Sometimes you have to go for it

Yesterday, golfer Gary Woodland won the US Open at Pebble Beach. For non-golf fans, I will be brief on the golf part. What was most memorable, Woodland decided on a key moment to not play it safe, but be aggressive and play to win. He hit an absolutely brilliant shot that led to a birdie on a par five and put him two shots ahead of the two-time defending champion.

As a former athlete who was limited in talent to playing on high school teams, the act of “going for it,” is an act of courage. You may fall on your face, but by taking a risk, even if it is a measured one, it may make all the difference. Why does the best basketball player usually take the key final shot when the other team is expecting him to do so? Because if you don’t and fail, you may regret not going with your best.

And, as one star basketball player said, I try to take the last shot because I can handle failure better than others. That last statement is vital. Taking a risk is a lot easier if you know you can handle a negative outcome.

There is a great line from the movie “We bought a zoo,” with Matt Damon. His older brother taught him “all you need is twenty seconds of courage.” I think that is priceless advice. In the movie Damon’s character summoned the courage to speak with an enchanting woman he had never met. And, she eventually became his wife. What if we don’t take that chance?

Again, the risk need not be foolish, but sometimes it is more than OK to go for broke. A measured risk is worth the chance. Yet, we often overstate the risk and perceived embarassment of failure, when the actual risk is more measured. As I told my kids, “What if the person says no? No, is just an answer, but it at least it is one.” Without asking, you will never know if there is interest in your company, your resume, your idea, etc.?

So, find that twenty seconds of courage and go for it. The answer may be no, but at least you gave it a shot.

 

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Underneath a few headlines

We get so consumed with the person who shall not be named, we lose sight of other stories. Here are a few on this Father’s Day.

– Hong Kong citizens reminded the financial city leaders they are promised a different path forward by their owner. One million people equal to 1/7 of the city’s population protested the proposed law to extradite people to mainland China. The law was postponed, as a result. It should be noted some big money investors threatened to move money to Singapore to aid their cause. I applaud their protest and shows the power of people. China can ill-afford the notoriety or flight of capital away from Hong Kong.

– An issue that needs attention today, is a subset of our US debt issue. Social Security will soon pay out more than its revenues. This will draw down the trust fund in a way to require automatic 20% cuts in sixteen years. Of course, we could act now and make less onerous changes, but politicians are not even talking about this issue, which is par for the course, in my view. Why plan ahead they ask by their failure to act? I have seen exercises where a group of locals solve the Social Security funding dilemma. It should not be that hard for our representatives to act like such.

– Another shooting at Costco in the Los Angeles area occurred this weekend. Public shootings are now so commonplace in the US, it made page four of my newspaper. And, that shows how derelict our so-called leaders are in failing to do anything of substance. We have become too inured to gun deaths in the US. This makes me sad and angry that our representatives are failing to address a huge problem that is killing people. If Sandy Hook and Parkland school shootings can’t bring greater change, I truly do not know what will.

– Both Brazil and the US need more doctors, especially in rural areas. Brazil is seeing visiting Cuban doctors bail on them, as they are not getting paid what they are owed. Why is a good question? In the US, medical students are going more into specialty areas. With student debt, it is hard to practice in low income areas and in lower margin general services. There are good ideas with telemedicine, but doctors need to see their patients up close to assess risk, physical and environmental.

If you have not heard of these issues, it reveals how little we pay attention to news and news not related to a someone who commands so much attention. I am hard pressed to ever remember an occupant in the White House consume so much attention.

I could use a heavy dose of boring competence in a leader who need not be the center of attention. Maybe then, we could address some of these issues. So, let’s celebrate Hong Kong’s successful protest and speak to issues like these and others. Again, I hope fathers are having a wonderful day.

Just to be clear

Cutting through a lot of noise in the news, just to be clear:

– Getting dirt on a campaign opponent from a foreign entity is something of value – it is illegal to do this no matter how much it is rationalized by sycophants in your party. The message lost on the man in the White House is you don’t want to be beholden to a foreign government – that is why the law exists. The key question for me is the man speaking only of the future?

Watching the US Open at Pebble Beach on Monterrey Peninsula, my wife and I recall playing this course in 1992 about two months before the US Open at the same course. It is as beautiful as it looks on TV. The pros make this hard course look easy. Yet, one thing they don’t tell you on TV is guard your valuables and food as the seagulls swoop down and take them from unattended golf carts.

– When the Special Counsel in the Justice department, who the president appointed, says someone on the president’s staff is in violation of the Hatch Act (politicking on the taxpayer’s dime) after multiple warnings to cease and desist, action is required. Yet, unless she resigns, the “law does not apply to me” president won’t take action.

