I will not be surprised

I will not be surprised if the Mueller investigation finds that the President of the United States has been compromised by Russia. There is too much lying, ignoring and self-preserving going on by the man in the White House. In fact, if it turns out he is not, that will surprise me. At the very least he is an unwitting agent of Russia. Just ask yourself why he did not impose sanctions on Russia nor has he shown alarm over the Mueller findings that Russia has attacked the US and is still doing so?

I will not be surprised if Congress does not do a damn thing about better gun governance. I am so proud of the young people calling for a march begging for action. Yet, Congress and the President don’t have the backbone to do the right thing and do what a significant majority of Americans have asked for – background checks and elongated waiting periods. These actions should be no brainers, but the NRA dictates subservience to Republicans and some Democrats.

I will not be surprised if Congress cannot reach compromise on the immigration bills, especially with the ever-changing President putting his fingerprints on discord. He upset the proceedings on Friday, a few weeks after he stabbed Senators Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin in the back and asked Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue to lie for him. What all legislators have discovered is the famous self-proclaimed negotiator is not trust worthy. If you do so, it is at your own peril.

I will not be surprised if we have more school shootings in the near future. I will not be surprised if the British parliament decides against Brexit. And, I will sadly not be surprised if one of the leader of Norh Korea and United States does something too provocative. On the school shootings and North Korea issue, I hope I am dead wrong. On the former, with our gun laws, it is very hard to stop a dedicated individual shooter. On the latter, I am not confident that judgment can temper ego with respect to these two leaders.

 

Chaos and Incompetence

Conservative columnist David Brooks appears weekly on PBS Newshour as well as NPR to recount the week. Last Friday on PBS, he and Mark Shields discussed their concerns over our new President’s decision-making, unforced errors and fights that he has picked in his first eight days.

Yet, what caught my attention most was Brooks reference to how our President has conducted his Presidency. He said he has exhibited equal parts “chaos and incompetence.” I could not agree more. While I support the President since his success is tied to ours, I have a very low bar of expectations, which he has not met. And, I am not too optimistic at this point, given his difficulty in admitting any fault.

Management has not been his strength. He is a great salesman and merchandiser, yes, but manager, not so much. His executive order to block entry to people coming from seven countries has been total chaos and coupled with his torture comment makes America out to be a pariah in the eyes of others. Issuing an order should allow time to execute and include some instruction to make it effective as well as being vetted by various agencies. And, per Senator John McCain, it makes us less safer providing fuel to the ISIS fire.

Chaos and incompetence. Remember these words. Add them to the words lying and thin-skin. And, let’s pray that our President begins to learn a few lessons before he does even greater damage to our country and its reputation.

Two misconceptions need to be challenged

“Innovation is portable,” said David Smick, an economic advisor to Congressman Jack Kemp and Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, in his book “The World is Curved.” In essence, innovation will occur where it is welcome and the initial jobs will be created around it. We should not lose sight of this observation as we discuss our economic future.

Smick surprised many when he noted in his book the similarities in Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, who were the number one and three best job creating Presidents, in that order. They both loved global trade and hated deficits. And, they were known for their collaboration with Congress, even with an opposite majority in power. Collaboration is essential to getting buy-in and understanding of the problem and possible solutions.

With this context, we need to challenge some notions that do not tell the whole story and, as a result, could lead us down the wrong path. We need to look at holistic causes to problems, so that we can address them effectively. Our problems are not solvable by bumper sticker solutions, no matter how loudly and forcefully they are espoused.

Here are two of those simplistic notions and challenges to think about:

Immigration is taking jobs away. This is far too simple a statement. Our history has been built on immigration, who have tended to be hard workers and spawned a higher relative percentage of entrepreneurs. As noted in the famous play “Hamilton,” by Lin-Manuel Miranda based on the book by Ron Chernow, immigrants tend to work hard to make it in our country, as they did not have such opportunity from whence they came. Our economy actually flourishes more with immigration. But, as we look to better govern immigration, we should look at the whole picture. And, on the subject of illegal immigration, a concerted study of the impact of curtailing such on certain industries – housing construction, landscaping, agriculture harvesting, etc. – is critical as we move forward with better governance.

