Go-away pay

Seeing the latest executive, this one with a last name of Falwell, walk away with “go-away” pay totaling $10 million, it reminds me of a broken recording playing the same song over and over again. Mr. Falwell left his leadership position because he embarrassed the reputation of Liberty University with his sexual activities with his wife and another. Could he have survived if the university was not a Christian founded one or his name was anything but Falwell? We will never know.

What further troubles many is Falwell was not fired for “cause” under his employment contract. He was let go with a severance payment. My educated guess is the Board of the university did not want to risk a law suit and fire him over cause. There are a few viable reasons for this conclusion. The directors may have their own employment contracts with their employers and do not want to go on record identifying what they think “cause” is. Another reason is money. The university may spend in legal fees and damaging publicity what they spend to make Falwell go away. It is easier to pay someone to go away. Plus, they have worked with him, so he earned some goodwill with the Board.

Yet, this is not new. It has happened since the invention of executive employment contracts. It is reported, Roger Ailes, the creator and president of Fox News, got $37 million in go-away pay after being credibly accused of multiple cases of sexual misconduct. Further, like other entertainment companies, it is reported Ailes tolerated an old-boys club where other “talents” also were accused of sexual misconduct. It is reported a famous “talent” was also paid go-away money, eg. Ailes could have been charged with “cause,” but refer to the reasons above as to why he was not. I would add a fourth for him as the Board wanted to honor his creation of this news/ entertainment network.

Sadly, it does not stop with sexual misconduct. CEOs can wreck a company’s reputation or financials and still walk away with go-away pay. I know of more than a few situations where this has occurred. And, the severance is usually a 1 to 2.99 times multiple of pay. The reason for the decimals is severance pay above 3 x compensation causes some tax issues. So, companies do what they can to keep the amount below that threshold.

Executive severance pay is a key feature of employment contracts. Most often it is deployed in merger situations where companies sell themselves and the leadership of the selling company walks away with golden parachutes. Having worked in consulting and in large companies, I can assure you that the executive ranks of a selling company spends too much time talking about severance at the expense of making the transition work. What is less an issue is these executives stopped trying to make their old company work and realized it was easier to sell and jump out of the plane with that golden parachute.

The further down the totem pole finds average workers who just get let go if they do wrong. Or, the severance pay may be only a few weeks of pay. So, having a contract means you can usually walk away with money when you make yourself expendable. Only when right-sizings, downsizings or RIFs (Reductions in Force) occur, do the lower paid folks walk away with a little more.

The nonpartisan Concord Coalition on the absent relief package

The Concord Coalition is a nonpartisan group that researches and educates on the US deficit and debt problems. The following was in my inbox from that group and it speaks for itself.

“The following is written from the perspective of Concord Coalition Policy Director, Tori Gorman.

Avid readers of The Lookout will notice that my missive today is unlike any of my previous entries. If you are accustomed to the colorful charts and technical policy analyses that usually accompany my posts, my sincerest apologies. Those features will return, but today’s post is from the heart.

Last week I fully anticipated that I would be spending my waking hours prior to publication of this newsletter buried in legislative text, frantically distilling the latest coronavirus relief package from Congress for our readers. Instead, I find myself staring at an empty desk while federal officials jet home for their sacrosanct August recess. Why? Because despite over 160,000 Americans dead from COVID-19, a record-setting decline in economic activity, over 31 million people collecting some form of unemployment, and millions of children unable to return to school, lawmakers refused to compromise.

Unconscionable.

Each side has expressed support for another pandemic relief bill and each side has tendered their initial offer. The House-passed HEROES Act would spend another $3.4 trillion whereas the Senate Republican package of proposals would spend closer to $1.2 trillion. Clearly there is plenty of playing field in between to reach agreement.

On what planet is an acceptable outcome ZERO?

To add insult, on August 8, President Trump announced with great flourish a series of toothless executive memoranda from the ballroom of his eponymous Bedminster golf club – actions that will have virtually no effect except to make any further negotiations more difficult: A payroll tax proposal that neither side in Congress supports, a pseudo-unemployment insurance scheme virtually no state can navigate nor afford, an eviction ‘moratorium’ that isn’t, and student loan action that could have been, and should have been, more robust.