On the same trip we played Pebble Beach, my friend (we traveled with another couple) and I played Spyglass Hill as well. Pebble was hard, but Spyglass was painful. The first hole is over 600 yards – I thought I would never get to the green. We also played a course named Spanish Bay where the marshes are protected by law. You could see the result of an errant golf shot, but could not reclaim it due to the postings.

– Senator Mitch McConnell is the key blocker in passing a bill to further protect our election process. I have heard a security expert and a conservative pundit be critical of McConnell’s weak-kneed response. Both of these commenters said it us because McConnell did not want to hurt the president’s feelings as he gets volatile thinking people are questioning his legitimacy. Note the major take away from the Mueller report is the Russians influenced our elections. And, just today, there is an article that the EU thinks the Russians impacted their recent vote through social media.This is an indicting criticism of McConnell. Please ask him why.

The golf trip in 1992 led us to wine country for two days of tours. Too many tastes of wine will get you snockered. An interesting memory is the owner of one winery was out mowing the grass as we visited. Our final two days were in San Francisco, my favorite American city. We took the advice of our B&B chef and enjoyed some neat restaurants, one of which the wait staff sang opera and Broadway songs while serving.

– As with the US president, if the Brits end up with Boris Johnson as Prime Minister the two leading English speaking countries will be led by two people who have a very hard time with truth. That makes me sad for democracy. If Johnson wins, it will be interesting to see how Trump and Johnson handle their first disagreement when neither’s word is worth a darn. It is already apparent, Angela Merkel is the leading voice in the western world as she commands respect far more than either person.

I intermixed our trip to the San Francisco area with the current US Open there. I felt just talking only about the real news might be too depressing.  I hope all the fathers out there have a pleasant day tomorrow with their families.

Boom, boom, boom, boom – the US deficit and debt continue to explode

In honor of John Lee Hooker’s famous lyric, which is played at the beginning of “NCIS – New Orleans” and in the movie “Blues Brothers,” a good wake-up call for our US deficit and debt is “boom, boom, boom, boom.” Please note, this is not the trade deficit, which is overblown as a problem as we are more of a consumer nation. This is due to our government spending far more than they take in revenue.

Per the following introduction in a Bloomberg News article, “U.S. Budget Gap Balloons to $739 Billion Despite Tariff Revenue,” we have an escalating problem.

“The U.S. budget deficit widened to $738.6 billion in the first eight months of the fiscal year, a $206 billion increase from a year earlier, despite a revenue boost from President Donald Trump’s tariffs on imported merchandise.

The shortfall was 38.8% more than the same period a year ago, the Treasury Department said in its monthly budget review released on Wednesday. So far in the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, a revenue increase of 2.3% hasn’t kept pace with a 9.3% rise in spending.”

Right now, our US debt tallies more than $22 trillion and was expected to increase by $10 trillion over the next ten years, before the tax cuts in December, 2017. Our fiscal year runs October through September, so this is the first fiscal year with full benefit of the tax cuts. The Congressional Budget Office forewarned the tax cuts would increase the debt by $1.5 trillion over the next ten years over the already projected $10 trillion. That will put us closer to $34 trillion at that time.

Yet, Americans were told by the president and favorable politicians that the CBO was wrong and growth would accelerate enough to pay for the debt using the assertion “the tax cuts will pay for themselves.” Per the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, tax cuts do not pay for themselves, with the best historical result being in the neighborhood of 30%, but usually much less. That leaves 70% of the revenue reduction adding to the deficit in the best of times.

The reasons for the increase in deficit are increases in military, healthcare and interest cost spending, which have overshadowed the revenue increases due to the longest running economic growth period in the US. Even the worst budgeter amongst us knows, we should be paying down debt when times are good, not increasing it. Sadly, the economy has begun to slow some, so the tax cutter’s rosy projections of 4% and above growth have not materialized (except in an isloated quarter) and economists are expected  lower growth rates than the current 3% per annum the rest of the year.

Per The Concord Coalition, the above Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget and the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction plan from December, 2010, we must solve our deficit and debt problem through spending cuts and revenue increases (tax increases) both. The math will not otherwise work. If any politician, no matter how smugly, tells you otherwise, they are not be honest with you or are misinformed themselves.

To be brutally frank, I said so then, but the tax cuts passed in December, 2017 were malfeasance in my mind. We borrowed from our future to make a pretty good economy a little better. It was also hypocritical. Former Freedom Caucus members got elected saying the previous $5 trillion, then $8 trillion, then $13 trillion debts were abhorrent. Now, when it is just below $22 trillion, they pass a bill that increases it even more.

