Dear Mr. President

Below is a slight variation of a letter I posted on the White House website. To be heard, my message is not accusational. It is an earnest, forthright plea for help. Please feel free to use any elements you like.

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Dear Mr. President,

Please reopen the government as American people are being harmed by the closure, especially federal workers. As a former Republican, I feel the wall issue is overstated. We should not hold people hostage on this and should discuss immigration in a data driven, compassionate and diligent manner. Please work with Congress to make this happen. I feel what the House proposed will allow some time to do this and let people get back to work to serve our citizens.

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A new word for an old problem

Wages in the US for the common worker have been stagnant for going on forty years. This disenfranchisement did not happen over just the last ten years. It is the culmination of various events and actions and not due solely to one or two causes or solvable by bumper sticker solutions. Yet, we have a new word for a major cause courtesy of the Economic Policy Institute – monopsony.

In essence, monopsony is the sister of monopoly. It is an employer who has so much clout in a region or area, it can suppress wages to its workforce. It can also move jobs away more readily be it through off-shoring, outsourcing, downsizing or relocation. This movement of jobs adds to an employer’s ability to manage wage increases. In essence, the word monopsony highlights the goal and ability of employers to chase cheap labor.

Per the EPI, much of the wage stagnation after 1970 has occurred at the low-end of the wage spectrum. An economist noted on a talk show to get an idea of what has happened, stand up and put both arms out in front of you parallel to the ground. The left one represents the bottom 90% and the right one the top 10%. Move the left one up at an angle by one inch, then move the right one up by twenty inches. That disparity illustrates what has transpired over these forty years in wage differential.

I have written before the efforts by the current President to create fear of immigration and trade deficits as the reasons for disenfranchisement in various areas over look the main two drivers – chasing cheap labor and technology improvements. Immigration is actually accretive to the economy, even illegal immigration as there are many jobs that Americans have said they don’t want.

But, if the President wants to solve an illegal immigration problem, he should begin with punishing employers who hire these workers. I have noted before about a textile company who went bankrupt and closed its doors. When career counseling people said in an auditorium full of workers that you had to have a Social Security Number to get access to benefits, 1/3 of the audience got up and left. The construction, agricultural and restaurant industries would have severe issues if these immigration wells dried up.

Yet, the two main drivers of wage stagnation and good paying jobs do not get talked about – chasing cheap labor and technology gains. An unnamed CFO said in the book “The Rich and the Rest of Us,” an employer would get by with no employees if it could. So, robotic machinery has been displacing workers for many years. And, now it is becoming even more efficient and affordable. We do much more manufacturing in the US today than in 1980, but with much fewer workers.

Yet, with these tools and possible actions available to an employer who has a monopsony in an area, good paying jobs are fewer in number. Mind you, high-tech manufacturing and similar jobs exist, but they are not in the same number with so much competition for wages. I make this last point as the disenfranchisement is real and not made up. To his credit, Trump went out and visited these areas. But, what they did not realize, he was selling on fear, over-simplifying the causes and highlighting the wrong major ones.

The disenfranchisement in the western world has a visual called the “elephant curve,” with a side view of an elephant with his trunk raised. The body of elephant is wage growth for the emerging and burgeoning international markets. The raised trunk reveals the rapid wage growth for the top 10% in the western world. The trough between the raised trunk and body, reveals the stagnation in wages in the western world.

So, immigration and global trade have an impact, but the key drivers are chasing cheap labor and technology. And, the last one will grow even faster than before. Yet, chasing cheap labor will continue to be a driver as well. It is the culmination of pounding on unions to weaken their voice. It is the active fight to keep minimum wages down over time. It is making tax changes dating back to the 1980s (and last December) that are more advantageous to the top 10%, giving them a chance to invest in technology and places to house cheaper labor. It is threatening to move jobs to gain wage limits.

Since the housing recession in 2008 and early 2009, we have seen unemployment decline and stay down. Wages have gone up some, but not near enough to track other increases in costs. We need to be discussing retraining impacted workers building off some success stories around the country. We need to renovate and repurpose deteriorated assets to create new jobs. We need to invest more in our infrastructure and jobs of the future. We need to stabilize the ability for employees, whose hours are limited, to get affordable healthcare, since employers hire more part-time and contractual employees to restrict them from joining their healthcare plans.

