Media – focus more on the problems needing solving and less on who wins

The main stream media is doing a better job on focusing on the issues, but they still have a bias toward conflict. Who wins and loses based on the airing of an issue or problem is covered way too much for my taste. The end result is problems and their many causes do not get addressed or are oversimplified, so they go unsolved.

The dilemma is we citizens lose. The focus must be on the issues rather than who benefits from whatever hits a news cycle. Substance matters more than image. Here are a few examples to digest.

We have a poverty problem in the US. It is not just a declining middle class. Too many are living beneath paycheck to paycheck or are one paycheck away from being in trouble. The United Nations just released a report that confirms the US has a poverty problem citing numerous examples and numbers. Instead of asking lawmakers what are we doing about it, the media focused on the Trump administration admonishing the UN for the report. The problem exists whether or not it makes Trump look bad, as it took decades to decline to this point. Addressing poverty is more important.

We have a significant and growing debt problem that has been made worse by the Tax law passed in December. The economy was already doing pretty good with a long growth period. Yet, rather than address our debt, we borrowed more from our future. This malfeasance must be highlighted. Yet, most of the focus is on the economy doing well and its impact on the midterm election. Note the economy would have done well without the tax change, but we have a day of reckoning coming that will require more revenue and less spending. What are we going to do about it now, especially with a good economy?

The Affordable Care Act has needed improvements and stabilization for some time. The American public favors this as do lawmakers from both parties. Yet, the media focuses too much on the political  impact of an ACA that could be doing better. Not only has the party in power not helped the ACA, they have sabotaged it making premiums go up even more. As I see it, the President and GOP own the ACA. Letting premiums go up hurts Americans. If the ACA fails, our poverty problem will get even worse and the economy will suffer.

Issues like immigration, climate change, water shortages, tariffs, exiting international agreements, eg, all need to be focused on. We need to drill down on what makes sense in a data driven and reasonable manner. Attempting to resolve issues based on optics of winning or losing won’t solve anything. And, that is what our President and legislators seem to be more interested in.

So, media please start asking our leaders what they plan on doing about these problems and asking them to explain why certain measures don’t seem to be helpful.  And, leaders stop worrying about keeping your job and start doing your job.

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Help me understand a few things

Happy Friday everyone. In a week of good and bad news as well as sort of good and bad news, help me understand a few things.

Help me understand how a person can start a fight with our friends and then convince his fans that it is one of our friends fault? That takes some gall.

Help me understand how someone brags on what a great negotiator he is and then routinely makes concessions to adversaries without getting much in return? It is great conversation is occurring with one adversary as we avoid who has the bigger button fight.

Help me understand how completely destroying large swaths of countries like Yemen and Syria without concern for the people makes anyone involved a good leader? Death and taxes used to be the only two sure things, but I would add people in need will always be pawns – this gives rise to terrorism, not avoid such.

Help me understand how the simple, but time consuming process of notifying stakeholders of decisions to gain their buy-in and input before the decisions are announced is lost on the person referenced in the first two questions above? Surprising people with decisions that impact them is not a good idea – the atrocious first travel ban or firing people without telling them are examples of such.

Help me understand how leaders who know the damage being done  to a country and its dear reputation by its front man, but choose not to act can still claim to be leaders? People need to watch Senator Bob Corker’s recent speech on the floor of the US Senate and then watch Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake of last summer. Their words are dead on accurate.

Help me understand how the lead attorney for a country can quote biblical passages to separate immigrant children from their parents at the same time numerous churches are using Jesus’ teachings from the same book to help immigrant children? The former is the epitome of what a friend calls “Cafeteria Christians.”

Help me understand how a country about to head off a cliff can continue to do so after recognizing a vote to drive off the cliff was aided by Russian influence and outright misinformation? Like in the country I live in, we tend to throw the baby out with the bath water rather than clean the water.

Continuing the water analogy, I think we the people should have an “out of the pool” loudspeaker. It should be used when  leaders do not work together and are not addressing obvious problems or oversimplifying their cause coming to wrong headed solutions,

I have spent almost twenty years helping people who have lost their home, even though they are working several jobs. I see what happens when problems are ignored or lied about. We the people need to tell our leaders to stop the BS and do their jobs. What I have discovered when I chat with them, the people who work for these so-called leaders also know their bosses are dropping the ball.

Pope is at it again

Last week, Pope Francis again revealed why he is a global leader. Leveraging the biblical teachings that God wants us to take care of our environment, he reiterated his concerns on climate change to oil executives. Per a Wall Street Journal article called “Pope Francis Criticizes Continued Search for Fossil Fuels at Meeting with Oil Executives,” he encouraged oil executives to find ways to leave fossil fuel energy in the ground. Per the WSJ article:

“’Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization!’ he said at a Vatican climate change conference attended by top executives including Exxon Mobil Corp. Chief Executive Darren Woods, BP PLC Chief Executive Bob Dudley and BlackRock Inc. Chief Executive Laurence Fink.

