Saturday smidgens

In spite of everything, we need to remember to be alive. If we do not, then we may spiral down a rabbit hole of despair and uncertainty. Here, it is a good day to be outside. While I have yard work in my plans, it will be nice to exercise and breathe fresh air. I have a few random smidgens of musings to ponder around a common theme as we head out.

Since I have been writing of the need to listen to the truthtellers, I was reminded of a quirky colleague who was a joy to be around. He would leave vignettes on his voicemail greeting, changing them every few days. One of my favorites is “Always tell the truth. You don’t have to remember as much.”

An old leadership axiom is watch what managers do in times of crisis. The ones who can calm others in the face of adversity are the ones to follow. People take on the personality of their leader. If he or she berates people in times of stress, then others will follow suit. But, if he or she is calm….

The famous Atlanta Braves pitcher John Smoltz was applauded for how cool he was in the playoffs and World Series which contributed to great success. He said the key is to stay calm and achieve the same level of performance as you do when not as stressed. It is not that he elevated his performance, others got nervous and lowered theirs.

Like many, my grandfather was not a talkative man. He was a hard worker who loved to fish in his spare time. His best friend, my great uncle, was the same way. Between the two of them, the fish would never be scared away by sound. But, when he talked, you listened. We all know and need people like this in our lives.

One of the greatest college running backs and a very good pro football player was named Herschel Walker. When Walker scored a touchdown, he would not celebrate like players do today and many did when he played. He preferred to act like he had been in the end zone before. And, he was there a lot.

Finishing up with Walker, I have written before of the true story after he retired. He was out jogging and came upon a car that had crashed and the people could not get out of the car. Walker ripped the door off the car and pulled them to safety. After making sure they were alright and waiting until the police and EMTs arrived, he ran off with no fan fare. It was not until later that a reporter confirmed that Walker had saved the couple from the car.

The themes of truthfulness, calmness, humility and thoughtfulness are worthy attributes to deploy. Beware of those in leadership who do not exhibit such.

For profit drug and medical supply companies are geared to maximize profits

This topic is not a new one and is one I first wrote of several years ago. The concern is the number of for-profit companies who make drugs and medical supplies are not geared toward fighting pandemic or new bacterial strains that keep cropping up. They are geared toward profit. What do I mean by this?

Think of all of the television commercials about new prescription drugs. It will not be hard as there is a growing number with new names that make you ask, now what does this do? Quite simply, a drug company makes more money creating a maintenance drug you take every day for the rest of your life than they do making cures for major diseases.

It is not unusual for the company to codify a new illness which is neatly packaged with this new pill. Or, the new pill may be a supplement to an existing drug to make it better or address the side effects. Did you know there is an anti-constipation drug that is sold to help alleviate the constipation caused by opioid painkillers? Please note this is not intended to slight anyone who is gaining benefit from one of these drugs.

Making a drug that will cure something, simply has a low or negative ROI. One reason is the company would look poor if they charge to high a price for a cure. This is where the CDC and NIH must garner funding to pay for the development of drugs before the pandemic catches fire. The other risk is the new bacterial strains that may develop beyond our ability to fight the strain. This is where I first learned of the funding deficiency for massive exposure problems.

The same can be said of medical equipment. The New York Times has a good piece on the recent history of ventilator production. Agreements have been made then voided by acquisitive companies. These acquisitions were either to protect a higher priced ventilator or a market share. So, there were a number of false starts. What is frustrating is how easily contracts can be voided after an acquisition. This is horribly unfair to the buyer of the service or product, especially when the contract could help many.

There are a couple of larger points to be made. This is a great example of where there needs to be a blend of financial responsibility on investment for the greater good. This is not new. Our country has a history of a blend of corporate, venture capital, private and government investment. This is a key theme of Pulitzer Prize winning author Thomas Friedman’s book “That Used to be Us: How America fell behind in the world it created and how it can come back.”

Per another economic advisor, David Smick (“The World is Curved”) who advised Republican and Democrat presidents, this blend of capital investment need not occur on every investment or in some set order. Sometimes government funding leads and sometimes it may trail. The point is we have way to many either/ or arguments when the right answer is a blend of both or multiple. This is known as the “tyranny of the or.” Our history is built on the blend of capital investment, especially for large infrastructure projects.