Global Trade is bad for domestic jobs. Global trade is actual good for a domestic economy creating more jobs around the world and here. The downside is companies tend to chase cheaper labor and always have, but an even greater threat to jobs is technology advances. A CFO said in the book “The Rich and the Rest of Us,” an employer will hire no one if he could make it work. Yet, what creates jobs more than anything else is “customers,” per Nick Hanauer, a venture capitalist. And, more trade means more customers. When we look to better govern trade, we need to look holistically at the jobs created domestically versus the ones lost. The ill-fated Brexit decision failed to consider all of the foreign companies who have European Headquarters, distribution and manufacturing sites in the UK. These companies are now reconsidering locations should Brexit move forward.

Of course, we need to better govern immigration and global trade, but we must guard against throwing the babies out with the bath water. Let me close with three thoughts.

First, we cannot shrink to greatness. Retrenching from your global market share makes little sense.  Second, think of all of the foreign companies who employ people in the US like Michelin, BMW, Mercedes, Husqvarna, Doosan, Volvo, Nissan, etc. who do so to keep manufacturing near distribution of its goods to their customers. Third, as an example, Steve Jobs is the biological son of Syrian immigrants. Had he not been in America, would Apple exist today at all or as an American company?

We cannot govern off bumper stickers. Our issues are complex. People who tout such ideas are doing a disservice to the problem and citizens through false promises.

 

 

We must be better than this


The migrant crisis in Europe has brought to a head that we must help our fellow inhabitants on our Earth. Global poverty and corrupt leadership has led to significant disenfranchisement and upheaval in various places in the Middle East, Africa, South America and around the globe. To appease the disenfranchised, terrorist or criminal groups file in promising to address their needs or take up their cause. Unfortunately, the helpers are worse than those that placed the disenfranchised in these predicaments. So, the disenfranchised flee to raise their families in a safer place.

I recognize that many people in need of opportunity can overwhelm one country. That is why it is important for those who can to share their bread and water with others in need. We are seeing this occur in Austria, Germany, Sweden and other countries. Yet, we should not be making this difficult problem even more so. We have to be humanitarians and treat all with respect.  This holds true for our leaders in the US. We have to help others in need and not tolerate the hate spewed rhetoric being espoused toward illegal immigrants in our own country. The sad truth is some presidential candidates are perpetuating this hate and demonization and that is certainly not representative of presidential virtues nor very humane.

My new blogging friend Amanda Lyle in the UK has written a very compelling piece. Attached is a link to the article. I must forewarn you, it is has the picture of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year old boy whose body washed ashore. For those who remember the name Emmett Till from the 1950s, I shared with Amanda my hope Aylan’s picture will be a turning point like Emmett’s picture. Till’s mother insisted Life Magazine take a photograph of her dead boy’s beaten body lying in the casket, so the world could see what Jim Crow racism looked like in America.

Please check out Amanda’s post which is aptly called “The Day Humanity Washed Ashore.” Tell her what you think and feel free to share any conversation below.

https://insidethelifeofmoi.wordpress.com/2015/09/07/the-day-humanity-washed-ashore/

Make America Hate Again

Kevin Siers is one of the more talented newspaper cartoonists. He has a very keen eye on skewering the hypocritical or inane. I think his cartoon this morning captures the essence of why America does not need The Donald as our President. A link to the cartoon is below.

Playing off his slogan of “Make America Great Again,” Siers takes The Donald’s policy paper on immigration which codifies his lack of heart and wisdom with respect to immigrants to the United States. The catchphrase is “Make America Hate Again.” Not only are his ideas unworkable and not seasoned with a lot of thought, he has gone beyond punishing illegal immigrants and will hurt immigrants who are here legally.

But, this is not his only “Make America Hate Again” position and will definitely not be his last. He wants to invade Iraq and take what he says is “our oil.” He is not keen on negotiating with Iran, so my guess is he will want to do something less diplomatically with them, maybe following the inane “Bomb Iran” banter. He also is quite confident in his abilities to make other nations suddenly hand us their keys. I find that not only brash, but terribly naïve. Just look into how he has ticked off the Scots over an offshore windmill project to get a sense of his arrogant and ineffective diplomatic style (see link below following cartoon).