At the conference, co-sponsored by the University of Notre Dame and featuring nearly 20 speakers Friday and Saturday, the pope said that an estimated 1 billion people still lack electricity and noted that access to energy is an essential resource for escaping poverty. But he warned that a failure to reduce the use of fossil fuels would lead to a ‘spiral of extreme climate changes due to a catastrophic rise in global temperatures, harsher environments and increased levels of poverty.’

The poor ‘suffer most from the ravages of global warming,’ he said, through water shortages and extreme weather which in turn drive mass migration, among other ways.
Pope Francis commended oil and gas companies for adopting policies that account for ‘assessment of climate risk’ and he encouraged the practice of environmentally sensitive ‘green finance’ investment strategies. But he warned that ‘markets and technology’ wouldn’t be sufficient to stop climate change, since our ‘current economic system thrives on ever-increasing extraction, consumption and waste.’

Earlier this year, BlackRock’s Mr. Fink in a letter urged chief executives at global companies to ‘make a positive contribution to society.’ The world’s largest asset manager has played a key role behind the scenes in insisting that companies take action to respond to climate change.

Pope Francis’ meeting with oil executives and investors comes almost exactly three years after the publication of his encyclical Laudato Si’, in which he called global warming a major threat to life on the planet and said it is mainly caused by human activity. In that document, which as an encyclical ranks among the highest levels of papal teaching, the pope blamed special interests for blocking policy responses and indicted the market economy for plundering the Earth at the expense of the poor and future generations.”

With the US President announcing his intention to leave the Paris Climate Change Accord, other global leaders, like Pope Francis are continuing the push. Ironically, Exxon Mobil’s shareholders voted (the day before Trump’s announcement to leave the Accord) to obligate the company leadership to inform them of what they are doing to address climate change. Fortunately, US cities, states and businesses are picking up the baton dropped by the President. The US has passed the tipping point on renewable energy, in spite of the President and his EPA head’s efforts.

Pope Francis should be commended for leading the charge. Taking care of the least of us has been a mantra of this leader. I recognize he is not perfect, but is concern for people and the environment is meritorious. And, unlike Messrs. Trump and Pruitt, the pope is a scientist, with a Masters in Chemistry and has worked as a chemist.

A few more Sunday sermonettes

Happy Sunday. No, I won’t be preaching this morning, but I will be trying my best to speak a few truths.

It easy to blame someone else or some other entity for your troubles. The European Union is not perfect, but has helped many countries through hard times. When they are helpful, country leaders pat themselves on the back. When times are tough, it is nice to have a scapegoat. Relationships are hard work, but countries need to think hard if they want a divorce from the EU before they have the “what do we do now moment?”

Speaking of relationships, the man in the White House tends to have transactional ones. A pundit said he counts few friends saying he touts a “me against the world” mindset. If he keeps on ticking off our allies, this description will be very apt. Unfortunately he will drag the US down with him.

Two of the worst terms in America are RINO and DINO. They mean Republican (or Democrat) in Name Only. They are used by tribal party members as an insult to someone who is not towing the party line. As an unaffiliated voter who has been a member of both parties, I find these labels offensive. We pledge allegiance to the country, not some party. If someone uses this term, do yourself a favor and pay attention to what the target of their labeling is saying. It likely has more veracity than the claimant’s argument.

The United Nations came out with a report Friday defining how Trump’s policies are detrimental to the poor in America. America has a poverty problem that predates Trump. Too many are living paycheck to paycheck and some are even beneath that. This President and Congress’ solution is to give a huge tax break to wealthy people and companies. And, if the repeal of the Affordable Care Act went through, it would have been even worse. America has fallen in the global ranks on upward socio-economic mobility. It matters more to whom you were born than merit in getting ahead.

On a positive note, Costco raised its minimum wage from $13 to $14 an hour and Walmart increased theirs from $9 to $11 an hour. And more states and cities are making planned and new increases. These are steps in the right direction. It would have been nice for Congress to have increased the minimum wage along with the tax decrease which impacts corporations annually. It would have helped pay for some of the lost tax revenue if companies had to increase pay for those in greatest need, plus this money would be spent as they need it more than the 1% group.

Thanks for letting me preach. Any Amens or rebuttals? Other truisms?

Thoughts for Thursday

Here are a few random thoughts on a rainy Thursday, with more rain to come in the days ahead.

A retired ambassador said recently, the US strength is more than its military, it is its relationships with allies. What concerns me is we are devaluing our allied relationships. This is echoed by the European Union Chairman Dean Tusk. Tusk said the EU must be more united than ever before to deal with what he called Trump’s “capricious assertiveness”. My question is this how we want to be viewed by our friends?

Another retired ambassador to Israel said while he agreed with the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem, the US administration made two mistakes. It should have been announced in the context of moving toward a two state solution. In essence, the US placed little obligation on Israel for this move. Also, celebrating the opening on the anniversary of Israel is an insult to Palestinians. This date is not viewed favorably, so the celebration rubbed salt in a wound.

