Retrenching into silos is the exact opposite of what is needed

With the advent of more terrorists’ activities around the globe and the significant refugee crisis, nationalistic and jingoistic behaviors have taken more solid footing. With the backlash in some European countries, the Brexit vote and the rise of Donald Trump as an unlikely candidate for US President, show that protectionism is selling these days as a concept. These folks want to build actual and proverbial walls, rather than bridges.

Yet, that is precisely the wrong behavior needed. These so-called leaders feel if we segregate and retrench into our own little worlds, this cocooning will make everything better. What these so-called leaders fail to tell you is the significant benefits with being aligned, working together and doing commerce with each other. Economic trade breaks down barriers, as countries do not want to upset the financing of their economy and will work past governing differences.

President Abraham Lincoln did not coin this phrase, but he capitalized on it – keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.  Lincoln added several adversaries to his cabinet when elected. His view was if he could keep tabs on his opposition and argue with them, he could keep a lid on dissent at a time when dissent was in vogue. President Teddy Roosevelt was very open with reporters, in part because of his ego, but in large part to have the reporters be his eyes and ears. He would have them go speak with his department heads to learn what was going on.

Commerce breaks down barriers. Not only will we make more money by co-existing, we will be safer in turn. That is a concern of the Brexit vote, as the UK being a part of the EU makes the world safer and aids the economy of both entities. Like the UK, there is much to be gained in the US with the global economy, especially with companies who employ people here. Just here in Carolinas, there are multiple hundreds, if not thousands, of foreign companies who have US presences here, be it a North American headquarters or a major plant. BMW, Mitsubishi, Michelin, Doosan and Husqvarna come to mind.

We should not lose sight of breaking down barriers abroad. I have been a staunch supporter of doing trade with Cuba and Iran. The countries want to do business with us and we are well positioned to leverage that travel and trade. Just with Cuba and its 11 million people, it will be like adding a 51st state to our US economy. With Iran, of course, we need to keep our eyes open, but the median age of Iranis is age 35. We have a chance to create new economic paradigm with Iran which will live beyond the older regime. Plus, being closer to Iran will allow us to keep more tabs. This is the  best example of what Lincoln did.

The candidates who have touted building walls and retrenching are not being very open with the whole picture. They are using fear and an incomplete picture of reality. Companies have always chased cheap labor and as one CFO said in the book “The Rich and the Rest of Us,” if companies could get by with hiring no employees, they would. The greater threat is technology improvements as a new plant is not going to have 3,000 employees, it will have 300. On the flip side, Nissan in Tennessee and Mercedes in Alabama employ a great many American workers, which is not talked about enough as a benefit of globalization.

If we retrench, we will be reducing markets for goods and services. A venture capitalist once said what creates jobs is not owners, but customers. The fewer the customers, the fewer the jobs. But, with that said, there are elements of truth that workers need to ask more of the employers who have suppressed wages and let people go, to hire younger and cheaper workers. Companies are quick to hire cheaper, but need to be reminded that we employees are important and customers, as well.

I am reminded that two of the top three jobs creation Presidents had two things in common. Bill Clinton, the number one job creator at 22.8 million jobs, and Ronald Reagan, the number three job creator at 16.1 million, were both collaborators and advocated global trade, as reported in “The World is Curved” by David Smick, who was an economic advisor to both. Creating markets for trade and opening up our markets to others, in my view, is one of the best things a President can do.

Globalization is extremely important, but we need to manage it better. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater is something we must guard against. So-called leaders who are advocating this very thing need to be asked more questions. As they are not telling you the whole story.

 

China, Cuba and Iran

Former President Richard Nixon became the first president who almost was impeached and would have been if he did not resign. Yet, in spite of his troubles at home where he ran a disinformation and burglary ring from the White House, he did make a huge difference in opening up dialogue with China. His efforts and those of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, paved the way for changes in the economic relationship with that country which led to growth there and abroad.

I bring this up as when we look back in forty years at these moments, we may be able to say the same things about Cuba and Iran. Both have very young countries, with the youth crying out for better ties with the west and the products and services they bring. Yes, both countries are not being led the way we would want, but I believe having commerce with people is the best way to break down barriers. At some point, the commerce is so important, that it will be preserved and more dialogue will occur.

Of course, we need to move forward with our eyes open, but it is far better to find common ground than to beat on your chest and refuse to enter the sandbox. So, from where I sit, I applaud the President for opening up these countries to more dialogue, just as I thought as a teen that dealing with China was exciting.

We will see the positives with Cuba much sooner, as tourism will be ramped up this year. The president’s visit was a huge step forward. But, I think having a better relationship with Iran will pay dividends as well, yet I am not foolish enough to say trust them completely. So, let’s be cautiously optimistic and guarded as well.

 

A few things to consider about the Iran deal

I am by no means an expert, but I want to ask our leaders to consider a few points about the Iran nuclear deal, after they finish beating on their chests and saying all the political things. Whether it passes muster in our Congress or not, a few things that should be thought about are as follows:

First, we are not the only country involved in signing this agreement. Our allies Germany, France and England did so well. And, Russia and China were involved. So, if we decide to not approve the agreement, we may stand alone.

