Debt, risk and lies

The following is a comment I posted on our friend Jill’s blogpost where she has penned an excellent letter firing the president. See below for a link. There is good back and forth between two of her followers, which is good for its content and civility, the way it should be. Since the debt came up as one issue, as a failing of many presidents including Obama, I used that as one example. These are the views of this independent voter who has been a member of both parties and defines himself as fiscally conservative and socially progressive.

Just taking the debt as one issue, while Obama will be remembered as a pretty good president, to me a key failure was to put on the shelf the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Act. Dems and Reps did not like it as for every $1 of tax increases it asked for $2 of spending cuts. Obama should have said, let’s start with this and make changes. What both parties fail to understand is we need both spending cuts and tax increases to solve the debt – the math will not otherwise work.

That was when the debt was about half of what it is now. I find the Freedom Caucus who got elected on reducing the debt the height of hypocrisy when they voted for a tax law change in December 2017 that increased the debt by $1.5 trillion – we did not need that, so now when we spend $2 trillion because of COVID-19, we have to go deeper into the well to borrow money.

On top of the many reasons not to vote for Trump (climate, environment, corruption, chaos, lying, global leadership retrenchment, et al), his cavalier short term financial focus to prop up a long running pretty good economy to be a little better for a little while was indicative of why he had six corporate bankruptcies and other failed investments. Even on the COVID-19, his primary focus has been his image, first, the stock market second (his proxy for the economy) then the people, third. This is not a recipe for good decisions and is one reason for his inconsistency.

But, at the heart of all of this, is I do not believe a word the president says and that makes me sad. All presidents lie to some extent, but this one is the most corrupt and deceitful president in my lifetime including Richard Nixon and he was a crook.

But, before we burn the government down, please read Michael Lewis’ “The Fifth Risk,” which reveals the true risk heightened by this “chaotic and incompetent” president’s White House (per conservative pundit David Brooks) and that is the gutting and hamstringing of people who know what they are doing to serve us. Could they be more efficient, always? But, for the very large part, they are dedicated public servants trying to do a good job. Lewis based his book on the required briefing materials prepared by the outgoing administration that went largely unread and not even picked up when briefings went unattended by incoming (or not even appointed) Trump people.

YOU’RE FIRED!!!

The greatest coronavirus risk is in the White House

Per Reuters “Breakingviews – Donald Trump is rising risk factor in virus battle” this morning before the additional precipitous stock market decline “Donald Trump is becoming a growing risk factor in the virus battle. The U.S. president’s address to the nation on Wednesday night sparked more market panic. A $50 billion pledge for small businesses hit by Covid-19 is good, but his speech lacked public-health remedies, was full of mixed messages and focused on a Europe travel ban. He’s missing both diagnosis and cure. Trump’s primetime speech followed his administration’s trend of inadequate and confusing responses since coronavirus cases started rising in the United States.” A link to the full editorial is below.

The Washington Post echoed these remarks in an opinion piece called “Trumps oval office failure.” A link to the editorial is also below.

About three years ago, after the absolutely disastrous travel ban that was implemented without vetting, advance communication or planning was pulled after two days, conservative pundit David Brooks gave us a clarion call. He said the Trump White House is “equal parts chaos and incompetence.” Sadly, per the book by Michael Lewis called “The Fifth Risk,” the White House started out that way by firing the entire transition team, trashing their research of candidates, leaving positions unfilled, not attending scheduled briefings of how the many government departments work.

Even after filling many jobs, this White House has the highest turnover rate of any of the previous ones, the boss is walking powder keg who people try to keep from blowing up and who has a disdain for study and, as a result, push back on poor decisions is not occurring as it was when a few capable people were there. Plus, there is no consistent planning or communication messaging. To say it is willy-nilly, would not be an overstatement.

So, along comes a real crisis. Not one that is on a distant shore, but one that is here. We need a leader who is calming and we know will shoot straight with us. The president does neither in calmer times, so it is not a surprise he is not so doing in a crisis. I have shared with our Senators for many months the president is a national security risk and a threat to our democracy, our country and our planet. I wish I was off base in my feelings, which are not my own.