When I raised this with a Freedom Caucus staff member, he curtly told me the CBO is often wrong and they are wrong on this. My push back was simple. These folks do their homework to try and get it right. And, what I have found in my 40 years of adult life, is politicians hail the CBO when their number agree with their decision and call them on the carpet, when they don’t. Yes, it is a projection, but these folks try to be apolitical.

Folks, we have a problem that is not getting talked about enough. We must cut spending and raise revenue. My GOP friends have ceded their fiscal stewardship mantra – that is highly unfortunate. My Democrat friends need to question every candidate on how they plan to pay for their ideas and what they plan to do about the debt. We cannot have Medicare for all if we cannot pay for it.

So, let’s get real and ask politicians some pointed questions. If we don’t, John Lee Hooker will sing even more loudly. “Boom, boom, boom, boom.”

 

Out of the pool

I think it is time to fire any politician in Washington who is forgetting why they are there. We could start with the White House incumbent and then take out hundreds of members of Congress in both houses. I understand fully Congress must investigate and provide oversight over the Executive Branch. That is part of their job and the current incumbent has given them cause to dig further.

Yet, I have this simple idea that leaders of both houses sit down with legislative liaisons from the White House and figure out some things they can pass and sign into law. I think a civilian board could list about a dozen major issues to focus on and say work these out. It should not take a civilian board, but these folks are too beholden to funders to come up with a workable list.

A key reason for not listing the problems is too much discussion occurs around whether not solving an issue helps them politically. A curse word comes to mind, so please insert your favorite. A good example is a bipartisan Senate immigration bill was passed in 2013, but the House refused to take it up as leaving immigration unaddressed would help the Republicans in the 2014 midterms. The Democrats should not be smug as they do the same thing.

Because of the Republicans unhealthy focus on dismantling the Affordable Care Act, the party justifiably lost seats in the 2018 midterms. To be frank, they should have lost seats with a rushed process that did not follow form and came up with several awful ideas. They should also thank Senators John McCain, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski for saving them from themselves by voting against an ill-conceived vote.

But, what have Dems done with improving the ACA with their winning back the majority in the House – nothing other than “beating on their chest” bills that went nowhere? Not that they were bad bills, but don’t wait until an election in 2020 to address healthcare. The ACA is imperfect, but is working OK and needs some more stability and improvements due to initial design flaws and several efforts by the GOP to sabotage it.

So, Ms. Pelosi, Mr. McConnell, and Mr. Pence, get your fannies in a room with a white board and figure out how to get something done. I do not care which party benefits from what comes out of this. The key is we benefit. Do something that will be signed into law by the mercurial man in the White House. So, Mr. Pence you better have the Queen of Hearts’ blessing to make deals or you may lose your head.

Here are few items for the list:

  • Stabilize the ACA: pay insurers what we owe them (yes we reneged on two deals with them) and invite them back to the market to have more competition. Consider expanding Medicare to age 62 as a trial to improve the risk pools in both the ACA and Medicare. Push for the remaining states to expand Medicaid.
  • Address better gun governance: another mass shooting occurred yesterday and nobody in office cares. More suicides occurred yesterday and nobody in office cares. A few accidental shootings and homicides occurred and nobody in office cares. It is a holistic problem that needs holistic solutions. Do something, anything that will help even if it is just a little. Universal background checks and elongated waiting periods would be well received by the majority of Americans.
  • Address climate change at the federal level: Cities, states and some industries are moving forward without an active federal government role, which is rightfully being sued by 21 children for failure to address what they have known about for three decades. They actually have a good case. This is also a jobs and economy issue as we can look backwards and get passed by or look to growing renewables industries. As a good example of looking backward, we let China seize a significant majority of the rare earth metals market share from us which is now a threat to national security.
  • Address the debt and deficit: Trade deficits are not a big thing as we are a consumer driven economy. The far bigger crisis is our national debt and growing deficit. We have to pay for things and the less we do, the more risk we have with a growing interest cost as a percent of our annual budget. We must increase taxes and reduce spending, both. The GOP has forsaken its role in being a budget hawk passing a tax bill that made a growing problem worse. Revisit the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction plan and do some of those things.

I will stop there, but there are more problems to address. Immigration is a problem, but it has been made worse under this president by cutting funding to help some Central American countries improve the lives of their citizens and the lack of judges to address the increased migration. A wall is not an answer. It is merely a structure. Dusting off that bipartisan Senate bill from 2013 would be a good start as well as addressing DACA. We need to keep educated young people in our country, as growth is an issue.

So, legislators, please get in a room and do some things that will pass. The focus should be on helping Americans, not helping legislators. Stop worrying about keeping your job and do your job. And, yes continue your oversight role as we are a republic not a kingdom.