Assuming the role of ambassador for the disenfranchised in the US, a huge opportunity missed occurred during the rushed tax bill which hugely favored companies and the wealthy. I favored some relief on the corporate tax rate, but we went way too far and are negatively impacting our huge and growing debt. The additional opportunity missed I am referencing is not imposing a requirement on companies to provide raises. One way of doing this would have been a concurrent increase in the US minimum wage moving it from $7.25 to a living wage of above $10 per hour. Token one-time bonuses are actually the barest minimum of what could be done with an annual tax break – how about a raise instead? More income to people in need is accretive to the economy.

Finally, I have seen footage of conservative news sources highlighting Venezuela’s problems as an indictment of socialism. While I am a capitalist, I also recognize our country is a mixture of both. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment benefits, and bankruptcy laws are all forms of socialism. We also have other restrictions to prevent unfettered capitalism. Venezuela’s problems are due to corruption and mismanagement that can be traced even back to the popular Chavez. His successor, Maduro, has shown a level of incompetence that is quite visible to all.

That is all for this Thursday. Please share your thoughts.

US CEO Pay has reached epic differential

As reported in The Guardian today, US CEOs now make in pay 339 times the pay of the average worker according to a Bloomberg study of 225 companies. In retail companies, the ratio is 977 to 1 on average. Let that sink in a little.

A quote from the article entitled “‘CEOs don’t want this released’: US study lays bare extreme pay-ratio problem” by Edward Helmore is very revealing:

“According to a recent Bloomberg analysis of 22 major world economies, the average CEO-worker pay gap in the US far outpaces that of other industrialized nations. The average US CEO makes more than four times his or her counterpart in the other countries analyzed.”

Some people may push back and opine that US CEOs may be worth 4X that of their non-US industrialized nation counterparts. If that were true, it would mean US company performance is 4X that of non-US companies and there would be a huge flight of capital to the US.

In my years as a consultant, I have seen CEO pay ratchet up over time, rewarding CEOs with stock grants and options. What happens is a competitive totem pole exercise, where the competitive pay analyses are upward elastic and downward inelastic (they go up more easily than they go down) over time.

I have also observed the 80/20 rule applies to CEOs as well, with 20% of the CEOs earning their keep. I have worked with egalitarian CEOs, benevolent dictator CEOs and some of the greediest SOBs you will ever meet. Seeing CEOs who realize the teamwork involved in the company making money is admirable. On the converse, seeing CEOs who are imperialistic is off putting. As I write this, I am thinking of the handfuls I worked with and some who were notorious over the years for their greed.

On the bottom end of this exercise are efforts to flatten pay for the average worker. Over time companies will use a variety of rationales and tactics to put lids on pay increases. The salary increase budget may be limited because of the uncertainty in the economy, the company is having some hardship or the company expects to have hardship. Sometimes concurrent with the salary budget, groups of people are laid off. Why is the timing an issue? By moving on lower performers, people whose salary increases would have kept the average percentage increase down are removed from the equation meaning better performers will now get lesser increases.

Coupling this with pressure on not increasing the minimum wage and to diminish the power of labor unions (that is another story), these ratios result. I respect greatly the need for incentives to help reward successful CEOs, but we must not forget who helped them earn those numbers.

We have a poverty problem in this country. We have a middle class where too many are living paycheck to paycheck. Yet, our leaders passed a tax law that benefits CEOs, their companies and the wealthy by a large margin. It would have been nice to have at least obligated the pass through of salary increases or an increase in the minimum wage to a living wage. So, do not expect this ratio to measurably decrease any time soon.

Fifty years ago, a low moment in American history

The year of 1968 was filled with major events, both good and bad. One of the lowest moments in American history occurred this week in April fifty years ago. Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King was assassinated by a man whose name I will not mention as I don’t feel killers like these deserve the notoriety.

King was in Memphis advocating for striking sanitation workers looking for a pay raise. During a speech while there, he spoke of helping people get to the Promised Land, a favorite metaphor. But, in this instance, he noted he may not be there with them when they get there. With 20/20 hindsight, this added phrase seems surreal.

King won the Nobel Peace Prize for helping America achieve the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He later would provide impetus for LBJ to pass the 1965 Voting Rights Act and celebrate as LBJ helped pass Medicare and Medicaid in his war on poverty. King and far too many earned these changes with blood, sweat and tears. And, too many paid with their lives.

King was and remains a hero to many. The white Americans who would go on to vote for Alabama Governor George Wallace in the Presidential election later that year failed to see the heroic nature of King’s non-violent movement. King took a key page from Gandhi’s nonviolent protests in South Africa and India. King’s approach was key to achieving what the protestors did. And, it helps Americans of all colors.

Unfortunately, King’s murder unleashed an anger in inner cities. One major city that did not have riots was in Indianapolis as Robert F. Kennedy shared his admiration for King as well as his pain in losing his brother while campaigning there. RFK would not be alive in two months after his own assassination during this tumultuous year, but his reverence for King was notable.

Let’s remember the life of Martin Luther King. America is better for it. We should never forget that even though a minority of bigoted and hateful voices seem empowered to do so.