Second, the President, Secretary of State and their counterparts should get a lot of credit for having these conversations, much less coming to an agreement. We have not had discussion of this nature with Iran in over 30 years, so their diplomatic feat should be applauded at a minimum. Getting a reasonable deal is commendable.

Third, the median age in Iran is age 35. That means half of its population is younger and is aching for a better economy and ties to the western world. We have a chance to win or lose another generation of Iranis. We have a chance to break down many barriers to future interaction. Or, we can continue to be an enemy and all that entails.

Fourth, what would happen otherwise is the question that must be asked. Iran would continue to do what it was in pursuing a nuclear bomb. They may even still under the vest. Yet, we have some governance with the deal we would not otherwise have. I understand the fears of Netanyahu, but he has been banging this drum for about ten years. It does not make the fears less, but I saw a Middle East expert note that Israel may benefit from a deal, because of more being out in the open.

I will leave it to the powers that be to say grace over this. Yet, I do think these points are important. One thing we should try to avoid are the “bomb Iran” crowd, as that would make matters worse and we would definitely lose that generation noted above.

Reality is scarier than fiction this Friday the 13th

I have never been a big fan of gory horror movies, although I did enjoy Frankenstein and Dracula when I was little. And, The Exorcist and The Omen did cause some chills and entertainment. However, what is most scary to me are stories that could happen or did happen in real life. With that in mind this Friday 13th, the most scary things that could happen are very real and that is being led down poor paths by our leaders.

In no particular order:

– ISIS is scary, but what is most scary to me is our leaders possibly taking their bait and introducing US ground troops. That is precisely what ISIS wants. We have reached a tipping point and that is the Muslim world is saying no more to terrorists like ISIS who have hijacked their religion with extreme views. The fight against ISIS must be a Muslim-led effort with our support and help. ISIS knows this and wants to draw in America, so they can point to another enemy.

– Before leaving the Middle East, I shared with my Senator’s office that signing a letter to Iran with 46 other senators is asinine. These 47 senators endangered America by showing our division to the world. It is more than OK to debate and argue, but to circumvent negotiations over something this important and to disagree with something before you know what it is childish and dangerous. Columnist Michael Gerson, who is one of the best conservative bent writers, largely said the same thing in his column today. A shrewd leader will use this to our disadvantage. Putin has already written op-ed pieces in our papers to sway opinion. Remember this is the guy who controls his media, so he can play us against ourselves.

– But, let’s set this aside for a minute. What do the chest beaters want us to do if this agreement fails? What do the chest beaters want us to do in Ukraine? What do they want us to do in Syria? Our troops have said to people who will listen, we don’t mind fighting, but give us a clear-cut mission with an end strategy. What does winning look like? These folks that want us to get more heavily involved can not define what winning looks like, as to be brutally frank, it may not be clearly definable. There is a two-word term that comes to mind that military personnel use often to describe these situations and it begins with the word “cluster.” I will let you complete the thought.

– At the same time I was including in my previous post about the City of Miami and the three surrounding counties spending $200 million to combat the encroaching sea that is now coming up through the storm drains and flooding the streets, the state of Florida was striking the words climate change and global warming from formal documents. This is akin to the George W. Bush White House marking through scientific papers presented to them striking the same language. It is also akin to the state of NC General Assembly refusing to accept a peer-reviewed scientific paper that said the sea levels will rise 39 inches (one meter) by 2100, the same prediction accepted in Virginia, Maine, and Louisiana. I wish I could handle my problems this easily, by erasing them with my delete key or pencil eraser. Didn’t you know you could hold back rising sea levels with legal briefs?

– The scariest thing in America right now is our leadership and political machinations. No one cares to govern and only wants to grease the skids to get elected or remain in office. Everything is a win/ lose zero sum game, where one party has to disagree with the other party no matter what. For example, Obamacare borrows from Romneycare, a Republican idea which was advocated by Tea Party leadership for the country and is working for the most part, but Republicans have to hate it. Americans generally know what the problem is in large part, but with the election system gerrymandered and controlled by large donors coupled with a specifically uninformed public who does not know when they are being lied to by faux news shows, we do not have much hope for better governance.

Yet, we must try to make a difference. We have to hold our elected officials accountable. We have to ask questions of news experts and pundits regarding positions or statements they have made. We should also be wary of name-callers and labelers. When you hear someone resort to labels, be mindful that the person must not have a very good argument. We must also read, listen and watch more reputable news sources such as NPR, PBS Newshour, The Guardian, BBC World News America, Al Jazeera News to name a few. If we don’t, then everyday may be a Friday the 13th.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Yet, another Day in the Life

Again, with credit to Messrs. Lennon and McCartney, here are few more odds and ends in yet another “Day in the Life.” In no particular order…

Obamacare – Today is the day when the website is officially more functional, but it has been doing better through the month of November. It better be, as the major selling points of Obamacare are portrayed through the subsidies and additional offerings. Three quick comments, which I have made before:

– Buying healthcare is a personal risk decision: a political group’s opinion on the matter is irrelevant. Without knowing someone’s risk profile, telling someone not to buy insurance is on the unethical side of things. As an example, the risk of an unmarried, young male being in a car accident is greater than any other adult group, so some form of high deductible, catastrophic coverage might be worth considering, but that should be their decision. This is a key reason why I carry both of my adult sons on my policy.