At some point in our political history ‘compromise’ became a dirty word. Somewhere it became acceptable in an election year for Congress to punt the people’s work until the November results were known. In today’s environment, however, where twin crises are leaving a trail of death and destruction, it is imperative that lawmakers rise above the low expectations they champion, return to Washington, and do the work they were elected to do.

Americans deserve no less.”

What the president has fashioned with executive orders is beyond his authority. Congress has the purse strings given to them by the Constitution. What the president has proposed is unworkable in parts and unwieldy in others. But, again we are not an autocracy and Congress needs to do its job.

What I also find interesting is the president’s executive order did not include a price tag on debt impact. I have done some back of the envelope calculations and it is likely nearer the $1.2 trillion GOP figure, if it is not extended, but we just do not know. I also feel that cutting FICA taxes will be harmful to Social Security and Medicare, at a time when they need more funding not less.

Yet, what no one has done is calculate what we need to do, including all three parties, the Senate, the House and White House. The House at least passed a bill on May 15, but the Senate could not bring themselves to debate and vote until the bewitching hour. Frankly, that is poor leadership by Senator Mitch McConnell and the president. Crisis planning is often not the best of planning.

You would think our so-called leaders could take the time to do some homework. But, what do I know?

Brief letter to Senators and Congress people (sent Saturday morning)

I posted the following on the my two Senators (and select others) and Congressman’s websites.

I am disappointed that Congress has failed to reach a decision to help people. As with any communication problem, it is the fault of at least two parties, so the president’s attempt to blame only the Democrats is just more posturing than fact. Please find a way to make a deal. Americans are hurting and the president does not have the authority to do what is needed.

I am big believer we must deal with the debt, but the hypocrisy of the Freedom Caucus and others astounds me. They had no trouble in voting for a $1.5 trillion tax bill when it helped the wealthy and businesses at a time when we should have been reducing debt with a pretty good economy. So, we wasted that debt cost to make a pretty good economy a little better for a little while. Now, we need to help people.

Is the Democrat request to high? Likely. Is the GOP insistence of helping employers escape liability an insensitive move? Likely. A payroll FICA tax cut is not the answer as it won’t be as accretive to the economy as extended unemployment benefits. People with jobs will save more of the money and pay down debt, but those without income will spend it.

I beseech you to get back to work and do your job. It needs to be done in the right way and not left to a perception-focused and autocratic bent president. We cannot give any president more power than they have, but especially this one.

Please feel free to adapt and use, now that the president has made an executive order doing things he does not have the authority to do.

Some very stupid questions

It is disappointing the US Congress cannot come to an agreement to help people in these difficult times. Republicans and Democrats are to blame, in spite of the president’s modus operandi to blame only the Democrats. It takes at least two parties to have a communication problem.

In this case, three parties as the White House is not on the same page with its own Republican legislators. And, one of its negotiators, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, has had a career of blowing up legislation when in Congress. Let’s hope this is worked out this weekend, as the last person to try to make changes, because he is limited legally and facts are secondary, is the president.

So, with this in mind, let me ask some very stupid questions on this and other issues.

– One of the sticking points is giving companies liability protections from employees who are forced to work in unsafe conditions and exposed to COVID-19. Since many who have gotten the virus work in jobs where they do not have choices and must come to work even when sick, how does this help people other than the employers?

– The president wants to have a FICA tax payroll cut, a large one. Since you must have a job to pay FICA taxes, how does this help the unemployed folks? A corollary question is how do you know people working will spend the extra cash and not save it and pay down debt? If they do this, it will be less accretive to the economy, than giving money to those without income.

– The pandemic is now reaching into more rural areas and states that had not as much exposure. Right now, South Dakota has an influx of 250,000 motorcyclists for an annual event, who are mask less and not socially distancing, as South Dakota has not had such requirements. How will this not impact South Dakota folks and the attendees in a negative way? If 10% need to be checked and 10% who are tested have COVID-19, that means 2,500 of these bikers may have it. Even if it is less, this virus does not spread arithmetically, it is exponential.

– The US intelligence folks note they have evidence that Russia, China and Iran are trying to influence the election, Russia being the most active since it has been doing it effectively since 2014. Russia again is helping Trump, as they see him as the best weapon to disrupt America’s power and influence. China wants Biden, as they are tired of dealing with such an unpredictable person. China’s ascendency has been enabled by Trump with his retrenchment from global agreements and tariffs, yet China would rather deal with a rational person than the mercurial and perception-focused Trump. With this confirmation, why has this president and Congress not done even more to assure the elections are protected? This lack of interest and urgency, which includes the reluctant Mitch McConnell, dates back two years or more.