Yet, it does not stop there. He has ticked off Veterans with his comments about Senator John McCain and how Trump escaped service. He has ticked off African-Americans with his criticism of the President regarding his birth certificate and transcripts. The birther issue was only kept alive to placate the bigoted base of the Republican Party who hates Obama because he happens to be half-Black. As a former Republican, I fault the leaders of the party for letting that BS go on for as long as it still does. And, he has offended women with his rude references that go beyond political incorrectness.

He has ticked off Hispanic Americans with his stance on immigration and now ill-fated policy statement, which is equally offensive. What is interesting to me is some of the other candidates have sided with The Donald on his immigration policy, at least in tenor. That is very indicting of them, so be mindful of who they are and check that on their negative ledger, as agreeing with The Donald is not necessarily a good thing.

All of these will add up to harm for his party and platform. It will be interesting to see his next policy statement. If he follows the lead of his immigration policy, it will be a beaut.

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/opinion/editorial-cartoons/kevin-siers/

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/11/donald-trump-loses-windfarm-scottish-golf-resort

Let’s be practical on issues of the day

One of the challenges in our current political construct is we are debating issues from the ends and not the middle. The ends represent extreme points of view who show less a willingness to compromise, some even within their own party. Yet, if we strive to discuss the issues and their complex causes from the middle, we will find more agreement and can get things done. Mind you, there is no perfect legislation, but oftentimes legislation and reasonable oversight is needed to govern and debating from the extremes stands in the way.

With an eye toward being practical, let me make a few observations that would enable better governance and get our national leaders back on better footing. This approach would also apply to state and local governance as well.

Immigration: Truth be told, if we deported everyone that some want us to, our economy would be harmed. Hard working immigrants and illegal aliens are not replacing Americans in jobs. They tend to be doing jobs that Americans do not want. If you truly want to stop illegal immigration, stop hiring them and that goes for our more conservative friends who are doing some hiring, too. Since we are not prepared to do so, then we need to work out a reasonable path forward. I would begin with the Senate Bill which was passed on a bipartisan basis twenty months ago.

Guns: Americans are killing too many Americans. Further, Americans are committing suicide at a rampant rate, by far the greatest reason for gun deaths in America (about two-thirds of annual gun deaths). The NRA represents gun sellers and not gun owners. Their voice has been heard. Now, let’s listen to parents and act like adults. Americans favor background checks on all transactions. We favor more elongated waiting periods. The police has recommended codifying bullets to better solve crimes. We should at least do these things as well as addressing other issues, but let’s start from the middle.

Jobs and economy: Some do not care to take notice, but the economy has been on the rebound and job and wage growth have been occurring. This is in contrast to other countries who are in or may fall back into recession. Now, we need to continue to retrain and develop people for new careers as we have a skills gap. Efforts have been under way within our community college systems with federal, state and local investment. Let’s further those efforts. Let’s also invest in our infrastructure and new renewable energy. We have needs and jobs in renewable energy are growing at a fast clip. There are almost twice as many solar energy jobs than coal energy jobs in the US and the sun shines in every state.

Trade agreements mean more economic growth: This is a path forward that has always been a growth enabler. An economic advisor to Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton noted this similarity between the two. President Obama has also been pushing trade in Asia-Pacific, Latin America and Europe which is excellent policy. And, with their 11 million people and proximity, the US Chamber of Commerce has regarded favorably lifting the embargo with Cuba, which is as large as an US state.

Health care: Let me reiterate a message that continues to get drowned out by those who want to drown it out. The Affordable Care Act is showing some success from multiple measures. And, this success is in spite of the self-inflicted and opposition winds in the sails. What is not being said enough, is it could even be more successful if the remaining states expand Medicaid. In my view, the ACA is actually aiding the economy, which is contrary to opposition rhetoric. Why do I say this? With more people covered, they are using health care services more. These healthcare spends coupled with their ability to use other dollars for other goods and services is spurring the economy. So, rather beat on their chest to satisfy the extreme views, our legislators should listen to Americans and improve the ACA.