So, greater good investments need to be evaluated as soon as possible. When the risk is identified, that is when the spend is needed, if not before given what the challenge is. Not having a COVID-19 vaccine early on is one thing that should have been addressed a few months ago given the development time. Not having enough ventilators is something that should have been addressed well before given their need. Leaving certain things to solely a for-profit lens will mean that some needed investments may not get made or not made soon enough.

Trumbo – a great movie about a dark time in America

Earlier in the week, I was watching the excellent movie called “Trumbo” about the black-listed screenwriter Dalton Trumbo starring Bryan Cranston and an excellent cast such as Helen Mirren, Diane Lane, Elle Fanning and John Goodman to name a few. I missed it the first time around in 2015 when it was released.

The movie was written by John McNamara and Bruce Cook, on whose book the movie is based. It was directed by Jay Roach. Trumbo was one of the Hollywood Ten who were blacklisted early on for alleged communist activities. He spent time in jail for being in Contempt of Congress for refusing to name names. Trumbo would go on to ghost write two Oscar winning screenplays for “Roman Holiday” and “The Brave One.” He would perpetuate an underground screenwriting group and eventually, Kirk Douglas and director Otto Preminger, would let him sign his name to the movies in 1960 with “Spartacus” and “Exodus.”

I was reminded of the House Un-American Activities Committee, which began in 1947 and was in exisentence until 1975, that started these investigations leading to Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch hunt efforts. It should be noted that 1975 is the year following Richard Nixon’s resignation. Nixon was a key ally of Sen. McCarthy. It should be noted Nixon kept an enemies list due to his paraonoia. Nixon did some good things, but he turned out to be a crook.

What is interesting is McCarthy’s attorney through this dark period was Roy Cohn. Cohn later became a mentor to a young real estate developer in New York named Donald J. Trump. Trump’s biographers wrote that Cohn told Trump to never apologize and sue everyone. Trump has followed these mandates for his entire career.

Bringing this full circle. Trump is the most corrupt and deceitful president in my lifetime, including Nixon. But, both me were influenced by Sen. McCarthy who led this dark period in American history who made up things to support his claims. It should be noted that both Nixon and Trump blame the press for not sufficiently kowtowing to them. As the Sec. of the Army asked famously of McCarthy, “have you no sense of decency, sir?” The same could be asked of the current US president.

So, we must protect America against those who wave the flag and tell people it does not stand for the things that it does.

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!!!

Listen to the truthtellers – sample letter to editor

Misinformation and disinformation abound with COVID-19. The line we must use when we see incredulous Facebook posts or hear fabricated conspiracy theories (like Bill Gates concocted COVID-19 to make money), or the simple echoing of misinformation by the president, is “I would encourage you to listen to the truthtellers.” When asked, you can mention the doctors and scientists. If asked to elaborate further, you can say “Listen to the people not patting themselves on the back telling what a great job they are doing.”

Listen to the truthtellers

We need to listen to the truthtellers on the COVID-19 pandemic. They are the ones who deliver facts, seek more data and don’t pat themselves on the back. They will also say we don’t know yet, more often than the back-patters.

An ER nurse earlier in the werk said what has surprised her is the number of people between ages 25 and 54 that are coming in with the virus. Last night, PBS (or it may have been ABC) reported that younger folks who have diabetes (or pre-diabetes) or asthma are at higher risk. So, everyone is at risk to some extent.

We are behind where we need to be due to both the naysaying (calling it a hoax) from the White House and sheepish other politicians, the elimination of the Global Pandemic group in 2018 and the elimination of some US CDC epidemiologists in China in 2019. We are doing things now that should have been planned back in January. The legislators were forewarned by National Security folks, so the pandemic risk was known.

Even still, too many have parroted the president’s early naysaying (which lasted to the end of February) and more have gotten sick or died, even a few parroters. This echo effect is what is dangerous given the misinformation which continues to today.

David Brooks, the conservative pundit, called the “inconstancy” of the president on these issues as a major risk. He cited the president’s downplaying of needed ventilators one hour and issuing an emergency declaration for more ventilators the next. He tends to react to remedy any bad press rather than plan ahead.