– Several states have relied only on mail-in voting and about thirty-five states have used it to more than a minimal extent. The president again is stating fraud risk for something that works well and, as per usual, offers no proof. Why is the president so against mail-in voting when even Republican legislators support it? The answer is the same as above, if he loses, he wants to have reasons to claim fraud and sue. Quite simply, the president’s ego does not handle losing very well.

– Finally, we have 160,000 plus COVID-19 deaths and the president behind the curtain keeps telling us everything is going well. When asked in an interview last week about the 1,000 deaths per day, he said “it is what it is.” Why does he not treat this pandemic with a seriousness of purpose – wearing a mask routinely, requiring the wearing of masks, condemning people who are critical of people trying to help, requiring social distancing, and supporting decisions on how states and communities reopen?

I have many more stupid questions. But, let me pick up on the president’s quote, which I have never liked when used by anyone – “it is what it is.” How can reasonable people not use this same quote to try understand why the Trump presidency is replete with chaos, incompetence, lying, bullying and corruption? I guess “it is what it is.”

Let’s keep our eye on the ball

Let’s keep our eye on the ball. Yes, we need to find smart ways to improve commerce and get more people working, but 157,000 plus Americans have died from COVID-19 and that number is growing.

I read this morning that Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is encouraging folks to wear masks, socially distance, avoid large groups and wash your hands to save lives, is getting death threats. Really? A man trying to save lives is getting death threats?

A real leader would not let this happen. A leader would be straightforward and truthful from the outset. When the US president started lying about the pandemic in January, he set in motion more lying by him and his sycophants. So, steps that could have been taken earlier, were not.

If he had been truthful from the outset, more people would take this pandemic seriously. Fauci would not be getting death threats and, if he did, a leader would tell people to stop that BS. And, BS is actually kind to describe people who threaten the life of anyone, much less someone trying to help others.

A real leader would tell us to keep our eye on the ball. He would not have to be reminded to keep his eye on the ball.

People are dying, mr. president.

Is this what a president for the common man does?

Many of the Trump base have no idea they are voting against their economic interests. This advertised populist, common man president, fails to let folks know the following:

– in his first two hours of being president, he repealed a regulation that would have reduced homeowners insurance premiums for securing mortgages with the less than 20% down, that was scheduled to go in effect February 1, 2017. This would have helped about one million low income homeowners.

– he has hobbled the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was very successful, but banks and credit card companies did not like it. The CFPB penalized these companies for fraudulent and aggressive lending practices, with 95% of the fines going to cheated consumers. In short, the CFPB helps folks who are targeted.

– he eliminated a new requirement that said all investment advisors have to be fiduciaries, meaning they must put your interests ahead of their own. This was done to help investment advisors, paid by the transaction, to encourage sales that may not be in your best interests.

– he passed a tax bill that favored the elites and businesses, under the guise of helping everyone. To keep the bill down to costing only $1.5 trillion in debt, he had to have some pay higher taxes – a sneaky requirement noted that state and local tax deductions were capped at $10,000, so if you owned a house and lived in a state where income tax occurred, your tax bill may increase. Note, folks who do not itemize deductions, tended to come out ahead with the change.

– he failed to tell people (actually lying about the impact routinely) the tariffs would be paid for by consumers when importers passed along the cost. He has routinely lied saying China will pay the tariffs, but that simply is not true. Each time he said this, economists would rebut his lie.

– he also lied about an ACA change he made that increased premiums for people, saying it would only impact insurer profits. In essence, he ceased the subsidy to insurers to repay them for paying deductibles, copays, etc. for members making less than 2 1/2 times the poverty rate. Insurers honored their written commitment (Trump did not) and subsidies went up to pay for the resulting increase in premiums. BCBS of North Carolina said premiums the next year were going to increase by 0%, but with the Trump change, they went up by over 6%. The CBO said the increase in subsidies increased the deficit by $10 billion per annum and unsubsidized folk saw premium increases.

– he has advocated a COVID-19 relief bill which will prevent employees from suing employers for endangering them with COVID-19 exposure.

– finally, environmental deregulation hurts those in poverty more, as they have fewer choices as to where to live.