The disenfranchised employees and areas need a real voice who will speak to real causes, not over-stated ones. Monopsony is a hard word to say and is a hard word on these people. They deserve better than what they have been hearing.

 

 

We are ALL fixer uppers

As we stew over those extra holiday pounds and think of possible New Year’s resolutions, let me state the obvious. From one imperfect person to another, we are ALL fixer uppers. So, we could benefit from a few touch ups. All of us.

To remind us of how imperfect we are, here are few truisms to think about.

– Everyone thinks they are better than average, but in actuality that is not possible.

– The customer is not always right, but they are the customer. Yet, being the customer does not give you license to be a jerk.

– It takes at least two people to have a communication problem. It may not be 50/50, but both sides are almost always at fault to some extent.

– Opinions are like rectums. Everyone has one. (I cleaned this one up). It does not make them or you right.

– Saying it is my fault is not a crime. It is actually welcome to fess up. Others, with some degree of fault, might even admit theirs.

– Saying thank you is important, as we need to recognize people do not have to help you.

– One of the greatest gifts is the gift of time. Be generous with yours and try not to waste another person’s time.

– Finally, please remember the most intolerant of people require the most tolerance from others in dealing with them. Sometimes it is better to just reduce or eliminate exposure to such toxic people.

I hope everyone is having an enjoyable holiday season. Let’s set some reasonable and sustainable resolutions for 2019. We could ALL use some fixing up.

 

 

Remember who passed you the ball

Legendary college basketball coach Dean Smith preached to his players who scored to acknowledge the player that passed them the ball. Think about why that is important in a team game.

It can also apply to everyday life. So, at this holiday time, let’s acknowledge those who pass us the ball. Or, we could honor them by paying their kindness or help forward. Here are a few random thoughts.

Let’s start with teachers, who do not get paid near enough to do the many things they have to do. Parents should not expect perfection, but hope they have teachers who care and can reach the hearts and minds of their students. They deserve thanks.

Let’s move on to healthcare workers who tend to the basic need of patients whether it is at a hospital or long term care facility. They are not paid a King’s ransom to put up with people’s s**t, literarally and figuratively. Yes, we want our loved ones taken care of, but we should put what these folks do in perspective and offer them some appreciation.

Wait staff in restaurants are not on any highest paid lists. No question, we should want good service in a restaurant, as we are spending our hard earned monies. Being a waitress or waiter is hard work, especially when someone does not show-up and people have to cover for them. But, two golden things might help us all – that golden rule is one, while the other is honey. Treating service people with dignity and as a person, will improve your service.

I picked these examples as we seem to live in a world where people are more demanding and less kind to service providers. Of course, we should want good service, yet we could do ourselves and others a favor to understand the context. Acknowledge those passing the ball. It would be a nice birthday present to the guy who said that golden rule thing.

Green Book is a must go

My wife, daughter and I saw the movie “Green Book” yesterday. The movie is based on the true story of an African-American concert pianist named Dr. Don Shirley who is shepherded around the Midwest and South in 1962 by an Italian-American named Tony (Lip) Vallelonga.

The movie exceeded our expectations and we highly recommend it to others. The title is based on the green book written for African-American travelers to navigate the Jim Crow south. It stars Viggo Mortenson as Tony Lip and Mahershala Ali as Don Shirley. Lindi Cardelina plays an important role as Tony’s wife Dolores.

The movie was written by Tony and Dolores’ son Nick, so it is a third person retelling of the story. There are several poignant scenes that will endear you and frustrate you as the two travelers form a bond. In a separate car, two other members of the Don Shirley trio meet Shirley at the various events. They are white musicians, but provide context to why Shirley feels obligated to put himself at risk.

Rather than spoil the plot, let me end with the lead actors do justice to these two very different men. You become a part of their journey and worry about Shirley’s safety and hope Vallelonga does not add gasoline to a fire. Jim Crow was an ugly time in America and as one Southern law enforcement officer explained, Shirley was guilty of being Black in the South more so than any crime he may have committed.

