never know how much your parents truly love you until you have a child of your own. My cup runneth over with three.

– my mom. My dad has been gone for six years and is remembered well. She is teacher for life, both to her former students, bible study class and her children. Mom, you are the best.

– my sister who moved back to live with my mom. For adult daughters who can envision living with a parent as an adult, you can appreciate my thanks to my sister and wish for her the patience of Job, wisdom of Solomon and the space for her time.

– my new teammates at work. I left a bigger company with many bureaucracies and listmakers who wanted to tell people who knew what they were doing, how to do their job. I am now with a small company who has people who know what they are doing and we try to do something unique – provide the opportunity to do their job.

– my former colleagues at my old job in my office and around the world. You are the company, not that bureaucratic mess. Good people over come bad structure, but it should not be so hard. I miss the ones who gave a damn about serving our clients and each other.

– my friends and relatives. It will be great to see many of them today. And, although I am not in touch with friends like I should, I remember them well. Plus, my new job allows me to see more work related friends and colleagues. That is very nice.

– and, finally, my new blog friends. I enjoy reading what you think, how you think, what you believe and your life based context for these perspectives. I very much enjoy your reflections on your history and current joys and challenges. Keep on writing and I will keep on reading and offering a comment or two.

Happy Thanksgiving. This holiday is truly what is best about America. The others pale in comparison. I hope people around the world have something similar they can call home.  Best regards to all.

Don’t let Black Friday take you into the red, plus other savings ideas (a reprise)

In the US, the day after Thanksgiving is known as “Black Friday” which is the official launch of holiday shopping. Some even start on Thanksgiving, which is usurping the best family holiday in America, for people to spend money. If you are an American or know one, you know that Americans like to do two things more than anything else – be entertained and buy stuff.

I have written before about ways to save money, as we have too many folks who want yours. Let me use this Black Friday to rehash a few of them and speak to the holiday season where buying gifts is done in excess. If you follow a few of these, you will end up with more money to live better, have less stress, retire earlier, and be more in control of your life. In no particular order:

– you don’t need to participate in Black Friday. Trust me, the retailers will get desperate closer to Christmas and layer in discounts. You will also be less tempted to buy if you take your time.

– speak with your family and friends about gift giving. Maybe you could limit the giving to the kids or have a charity donation for adults donating a small sum to a favorite charity of the recipient.

– for year-round, do not play the lottery. I have written several posts on this, but my favorite line is from John Oliver who stated your chances of winning the lottery are the same as being struck by lightning while being bitten by a shark. Save the $10 a week and at year-end you will have $520 plus interest.

– for borrowing, tear up all credit cards but one or two. You do not need more than that. My wife and I get 3 to 5 offers a week for new cards. You get very popular when you manage your debt and save a lot of money.

– do not borrow from pay-day lenders. They are one step above leg-breakers and you will quickly spiral into a rabbit hole of debt with over a 1000% interest rate. I am not making this up. This is about the worst thing you could do if in trouble.

– be wary of credit consolidators. They are not all created equal, so do your homework. Also, there are a number of non-profit advisors who can help you consolidate or manage your debt.

– be wary of for-profit colleges which are 5 to 6 times the cost of community colleges. A rule of thumb, the bigger the celebrity advertising the college, the worse its record for graduating. These colleges prey on veterans, spend more on marketing than education and graduate less than 15% of their students.

– if you have no health coverage, sign up for the Affordable Care Act at http://www.healthcare.gov. Subsidies to pay for premiums are available up to $95,000 in income for a family of four, higher if a larger family and lower if smaller. Healthcare coverage will get you doing preventive medicine rather than reactive medicine and keep you from going bankrupt.

– if you work, save in your 401(k) plan or something similar. Using payroll deduction, it is like paying yourself first, especially when the employer will match your savings.

– walk more, drive less. Many stores are within walking distance, so if not buying many things grab a tote bag and walk. Your health and the environment will benefit, plus most accidents occur within a mile of your home. And, with one bag, you have to limit your buying.

Finally, be wary of scammers. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Many scammers prey on church and association leaders to get at others, prey on the elderly with confusion, and prey on everyone with fear (IRS scams, power shut off scams, computer repair scams, etc.). If someone offers you a potential high rate of return with no risk of loss, it is a scam.

If you do all of these things, great. If you know someone who would benefit from the advice of an old fart, please send them this link. Always remember, you do not have to buy anything except food, water, minimal clothing, transportation and shelter. The rest becomes wants and can be managed. Happy holidays.

It is all about The Donald

Yesterday, the former president was giving a speech during which he again lambasted thirteen Republican representatives who voted in favor of the infrastructure bill. One of those thirteen, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis of New York was in the audience. According to news reports, she was visibly shaken, as she probably knows what it means for the former president to rile up his base.

I called her for a second time this week, on top of my call to thank her for her vote and political courage. I also wanted to thank her for putting America’s interests ahead of those in her own party or at least those of a vocal and fervent base. The second call was to reiterate her courage and ask her to hang in there. We need more people to vote for what they believe is in her constituents better interests and not fewer.

Here is what I also told her. The former president forgets he campaigned in 2016 to pass an infrastructure bill. This is one of the few things I agreed with him on. So, did Democrats and folks like Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders welcomed discussion on infrastructure. Yet, the former president chose to try and take people’s healthcare access away first and foremost. Over four years, nothing on infrastructure happened after making a campaign promise..

Now that he lost the election because he got fewer votes overall and in key states, he is targeting anyone in his party who, in his mind, is helping the opposition. This in middle school behavior, saying I am not going to like you, because you like him. He is siccing his fervent base on them and some use vile threats against this group. Those targeted know this and still voted like they did. Now, why would they do this?

But, back to the infrastructure bill which will be signed Monday. Most Americans want the bill to happen. In fact, the Senate had nineteen Republican votes on top of the thirteen Republican representatives who voted in favor of the bill. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voted for it saying this week it is a “godsend” to the people of the state of Kentucky. Mind you, he did not see this is a pretty good bill for his constituents. He said it is a “godsend.” I will take that as an endorsement.

This former president is reacting like he usually does through the lens of an enormous and fragile ego. How does this bill’s passing affect me? Using a line that can be used with any narcissist, but applies here – it is all about the The Donald. America’s and Americans’ interests are always secondary to that of The Donald’s. That is why extorting other countries for gain and “burning it all down” as his niece said he would to overturn the election are so easy for him to consider and do.

And, for those who believe I am all wet, consider these two things. Why would a person in a leadership position have rallies in February, 2020 when admitting to Bob Woodward on February 7, 2020 that he knew of the dangers of COVID-19. He had several rallies of his most loyal followers, lambasting COVID-19 as a Democratic hoax (that would go on to kill 750,000 Americans), and without letting his most ardent followers know they may be in danger. If that were not enough, he had a big party at the White House later in the year, where about a half-dozen folks caught COVID-19, which may have been where he contracted it.

Why does he do these things? It is an easy answer – the adulation. Full stop. It is all about The Donald. And, Representative Malliotakis and the 31 other Republicans who voted for the infrstructure bill (not just twelve others), thank you for your service to our country.