There is more. With his attacks on the ACA, with a pending lawsuit that would harm it, more of Trump’s base will be harmed. Plus, with his misinformation and mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are being harmed and dying. Of all that I mentioned, his callousness and negligence in COVID-19 handling is the most prominent failure that impacts people.

So, in turn for getting protection over gun rights and attacks on abortion access, the president has largely screwed over his base and they have no idea he has.

Planning and more planning to reopen schools (then plan some more)

Listening to a well-rounded discussion on NPR on going back to school makes one realize the need to plan. Buses, class sizes, cleaning, masking, outside vs. inside schooling, etc. All with a back drop of limited budgets. If this is the path forward, we should not be planning today, what should have been done months ago. The continuation of the COVID-19 pandemic should not have been a surprise with the caution-to-the-wind re-openings fueled by the president and some impatient governors. So, planning ahead should have started before the past few weeks.

NPR also played several vignettes from interviews with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. She led off several comments with “As everyone knows…” Actually that is a false introduction, as everyone does not know. It is a ploy to make the listener cede her point. Here are a few things to consider, which are not being so considered, in this binary discussion of to re-open or not.

– Schools include teachers, administrators, staff, bus drivers, etc. who are not children. Some are even in their fifties. They will be at risk as will be the folks they come in contact with.

– Kids may be less susceptible to dying, but they can still get COVID-19 and can become carriers. They have parents and grandparents and come in contact with other adults and children as will these folks.

– Kids can be harmed by COVID-19. A rising senior who had COVID-19 says walking to the bathroom even now that she has recovered leaves her out of breath. So, she is frightened by coping with walking the halls of the school. She could not even read her own story on a local NPR show, as she did not have the wind capacity, so a reporter read her narrative.

I know parents and kids want to go back to school. We all want our economy back to normal. But, we let misinformation create false hope. Misinformation has and still gives people a false sense of security. Masks, social distancing, hand-cleaning, less hand-to-face contact, etc. are keys regardless of the path we choose. What we lose sight of is the exponential risk of contact.

So, we need to plan for all variables. We need to allow for the safest path forward. That may be delay for some. That may be online schooling for others. That may include small class sizes with outdoor learning. Whatever it is, the path will not be a normal one for quite some time. And, if any politician tells you differently, then they are not shooting straight with you. So, we must look out for each other. Is that too much to ask?

David Brooks pens an editorial – President Biden’s first day

David Brooks has long been my favorite conservative pundit. I first became aware of him as he teamed with more liberal Mark Shields to do a recap of the week on the Friday show of PBS Newshour. They epitomized the PBS doctrine of civil discourse. I have read two of Brooks’ books – “The Social Animal” and “The Road to Character” – which are excellent reads, and have had the good fortune of hearing him speak.

Like other conservative pundits, George Will, Michael Gerson, Erick Erickson, et al, Brooks is deeply disappointed in the actions, verbiage and temperament of the current US president. So, when he penned the editorial, “President Biden’s first day,” I was intrigued and not surprised. Here are a few quotes that shape the article.

“The first thing you’ll notice is the quiet. If Joe Biden wins this thing, there will be no disgraceful tweets and no furious cable segments reacting to them on Inauguration Day.”

“Republicans will pretend they never heard his (Trump’s) name. Republican politicians are not going to hang around a guy they privately hate and who publicly destroyed their majority.”

“It is very hard for Republicans to demonize Biden because he comes from the sort of background that Trumpian conservatives celebrate.”

“His (Biden’s economic) agenda is more New Deal than New Left. In the two speeches he has delivered so far there are constant references to our manufacturing base – infrastructure, steelworkers, engineers, ironworkers, welders, 500,000 charging stations for electric cars. ‘When I think of climate change, the word I think of is jobs,’ he declared.”

“The agenda pushes enormous resources toward two groups: first, African-Americans, who have been pummeled by deindustrialization for decades; and second, white working class Trump voters.

“Everybody says Biden is a moderate, and in intellectual and temperamental terms that is true. But he has found a way to craft an agenda that could reshape the American economy and the landscape of American politics in fundamental ways.”

The entire piece can be found with the following link. I will not comment on the above here and let Brooks’ thoughts filter in. Let me know your reactions, thoughts, etc.