– The Medicaid sign-ups continue to be the hidden success story; the states who declined Medicaid expansion will likely alter their position as it is a win-win for the people in need, the hospitals with high uninsured patients and the states’ economies, so says the RAND Corporation.

– The GOP has overreached on the bad rollout and it will likely come back to haunt them and should. Obamacare is largely a GOP idea and they have made it much harder for it to work and then step back and say “see I told you so” with its bumpy roll out. Since states’ rights is such an important GOP issue, for some states to pass on running a state based exchange (where you have state insurance commissioners whose job is to govern the market), is on the hypocritical side of things. The states who have done so are seeing better results on average, with a good bellweather state being Kentucky, the home of Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell, two staunch Obamacare critics.

Temporary Deal with Iran

I am puzzled by the negative reaction to this deal. Multiple countries have a hand in it and it allows more verification and audit of nuclear development than what we have now. When old men beat on their chest and say we should bomb Iran or go to battle, I can assure you they will not be on the firing line. I understand Israel and Saudi Arabia’s points, but this temporary deal is helpful. Sanctions can always be reset, but dialogue is better than none. Haven’t we learned the financial and reputation cost of war?

I don’t know why Republicans don’t like Obama

I voted for the President and he has done some good things for our country and lot of good things have happened on his watch. He also done some things that have greatly disappointed me. Yet, the GOP has been firmly aligned to battle every thing he has done and some would run him over in their car if they got the chance. On the flip side, one of my friends jokingly says he is the best Republican president we have ever had. Some GOPers would cringe at this, but it shows what he has always been, more of a moderate, as he has disappointed folks on the right and left. Here are few things to consider to my friend’s point:

– US domestic oil production has increased significantly in the last five years, where we are much more self-reliant on our own oil. There is nothing more Republican than oil production increases.

– The deficit is on the decline due to spending cuts, lessening our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and tax increases by not extending the Bush tax cuts on the upper end. Republicans don’t like the last step, but they do love the direction of the deficit decline.

– On his watch the stock market has returned in a huge way since elected and many Republicans have done extremely well. The GOP does not like to admit this, but historically, the stock market has done better under Democrat white houses. I would add the president role gets too much credit and too much blame for the stock market results, but it is an interesting data point.

– The economy has gotten better on a monthly basis over the last three years and the number of jobs created on his watch are positive (even when you load in the layoffs shortly after elected due to the financial crisis at the end of Bush’s term). Contrary to GOP hype, the stimulus bill actually worked and could have been even more. Like the above, the president role gets too much credit and too much blame for the economy, but the GOP might be interested in the data point that far more jobs have been created under Democrat white houses than GOP ones since 1921 by a ratio of 2.5 to 1.

– He quietly has invested in community college retraining programs leveraging state dollars with federal dollars matching up with business needs. Why this does not get more notoriety is beyond me? It is almost as if politicians have to sneak around to do things that might go against the party platform. It is like the high number of closet global warming believers in the GOP party leadership. This investment in retraining is precisely the kind of investment we need to be making to promote job creations.

– And, I have already mentioned Obamacare being largely a GOP idea patterned after Romneycare and tracing its roots to a Heritage Foundation idea embraced by GOP Senator Bob Dole when he ran for president against Bill Clinton. The fact that Tea Party leader Jim DeMint supported Romneycare, before Obamacare was passed, advocating for it to President Bush is doubly ironic now that he is head of the Heritage Foundation. After Obamacare was passed and Romney ran for president again in 2012, DeMint said both Romneycare and Obamacare were unconstitutional. But, you said….

On the negative side, while Obama has opened the discussions on climate change action and should be commended for the higher mpg requirements on cars, he has not done near enough to move alternative energy forward. I am also disappointed in the lack of transparency of his administration and the NSA spying issues. And, the use of drones may have saved American and civilian lives without troop intervention, but their merciless, clinical nature and poor governance have harmed the US reputation as we have created more people who hate and distrust us. Finally, doing nothing to address our daily gun violence problem, as well as not getting immigration reform across the finish line or offering more help to those in need are disappointing.

Being an Independent voter, I am afforded the chance to look at the many hypocrisies of both sides. I would like the GOP to return to a more reasonable party to balance against the Democrats. I would like Democrats to better understand the ROI of investments and that, on certain issues, we have to get a better economic handle – such as the high, unsustainable cost of governmental pensions which are contributor to bankruptcy in stagnant cities. We have too many unreasonable positions being bandied about based on anecdotal data, misinformation and disinformation. We need reasonable people to govern based on real data and concern for those impacted and not who wins on an issue.

This is my Day in the Life as of December 1, 2013. Have a great final month of your year. And, please question things and data sources. Ask people why they believe a certain way on an issue. Maybe, just maybe, better discussion can evolve.