If we want stabilization and planning, the best the president can do is let some one else handle it. He needs to step back and let someone who is first and foremost trying to solve the problem, solve it and be the face to America. What I see is a president whose first mission is protecting his own brand, then second helping people. That cannot be the priorities of the US president.

One of my wife’s friends, who is a huge Trump supporter, made the comment to her “at least we have the right person in the White House.” That statement could not be further from the truth.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-breakingviews-idUSKBN20Z0GR
https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/opinion/opinions-trumps-oval-office-failure/ar-BB115UhK?ocid=spartandhp

Confusion has its cost

My wife and I were listening to a favorite CD on a day trip by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young called “So far.” It is the first album recorded after Neil Young joined the band. One of the songs is called “Helplessly Hoping.”

The song title is an excellent metaphor for what many feel about the tenure of the US president. A key line of the song echoes a concern that I have – “Confusion has its cost.”

Going into this administration, I expected a heavy dose of untruthfulness, bullying and name calling from the president. I expected concerns over policy decisions he might make, pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Accord, being an example. Sadly, I have not been surprised on these fronts.

What has surprised me is the level of chaos and incompetence present in the White House. And, I am not alone in this assessment. Conservative pundit David Brooks uses the term “equal parts chaos and incompetence.” Together, they cause confusion.

There is confusion around inconsistent messaging, unstable decision-making, overshadowing or derailing emissaries, being swayed by biased or misinformed sources, and a disdain for study or receptivity to input counter the president’s set notions.

This confusion has a cost. Other leaders have lamented they do not know who speaks for America. Republican leaders feel the same, but can only grumble under their breath. Perhaps, the best metaphor for the Trump presidency is his communication people hiding in the bushes to discuss what to say about Jim Comey being fired. Not only did the regal-minded Trump not tell Comey he was fired, he failed to tell his communication staff.

Ron Christie, a former Bush communication official noted that well run White Houses have monthly, weekly and daily talking points. I think one reason the daily press briefings went away, is the lack of such.

Confusion has its cost. Our reputation, our word, our commitment, our governance require clarity. Another measuring rod is White House turnover, which is much higher than previous administrations.

America’s Top 40 – 40% turnover that is

Every Sunday for many years, Casey Kasem would play America’s Top 40 pop songs. Earlier this week, NPR reported another, but ignominious top 40. The current White House has experienced an unheard of turnover rate of 40%. In other words, four out of ten staffers who were on the payroll a year ago have departed.

To add some seasoning to this, two of the most difficult jobs to keep people are customer service representatives and bank tellers, which often see turnover rates at or above 40%. So, to see similar turnover is alarming. But, how does this rank to other White Houses?

Earlier this year, an article appeared in the Brookings Institute webpages called “Why is Trump’s staff turnover higher than the five most recent Presidents?” by Kathryn Dunn Tenpans. She focused on A team turnover, but the turnover problem is pervasive. Per the article, “President Trump’s A team turnover is record setting – double the previous leader, Reagan, and more than triple his immediate predecessor, Obama.”

Why is this important? There is a huge loss of productivity in those that leave as  well as those who replace them, as they get up to speed. Plus, there is downtime for the managers as they backfill and take time to interview, hire and coach. In some of my previous work in HR for a large bank, i used average productivity ratios and turnover by group to estimate the cost of turnover at roughly 1 1/2 times the compensation expense of the departed people.

Per the Brookings article, “while some turnover is expected and possibly beneficial, excessive turnover portends a problem.” This data is relevant with more than a few stories about the low morale in the White House. Several sources have cited feuding factions and jealousies as well as a leader who perpetuates and accentuates a highly toxic environment.

When people are not productive in jobs of import, it is harmful to their efforts. It is also harmful to our country. The President has been covered extensively over the years by financial reporters and biographers. His sales skills are envied, but the same cannot be said for his management skills. Trump has said on more than one occasion that he likes to pit  people against each other and does not mind the chaos. Well, that is an absolutely horrible management approach. And, the inconsistent messaging from the White House reveals as much, as well as its turnover.