Wear sunscreen and other advice

The following post is from eight years ago, but still resonates, at least to this old guy. I hope you will agree

Back in the late 1990s, there was a song that was quite popular with the young crowd. Song is too generous. It is basically an old guy like me who gave words of advice from the perspective of someone who had made more mistakes than the younger listeners primarily because he had more years behind him than they had. The kids called it “The Sunscreen” song as it started and ended with those words of advice – wear sunscreen.

So, in this spirit, I offer some words of advice, which may be helpful or may just be redundant. Hopefully, the reader will find some benefit in a one or two comments. So, in no particular order, here a few thoughts from an old fart.

Context is everything. Please try to understand the context of everything you hear or read. Anyone can be made foolish by taking their words out of context.

Spin doctor is a nice euphemism for “paid liar.” Don’t ever forget it is the job of the spin doctor to perfume any pig. See the above about context.

Try to understand the source of information. Is it reputable? There is a lot of uncensored data on the Internet which is not worth the binary code it is written in. Also, be even more wary of politicians who cite data. Many surveys are sponsored by political parties under mainstream names.

You can be too connected. Folks, take a break and stop looking at your I-phone. Companies love the fact that you are doing your job at 10 pm or on vacation – don’t. Trust me it will still be there when you return or better yet, someone else will solve an issue that was not that important to begin with.

It is not possible to be texting or on the I-phone while driving and not be distracted. “Mythbusters” did a neat driving test which showed you could drive better inebriated than when on a cellphone.

Just because you can does not mean that you should. Computers have enabled us to do wondrous things. Yet, they also provide temptations to do things that you probably should not do.Computer actions leave interesting trails, so your employer or significant other can see when you given in to temptations.

Getting elected to public office costs way too much money. So, politicians need funders to get elected. As a result, the best a politician can be is mildly subjective. This is the best case for term limits I can make. Maybe the backers would not contribute as much if their return on investment is time limited.

Be careful with your personal information. You have to be zealous in guarding against your information. ID theft is a painful process. Be careful in what you put in the public domain. It is very easy to get to. I have been down that road several times to keep the wolves at bay.

Your name is the most important asset you have. Quoting Liam Neeson in the movie “Rob Roy,” “honor is a gift you give yourself.” What do you want people to say about you when they hear your name spoken? He is a good man or he is a jerk.

While it is important to work, do not let it define who you are. I work hard, but when I had a health scare a few years ago and was in the ER with wires attached to me waiting for my wife to show up, I can assure you I did not think of work. I was thinking of my family.

Don’t play the lottery. If you have the urge, just give the money to a person in need instead. You will feel better about it and they will benefit. If you play it, you are just throwing money out the car window.

Laugh at yourself. When you make mistakes, it will make it easier on you and others. Also, if you do screw up, make it right. You won’t regret remedying an error.

Find out what you love to do and find a way to get paid doing it. Sometimes you may have to try on different jobs to discover this.

You can never have enough cups of coffee with people. Meet people, listen to them. Life is more enjoyable over conversations. Also, remember, you have two ears and one mouth, use them in that proportion. You are not as smart as you think you are, so listening makes all the difference.

Tell someone you love to have a good day and ask how it was at the end of it. Those little questions day in day out matter.

Finally, quoting Ted from the movie “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” – “Be excellent to one another and party on dude.” The best rule Jesus gave us was golden. It still makes sense today. And, have fun because life is too short.

Two quotes from a nice and effective public servant

The Charlotte Observer reported today that Boyd Cauble, a long time aide to many mayors of both parties passed away. Three things stand out about Cauble – he did not bring attention to himself, he was very effective working with officials in Raleigh and DC, and was a genuinely nice guy.

More than several of Charlotte’s major accomplishments can be traced to Cauble’s tireless advocacy. Rather than list such milestones, let me focus on two bookend quotes from Cauble from the article penned by Jim Morrill.

Morrill writes “Boyd Cauble lived by a simple credo: ‘Just be nice to people – you’ll be amazed what will happen.'”

When Cauble retired from the City, in an Observer article called “The City’s most influential guy you have never heard of,” he said at the time:

“‘I am a firm believer that if you don’t care who gets credit, you’ll gey a whole lot of things accomplished.'”

I encourage you to read these two quotes and contrast them to today’s partisan win/ lose debates that are a poor substitute for governance. All politicians (and business people or any team) from top to bottom could learn from these words.

Mayors from both parties lauded Cauble’s efforts. Vi Lyles, Charlotte’s current mayor and long time City leader, said “He helped bulld Charlotte.'”