I could mention others issues, but these five areas will help us continue down a better path. Everyone’s voice needs to be heard, but I would pay attention to those are willing to listen. If someone is too busy shouting at the end, they will not hear you. Let’s govern from the middle.

But, how could you let this happen?

“But, how could you let this happen?” is a phrase often uttered after an event has made the headlines. People are incredulous and leaders, in response, will look at others to blame for the recent turn of events. Yet, oftentimes, the leaders omit their role in the event which occurred by their failure to act. Or, the event was going to happen, and no proactive action was taken to lessen the impact.

I have written before about how social workers are sometimes thrown under the bus for a family treating a child poorly or rampant substance abuse exposing children to things they should not see at their ages. Invariably, the social worker is handling far too many clients due to budget cuts over the years, so that families do not get the attention needed. Depending on travel, capabilities, types of family challenges, and numbers of family members, a social worker should ideally have less than twenty clients. The ratio of 16 to 1 is often mentioned as ideal. Yet, when something goes wrong, we often see social workers with 150 or 200 clients, which means no family gets the attention they need. I have the greatest admiration for social workers, but even Mother Teresa would have a problem with the caseload.

However, this line of questioning is much broader than making sure we staff sufficient numbers of social workers to meet a community’s needs. It gets into most areas of politics and governance. Last week, I was watching a leader of the US border guards on the news describing the problems with the influx of child refugees. He defined and demonstrated how difficult the job is and noted we are already understaffed due to the sequestration budget from last fall. So, to state the obvious, we have people in Congress who, in addition to not passing an Immigration Bill, have not funded the open positions in the border patrol making it harder for them to secure the border. Please reread that last statement, as we have some Congressmen and women who are insisting we secure the border, yet they won’t fund staff to secure the border, in general. This is before the latest request for funds to handle the refugees.

Yesterday, I was encouraged that a bi-partisan bill was agreed upon between the House and Senate committees on handling veterans’ affairs. Senator Bernie Sanders (I) and Representative Jeff Miller (R) are the key proponents (kudos to both). Yet, when the VA Hospital problems hit the fan earlier this year on wait times and veterans not getting served, the echo from Congress was loud, “how could you let this happen?” A veteran leader noted this is the same Congress who would not sign off on Senator Sanders bill earlier this year to address known concerns saying it was too much money, but offered no compromise solution. Yet, they did not do a mea culpa and say we screwed up earlier. Our leaders talk a big game about taking care of veterans,  but we are much more prone to fund tanks and planes we don’t need, than take care of wounded soldiers. Soldiers who have fought much longer and, since fighting among civilians, have been exposed to more PTSD need our help and not just our “atta-boys and girls.” Words are cheap, very cheap. Thank you Senator Sanders and Representative Miller for your actions to support our troops.

Finally, I will drift back to another favorite topic of some and that is Benghazi. “How could you let Americans get killed?” is asked. This issue has been put to bed for eighteen months in a non-partisan review led by Admiral Mullens and Ambassador Pickering, neither of whom were asked before Congressional Committees to speak on their report from December, 2012 until the committees were apprised of this oversight. The report went through all of the areas where we could have done better, but one area was interesting. Security of all embassies had been shortchanged by budget cuts in funding from Congress. So, we cared less about securing our embassies and then cried foul when something happened. And,this is not the first time our embassies and foreign service personnel have been attacked. “How could you let this happen?” the same folks asked.

The two common themes from the above are budget cuts impact service and it is hypocritical to totally blame someone else for something you, as a group, had a hand in causing. As a business person and volunteer board member of non-profit groups, I recognize fully that budgets are not infinite and require trade-offs. I do think we need serious discussions about where we spend our money. Yet, I am also mindful there are some that want to axe everything without noting what services are being performed. And, I also am aware there are those who say cut this or cut that, but when reminded that people back home or funders’ businesses are impacted, change their mind. There are so many military weapons that are not needed and are stockpiling, yet because of funders and lobbyist efforts, we cannot stop making them, e.g.