 

 

 

Credit and blame

UK Prime Minister Theresa May is stepping down today. This imperfect person has received a huge amount of blame for the failure to deliver a Brexit deal. Yet, I believe she had an unenviable task of herding the many and varied egos in Parliament who did not focus on getting the job done.

Living in America, we see this first hand, as posturing is more important than doing. Even before the fear-mongering and storytelling that has replaced civil debate, I have been disappointed in the demise in bipartisanship behavior.

Ironically, the last period of significant legislation occurred when GOP Speaker John Boehner ignored the Freedom Caucus and worked with moderate House Democrats to pass bills the Democrat led Senate would pass into law. He did this enough, that he retired before the Freedom Caucus rebellion ousted him.

Now, only handfuls of significant laws are passed as neither major party wants the other side to get a political win. Actually helping people is secondary to the perception of looking good. We have a president who does the same focusing too much on perception. He even controls his messaging taking credit for things he has little to do with and laying off blame on others when he the finger could be pointed at his efforts.

Blowing a problem out of proportion, making it worse by not addressing the real issues, threatening an action that gets push back from all sides and then coming to agreement on efforts that are already underway, is all a show that is harmful to relationships and commerce. People and companies need more stability in their lives, not less. When applecarts are upset, they have to look at other options.

This month, the US economy will be celebrating ten years (120 months) of economic growth. The president has been sure to pat himself on the back for this and he did provide some short term tailwinds with the tax cut and regulations cuts. Yet, he has only been president for going on 29 months. That means, 91 months of this growth were under Obama and the stock market more than doubled under his watch.

To be frank, presidents get too much credit and blame for the economy, providing at best headwinds and tailwinds. The headwinds this president has caused are more long term – debt, tariffs, immigration focus, pulling out of trade deals, etc. The economy is slowing its growth and more slowing is expected to occur. But, a given is this president will lay blame on others as it slows – he started last fall making the nonpartisan Federal Reserve the bogeyman.

Credit and blame. I have often quoted a leadership consultant I know, who said a great leader deflects credit to others; a bad leader accepts credit even when not due. Think about that as you hear or read tweets from leaders.

A lot of stress balls are needed

Dr. Tara Narula on CBS Morning News cited a statistic today from Workforce Initiative that 64% of people feel stressed at work. In an earlier survey, the American Psychological Association noted the following about stress:

“63% – The percentage of Americans who say the future of the nation is a significant source of stress. That’s higher than the percentage who are stressed about money (62 percent), work (61 percent), or violence and crime (51 percent).”

We are a stressed out nation. I actually think these numbers understate the extensiveness of stress, it just may be some folks have been able to put lids on the simmering pots.

I believe stress levels have increased by the divisiveness in our country and a highly contentious president where too many things become issues, when they need not be. He did not create division, but he exploits and perpetuates it on a regular basis. He truly wears me out.

So, what can we do about it? First, we need to disconnect more from our social and work media. On the latter, companies like you working off the clock on their behalf. If you cannot quit cold turkey, manage your activity in set pockets of time. As I told a colleague, it does not impress me that you sent an email at 10:30 pm. Disconnect and take some down time.

As for social media, please recognize when you look at Facebook, Instagram, etc., you are seeing the Sunday dressed version of a person’s life. They tend to post the polished versions of what is happening. They tend not to share the warts that they hide from the public. I recognize some folks over share, but I don’t want to be that aware of another’s life, as you may overreact when it is not wanted or needed.

Second, we need to better govern our news sources. I am guilty of this, but need reduce the hours of watching and reading and focus on reputable sources. I do focus on better sources, but often over-indulge. Watching so-called experts shout at each other is not news. Watch shows that let people talk civilly. Watching night time talk show hosts or high-volume online hosts is not news, it is opinion disguised as news. And, read and watch news that state when they get it wrong.

Third, here are two additional rules of thumb. Be careful of getting news from public figures. Before 24×7 segmented news sources, politicians used to campaign off rhetoric and govern off facts. Now, far too many govern off rhetoric. And, take anything the president says or tweets with a grain of salt. Not only is he noted to be very untruthful by several data sources and former associates, he self-professes a preference not to study issues, bragging on his gut instinct. So, he is not a very good source of news.

Fourth, find healthy, sustainable outlets for stress management and avoidance. The word sustainable is as important as healthy. We are creatures of habits, so we should replace a stress causing habit with a stress reducing one. Doing a walk, jog, yoga, pilates, workout or meditation need not be too time intrusive to help. Or, it could be reading a book or magazine or watching a favorite show.

Stress abounds and there are not enough stress balls. But, before we succumb to that stress, remember the words of advice from Mister Rogers – you do not have to be sensational to be loved.