I heard yesterday, NPR and other news outlets are not broadcasting the White House press conferences wall-to-wall” due to the misinformation from the president. They do report on what the truthtellers are saying, as good information is discussed. But are they are not covering the president’s talking points live.

So, folks young and older need to listen to the doctors and truthtellers. Their lives may depend on it.

Sidebar: If one of your friends, colleagues, relatives, bosses or other co-workers routinely bragged on what a great job they were doing, what would you reaction be? If the boss’ direct reports bragged on the boss on a routine basis, again what would your reaction be? The same question should be asked when it happens at the uppermost leadership levels in our country.

Poor (or not so poor) Richard’s Almanac

One of my two North Carolina Senators is Richard Burr. While I do not agree with everything he opines, this independent voter has voted for him on occasion and against him as well. Yet, he has always seemed to be one of the more reasonable Republicans and Senators in office. I have actually even met him twice, once at a meeting about the state’s homeless population and once at my boss’ request to brief him on employer health care issues when he first ran as a Congressman.

So, this makes it even more troubling that he has been alleged of insider trading on stocks to pocket the upside gain on hospitality stocks when he had knowledge those stocks would suffer as the coronavirus became more known. He and Kelly Loeffler, the new Senator from Georgia, have been accused of such. From a Reason.com article called “Senators Richard Burr, Kelly Loeffler accused of coronavirus motivated insider trading” (see link below):

“Plague trading? Privately, Sen. Richard Burr (R–N.C.) warned constituents weeks ago that coronavirus was “akin to the 1918 pandemic,” NPR reports. Publicly, he towed President Donald Trump’s line that the new disease would not be a big deal.

Worse still, ProPublica reports that Burr sold off between $600,000 and $1.7 million in stocks on February 13, suggesting that he used his private knowledge about the coming economic impact of the pandemic to prevent personal financial losses. Burr chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and is a member of the Health Committee. At the time he sold the stocks—a significant proportion of his wealth—he was being briefed regularly on COVID-19.

It was the largest single-day stock trade for Burr in 14 months.”

Insider trading is a crime for “named executives” according to the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). Note Burr is not a named executive of these companies. Yet, it is also in violation of the STOCK (Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge) passed in 2012, which Burr ironically voted against. This act was passed after “60 Minutes” did a report that noted former Congress members were leaving office much wealthier than when they arrived due to insider knowledge. This is where Burr’s action may lead to trouble for him.

People may not recall the Enron scandal which hit the fan in the early 2000s. This is where Enron executives had over 40 fraudulent schemes to hide losses and artificially prop up earnings for stock appreciation and bonus determination. What is also infuriating, the CEO told employees to keep buying and not divest Enron stock, even when he knew the price was artificially propped up. He and his CFO went to jail for securities fraud. Senator Burr was telling people the president’s party-line of not to panic about the coronavirus and this will blow over, when he had been briefed as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence Committee to the contrary.

He argues that he was selling based on public knowledge, but the above paragraph reveals concerns. Right now, a shareholder of Wyndham Resorts, one of the stocks, is suing the Senator for insider trading. I am certain other shareholders will be asked to join the lawsuit to make it a class action. They will have standing, meaning they lost value, while Burr sold and pocketed gain on the advance knowledge.

A recent poll in The Charlotte Observer, cited 50% of all NC voters and 31% of GOP NC voters want Burr to resign. Even Fox News talk show host Tucker Carlson has asked for his resignation. This is why it is critical that elected officials must be divorced from the handling of their investments, either placing them in blind trust or selling them. It should be noted NC Congressman Robert Pittenger resigned his position two years ago due to his unethically remaining involved in the management of his business when he said he was not.

Senator Burr, I recognize this an alleged crime, but the optics look very poor. I know you asked for an investigation, which sounds good, but if it is done correctly, it may not come out in your favor. Even if it does, the shareholder lawsuit will be even more invasive. I do not see you escaping hard scrutiny. It is sad that you will likely be remembered more for this, than other more reasonable efforts you have made. I know you have announced last year you won’t be running again in 2022, but you may be forced to reconsider this.

Sens. Richard Burr, Kelly Loeffler Accused of Coronavirus-Motivated Insider Trading