Execution matters

Very early in the Trump presidency, he signed an executive order to institute a travel ban. It was so poorly conceived, vetted, communicated and staged, its disastrous rollout was canceled in a couple of days. A key example was he failed to tell (or involve) the people who would execute the decision what they needed to do. He also did not advise beforehand the Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader who found out when we did.

Earlier this week and over fifteen months later, the President decided to pull the US out of the Iran nuclear agreement. Whether people agree with this decision, the State department had a very difficult time answering questions the next day as to what this all meant. The did not know answers to questions on the impact on business transactions underway, business transactions that had multiple parties from various countries, business transactions where US suppliers provided parts to French companies working with Iran, etc.

One reporter noted it was shocking how little the State department people knew on what needed to be done and the answers to many questions. They were not briefed. Apparently, the lessons of the first travel ban and other poorly rolled out decisions have not been learned. This is what vetting, planning and communication tries to avoid. Just because a regal person says to do something does not mean it can easily happen. Execution matters. Time matters.

As a former consultant and business manager, I can assure you execution is as important as good ideas. This is a key reason companies spend time and money in project management training. With that said, it is not uncommon to see execution challenges. I recall one prospective client telling me a new software was going to go live a certain date. I asked what alternatives they had considered if certain things did not happen as planned. His answer was of course they would happen on time. It is rare that things go as planned and this was no exception as the start date was delayed.

Yet, what we are seeing from the White House should not be a surprise, as one only needs to look at the business history of the leader. While the confident President would never admit this, what financial reporters and biographers have known for years is Trump is a terrific merchandiser, but they would not confuse him with being a good manager. Managing by chaos and loyalty are not conducive to the very necessary boring competence. Even vetting candidates for jobs is essential and is not a competency for which this White House is known.

Execution matters. Vetting, planning, communication, and time are essential. Without doing these things, too many people are caught off guard. A visual metaphor is White House communication staff hiding in trees from the press after they just found out Comey was fired. Not only did Comey find out after the media did, but so did the Communication staff. Without execution, you have chaos and confusion.

The week that was

Looking back at the week ending April 27, 2018, a few things jump out at me as examples of larger problems.

The US Congress heard a speech from a President that spoke of staying the course on America’s global role in security, free trade and environmental issues. He also warned of the unhealthy focus on narrow nationalism and promoted the ideals of the American experiment. Unfortunately, the speech was given by Emmanuel Macron of France and not the US President.

Yet, the US President did make news when he nominated another poorly vetted candidate this time for the VA director role. He was already a curious choice, but he and the White House were obviously not prepared for the discovery of potential peccadillos in his past. This is a recurring problem for the White House where too many candidates withdraw, should not have been nominated or are approved with some later being fired or resigning as past or new problems surface. It should be noted there are too many articles and biographies that do not define “due diligence” as a strength of the President.

Between two tragedies in Canada and the US, it shows that terrorism need not be imported. Four people died at a Waffle House in the Nashville area, while  ten people died on the streets of Toronto. The larger problem that is revealed time and again, it is very difficult to stop a motivated lone assailant. The only thing that has a chance is an invested community who cares about what happens there. Neither of these people were from an actively tracked hate group, which number over a thousand. Nor were they part of an extreme religious terror group.

On Thursday, a boyhood and even adult idol of mine, Bill Cosby, was found guilty of three counts of sexual impropriety. While the trial involved only one of his victims, the number totals over 60. This is very sad  that someone so present in the public eye for fifty years could harm so many people.

Finally, an unconfirmed report out of China notes that one reason North Korea may be eager to give up nuclear testing is they blew up their testing site. The report said an underground blast may have punctured a hole in a mountain and released some radioactive material. From what others have noted is Kim Jong Un likely does not want to give up the nuclear weapons they created and their conventional forces could do great damage by themselves to South Korea. But, this unconfirmed report is interesting nonetheless and offers a potential explanation for a willingness to talk. Setting this aside, Kim Jong Un wins by getting on the world stage in a meeting room. Yet, talking is far better than the alternatives for keeping a lid on things.

Many other interesting things have happened. Our friend Jill has an excellent summary on Ben Carson’s housing plan which will triple the rents for people in need. Maybe he should have remained a surgeon where he could help people.