Please go see it and take younger folks with you. Tony will utter a few bad words, but you will at least see him corrected by Shirley, which makes up for them. It is important to reveal the injustice that people who look like Shirley faced.

Good faith dealings

The passing of former President George H.W. Bush has highlighted the many positive attributes of the imperfect 41st President. Of course, we are all “fixer uppers,” and our willingness to know this about ourselves keeps us humble and in a constant state of self-improvement.

Many positive things have been highlighted about the elder Bush this past week, with many of us nostalgic to how we all should conduct ourselves, especially our leaders. Here are a few things I took away:

– a communication advisor to an early campaign noted he made a big mistake from which he could not hide. Thinking he would be fired, he recalled Bush telling him “I know you will knock the next opportunity out of the park.”

– a friend noted he played golf often with Bush when he was President. He noted the clubs Bush played would invariably try to “comp” his green and cart fees. Bush insisted that he pay for his and his friends fees. He noted it would not be right for a golf club to not expect him to pay.

– a Democrat Senator noted that it was not unusual for Bush to invite a handful of Senators or Congressional representatives to the White House on late Friday afternoons for martinis, which Bush made. He would also give them a tour of the White House, if any had not seen it before.

– many noted that Bush was a voracious note writer and they took pride in words of encouragement, support, sympathy or thanks; these notes were received by media, foreign and domestic leaders, public servants, fathers, mothers, sons and daughters.

– after he retired, the son of one of his secret service guards was struggling with Leukemia and losing in his hair due to the Chemotherapy. Bush shaved his head in solidarity with the son to lift his spirits,

– many leaders and public servants noted that Bush had many relationships around the world and here in the states, which benefited him and our country in troubling or challenging times. His ability to tap these resources to build coalitions to do things is paramount to several successful endeavors.

– relationships matter at home too, with a lovely marriage to Barbara for 73 years and a beautiful family of children and grandchildren. Marriage is hard work – this speaks volumes about the Bushes.

– Finally, in today’s times it is hard to convince some that perception is not reality. We seem to spend an inordinate amount of time polishing our own apple or thinking those that do it well rate more highly as a result. One magazine defined Bush as a wimp when he ran for President, primarily because he was an obsequious Vice-President. Here was a man who flew 58 combat missions in WWII and was shot down. He was not raised to brag on himself. It would not have been false bravado for him to do so. False bravado seems to be mistaken for actually bravery these days. But, the reason he was called a wimp due to being obsequious is while he offered criticism to ┬áPresident Reagan in private, it would have been detrimental to call him out in public.

Each of us could be better people. Our leaders should be among our better angels. Character matters. Dealing with people in a good faith manner matters. Telling the truth to the media, colleagues and the American people matter. Being accountable matters. Real courage is usual quietly borne and not bragged about. We should remember these truths. We should do our best to emulate them.

 

Sunday sermonettes redux

Good Sunday morning everyone. It is a rainy morning here. Here are a few little sermonettes on this Sunday morning.

A favorite mantra of mine is “don’t mistake kindness for weakness.” This weekend, the embodiment of that mantra passed away, former President George H.W. Bush. A key lesson for many today, toughness is not correlated with a false bravado. If someone has to tell you how tough or how smart he is, my advice would be to look under the hood.

With the G20 conference now ended, what stood out to me is the giddy handshake/ hug between MSB and Putin. To me it was due to them both being in on a joke. They have gotten away with doing their own thing and having something on the current US President. Both know that the US President has business ties in each country with a goal to leverage his candidacy and presidency to do even more. So, they both feel a level of impunity. Note to all, when leaders squash human rights or look the other way when violated, that is when Jesus crires. If you are not religious, that is when our parents cry.

Yesterday, I watched the terrific movie “Bohemian Rhapsody” about Queen and Freddie Mercury’s rise to fame and impact. It is very entertaining and even emotional. A key premise is how Mercury defined the group to a record producer, ironically played by Michael Myers. He said we are a family of misfits playing to the misfits in the final row. I like this. This group’s family chemistry is a key thread to the movie, which I won’t spoil here. Do go see even if it is just for the music.

So, to wrap up these sermonettes, kindness is important, human rights are important and family in whatever form is important.