We have a deficit and debt problem in this country. The answer that the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Commission came to in December, 2010 is both spending cuts and revenue increases are needed. Before we have other “what-ifs” happen, we need to take a look at that report as a plan to start from.

 

 

 

Random Musings on a Rainy Friday

“Let it Rain” sang Eric Clapton, as that is precisely what it is doing. At least it is not snow and ice, as we have had more than enough of the solid precipitation. A few random musings on this rainy Friday are in order.

Obama nominates some questionable ambassadors. This disappointed me as he was supposed to be above recommending ambassador posts to some big donors. For someone who tends to get shortchanged on the good things he has done balanced by some of the bad things that have happened, you would think the President would not do something so foolish as to appoint some ambassadors who were not qualified and could not answer some basic questions. The fact that others have done this before is no excuse. In tennis, this would be called an “unforced error.”

Bill Nye has two debates with people with some interesting views. Bill Nye the Science Guy had not just one, but two debates the past ten days. First, he debated with Ken Ham about Creationism and the age of the world. Second, he debated Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, who is Vice Chairperson of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, about climate change. Tennessee is home to the new Creationism museum which has among other things dinosaurs walking with people in exhibits. I am sorry but the Creationist debate was put to bed about 100 years ago and for people to believe the world is only 6,000 years old flies in the face of a mountain of data. I am not saying someone cannot believe in God, but the authors of the bible who were men, had lesser understanding of science than is known today.

As for Rep. Blackburn, she holds to the conviction that climate change is unproven science and said Nye was just an actor and engineer. It is time for the GOP to join the rest of the world and stop listening to their funders in the fossil fuel industry. Why am I picking on them? The industry hired a Public Relations firm around the time of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” whose sole purpose was to convince people global warming was a hoax. They did a good job, as the goal was to create enough doubt to continue fossil fuel retrieval at an even faster pace. If this was a sporting event, it would be a route 96 to 4. 96% of scientists, including the actor, believe climate change is real and man-influenced. The data is overwhelming.

But, let me put these two issues together for simplicity. If the GOP cannot recognize that climate change is real and is harming our planet right now or continue to let people in their party equivocate Creationism with science even passing laws to teach it as such, then they cannot be trusted with any problems of the day. I left the GOP for its stance on climate change in 2006 and that was eight years ago. Stop being the dinosaurs who show up with people in your Creationism museum.

Ukraine. You cannot kill your own people. If you do then you are a tyrant. A peace accord was reached today. Let’s hope the parties honor this and get to a better place. The Ukraine leadership has to decide which direction they want to go, forward toward freer markets and governance or backward toward more iron fisted rule, as that is what Putin wants them to do. Putin says he has no dog in this fight, but you cannot stir things up like he did, and then step back and say you had no role. The people seem to want the former and are willing to die for it.

Iran. The discussion between Iran and other countries to limit their nuclear development to electrical power uses show promising signs. I know these conversations are unsettling to some, but making progress through conversations about mutual needs, is far better than the alternative. I know there is an element of “trust but verify” needed in the discussions, but I see this as promising.

Syria. I was hopeful these conversations would have more success. The fact that there have been two sets of meetings following the chemical arms disarmament is good. Yet, for this decimated country to survive, two things need to happen, one of which is quite difficult, while the other is needed but harms an ego. The extremists in the rebel ranks need to be dealt with. They are capitalizing on the rebellion and have made it much worse. That is the hard part. The easier part is Assad must go. His ego is getting in the way. This country cannot continue with any trust in leadership with this individual in charge. It is that simple.

North Korea. Moving from one dictator to another, the United Nations has completed a report which says the North Korean regime has committed crimes against humanity. The conclusion is not a surprise, except the fact that is now in a formal public document. On the good side, a reunion of some separated families between South Korea and North Korea was allowed to happen, but only for a brief meeting. It is sad that there is not freer travel, but the first sentence above tells us why. If people were allowed to leave, they would likely not come back. It should be noted these meetings were on North Korean soil.