That’s all folks. Have a great weekend.

 

Rainy Days and Mondays

One of the sweetest voices came out of Karen Carpenter, especially as she sang “rainy days and Monday’s always get me down.” The Mooch is feeling pretty down on this Monday and even Karen’s voice cannot make him feel better.

You may have heard that the President’s “gotta have” strategic communication director, Anthony Scaramucci, has left the building after only ten days of tumult and profanity. General Kelly, the new Chief of Staff, must have rightfully had a condition of his acceptance to get rid of this grossly negligent hiring mistake.

Not that I am a fan of Sean Spicer, but in a Shakespearean plot twist, Spicer was asked to prepare the communication for Scaramucci’s departure. So, the plot has come full circle in such a short time.

The irony of all this is the cause of all of this chaos and incompetence remains. Everyone is saying the White House needs more discipline, but the person who needs it most is the one at the top. Kelly will do what he can and has already made a necessary move, but his mission is difficult.

The President just completed the worst week of his Presidency. But, to be truthful many weeks before have been given that title only to see the President sink lower.

Now, the President wants to defund insurance companies of the ACA subsidies not fully realizing that he is hurting Americans in need. Or, maybe he does know and just doesn’t care.

Folks, it is well past the bewitching hour on this President. He won’t resign as his ego won’t let him, but he desperately needs to for the good of the country. Because as Scarlett O’Hara used to say, “Tomorrow is another day,” and under this President seven tomorrow’s make a new worst week in his Presidency.

Around the world in one hundred eighty days

The US President has just completed his first six months in office and his 180 days have been a lengthy and chaotic affair. Each week has seen bizarre story after another and, just when it looks like we can go no lower, the President can slip under an even lower limbo bar.

The sad part is he not only affects the US, he has created an untrustworthy relationship with pretty much every leader around the globe. Even leaders who are on his side likely do not trust the man as far as they could throw him. Conservative writer Ross Douthat wrote recently, “as soon as you give Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt, he will disappoint you.”

A recent Pew Research Poll of 37 countries said trust in the President has fallen from 64% with Obama to 22% with Trump, a fall of 42 points. Think about that. Pulling out of agreements like the Paris Climate Change Accord and having to be shamed into fully supporting NATO reveal a man whose words do not mean that much. As a result, neither does our word as a country.

This is a key reason we try to honor earlier commitments. But, with Trump saying everything done before is a “disaster,” he feels he has to prove it by destroying it. As a result, other leaders may choose to work with more dependable countries.

Finally, when he layers in his destructive tweets, he seems to forget or not care that his tweets maybe contradictory to earlier statements made in person with another leader. The sophomoric tweeting is not enabling good governance.

So, until he is removed from office, we will have to suffer with the world. God only knows what the next 180 days will bring.

Musings during the Ides of May

I don’t know about you, but the routine chaos surrounding our fearless leader is wearing me out. A week has not passed by without some chaos, almost all of it self-inflicted. And, sometimes it is daily, if not hourly wounds.

We should remember that Julius Caesar was killed during the ides of March. Yet, while Julius was knifed in the back by Brutus, our leader needs to look in the mirror at his worst enemy who is doing him in. Our President’s greatest enemy is Donald Trump and it is not even close.

The Guardian has a story today about the worst leaker in the White House. His name is Donald Trump. Who is the source of the most lying – Donald Trump? Who is the source of changing the story which discredits his people who are lying for him – Donald Trump?

It goes on. Whose actions and inane statements, unsupported by fact, routinely get himself in trouble – Donald Trump? Whose unfamiliarity and disdain for knowing what his job entails and necessary history causes unforced errors? You guessed it, Donald Trump.

We will likely look back on the Ides of May as the beginning of the end of Trump’s presidency. Firing James Comey for the reasons he finally fessed up to and doing it in such a terrible fashion reveals a man trying to save himself, but he does not know how. He looks like a guilty man because he is acting likely a guilty man.

Trump said he is the most mistreated President ever. If he believes that, he needs to look in the mirror and tell the image to treat himself better.