US Businesses are clamoring for immigration reform. This morning I read a piece that said businesses are pleading for immigration reform, as the states are doing Congress’ job in their absence of action. As a result, multi-state employers are having to deal with the various changes in immigration laws on a state by state business. The innovators have been crying for change as well as it is harder for them to recruit and keep talented immigrants and foreigners. The key problem is innovation is portable, so manufacturing will develop wherever the innovators land. Congress needs to decide if wants to govern or run for office. Unfortunately, their actions are toward the latter.

I hope everyone has a great weekend. Thanks for reading my random musings. I look forward to your thoughts and opinions.

Ric Elias – a moment of clarity plus action

Last night, I was watching a regional show on business in the Carolinas and one of the featured guests was Ric Elias, the CEO of Red Ventures, a huge success story around helping new business market and sell their products using a customer optimization lens. Some of you may have seen him on a TED Talk last year. Please check him out at http://www.ted.com/talks/ric_elias.html. The purpose of this talk was the moment of clarity he reached as the plane he was on in January 2009 was about to crash-land in the Hudson River. You see, Elias was in Seat 1D on US Airways Flight 1549 piloted by Captain Sully Sullenberger, who had just uttered the words “brace for impact.”

His short TED talk is very moving as he came to terms with three things.

1) Live in the now.  As an example, he said I no longer buy expensive wines, as I would rather buy cheaper wines and drink them with my friends today. Don’t put off tomorrow what you should do today.

2) Avoid negative energy.  His main thrust is we spend so much time arguing over things that really do not matter. He said I realized I needed to worry less about being right and worry more about being happy.

3) Focus on what’s important. Building on these same points, he realized seeing his kids grow up was the most important goal in his life. So, he said my most important job is to be the best dad I can be. Nothing else comes close.

I wanted to keep these short, as I encourage you to click on the link and watch the talk which is short even for a TED talk. But, let me add a few points. These were not just words, he acted upon these words. Words are cheap; actions are valuable.

To his last point, I had a health scare on my 44th birthday. I thought I was having a heart attack walking to a restaurant where my family was to meet me. When I got there before them, I asked for an aspirin and then said you may want to call an ambulance. I did not see my wife until later from a hospital bed. I can assure you when I was in a hospital with wires all attached to me, I did not think about work. I thought about my family and seeing my kids get married, become adults and pursue their dreams. I thought of not seeing my wife again. That was my moment of clarity. I acted on my thoughts just as he did with his, but he made an even bigger platform.

First, he stopped working each day at an earlier time and went home to be with his kids. He lived the work-life balance he preached at Red Ventures, which is annually voted as one of the best places to work. He said he remembered balling like a baby at his daughter’s first grade recital. Being there was the most important task on the agenda of a CEO.

Second, he gave back. He is an immigrant to the US and went to college at Boston College.  Plus, he married a business need for innovative talent, with how many children of illegal immigrants are shortchanged and cannot go to college in the US. So, he started Golden Door Scholars (see www.goldendoorscholars.org) with $1 million in funding. The purpose is to provide more avenues to education for the approximately 1.1 million children under age 18 that are children of illegal and legal immigrants. He said many of these kids are the brightest in their classes and yet cannot go to college. They did not do anything wrong. Red Ventures even offers intern programs to these kids.

Third, his company, as noted above, is a forward thinker. Red Ventures hires, develops and nurtures young kids teaching them to become innovative problem solvers. “We fail constantly,” he says, “but we fail fast and hard. And, we learn even faster.”  Elias’ Red Ventures creates a breeding ground for innovative thought. This is what made America great and this is what we need to do to compete in the new world. He notes with the doubling of computing power every 18 months, the next two iterations will be mind-boggling. We need innovators to understand this and help us capitalize on it.

What I like about Elias’ words is what he has done about them. Moments of clarity should not be wasted by inaction. Otherwise, the opportunity to change for the better may have been wasted as well. Give his TED talk a listen. It might give you a moment of clarity without having to sweat a plane crash. And, if you have a moment of clarity, develop a plan and act on it. Dr. Phil likes to say “the difference between a dream and a goal is a timeline.” I think Elias understand this difference.