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.

 

 

Do you know…


Do you know the following facts? They are all true, so feel free to verify them and use them as you deem appropriate.

The famous Chrysler CEO, Lee Iacocca, designed the first Ford Mustang using the underpinnings of a Ford Falcon, fulfilling an idea to have a sports car for the masses.

The auto industry sold more cars and light trucks in the US in 2015 than in any year previously, with 17.5 million total topping the previous high of 17.4 million in 2000, back when Bill Clinton was President.

The Beatles drummer Ringo Starr is left-handed and played drums on a right-handed drum kit giving him a unique sound.

The US has had 71 consecutive months of job growth, one of the longest periods ever and later this year, unless the economy turns as a result of China’s slowing economy, we will have the 4th longest economic growth period in US history.

The words to “A Natural Woman” sung by Aretha Franklin were written by a man, Gerry Goffin, who was married to and a partner of Carole King. They wrote the song in less than 24 hours after a chance meeting with a record producer on a New York City street. The producer rolled his car window down and asked if they could write a song for Aretha by tomorrow.

The President who was in office when the greatest number of jobs were created was Bill Clinton at 22.8 million jobs, even more than during FDR’s presidency. Ronald Reagan oversaw the third most job growth at 16.1 million according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The songwriter of “Crazy” made famous by the late Patsy Cline was none other than Willie Nelson. A great moment in the movie “Doc Hollywood,” with Michael J. Fox, is when this song is played at a dance, showing it remains a great love song many years later and no one could sing Willie’s song like Patsy.

The US stock market, as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average, has almost doubled in value since January 23, 2009, just after President Barack Obama was sworn in, even with the fall off the first few weeks of this year. On January 23, 2009, the DJIA was $8,078 and it closed yesterday at $15,883.

The late Glenn Frey of The Eagles had his first professional experience playing acoustic guitar and singing background on Bob Seger’s “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.” Seger encourage Frey to have his own band and they remained friends until he died. Frey will be missed.

According to the US Department of Energy, in 2014 Iowa led the nation by producing 28 percent of its electricity from wind power, followed by South Dakota at 25 percent and Kansas at 22%. Wind energy provided more than 15 percent of electricity in a total of seven states, more than 10 percent in a total of nine states, and more than five percent in a total of 19 states. Texas and California are the largest producers in terms of Megawatts.

David Bowie and Bing Crosby once sang a Christmas carol duet on Crosby’s Christmas show that was stunningly poignant. They blended new lyrics which Bowie sang while Crosby sang “Lil’ Drummer Boy.” Bowie will be missed.

Martin Luther King did not intend to deliver his famous “I Have Dream Speech” as it was delivered. He had a different theme in mind. When MLK ad-libbed a line away from his prepared speech, the famous Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson cried out to him to “Tell them about the dream, Martin! Tell them about the dream!” as she had heard him speak of it before. MLK set aside his prepared remarks and gave one of the most famous speeches of our time or any time.

Steve Jobs biological parents immigrated from Syria to the US. Think about that for a while. Would we have Apple today, if he had not been born here?

Keep seeking the truth. We need more of it, especially with so many leaders, politicians and so-called news sources taking liberties with it.

 

 

 

Collaboration proves to be successful

The strident bent of a small group in Congress that is holding that body and our Country back from governance is at odds with what has been most successful over time. Governing in a democracy is hinged on the art and execution of compromise and collaboration. Neither political party has all of the answers and some within those parties are not even asking the right questions. So, if you are unwilling to collaborate, you will not know where your opinions may be off base. In short, if you are not there to govern, then why are you there?

There are two recent examples of very successful presidencies that are due to collaboration and compromise, one a Democrat and one a Republican. Both Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan have been deemed by their parties and others to have had good presidencies. Yes, they had their faults and made mistakes, but they also had some similarities. The Bureau of Labor statistics show under Clinton’s tutelage, more jobs were created than under any other president, even more than under FDR. The BLS statistics show that under Reagan, more jobs were created than under any other Republican president and he ranks in the top three behind the two men noted above.

It does not stop there. Clinton left the White House with a balanced budget which he worked with Congress to achieve over the last few years of his presidency. Reagan also was tireless in his efforts to have a balanced budget, actually raising taxes a number of times after his too deep tax cut early in his presidency. It should be noted that per an economic advisor to both, David Smick, who wrote “The World is Curved,” both presidents were very big on free trade and trade agreements.

Yet, both men were huge collaborators with Congress. In fact, Reagan was best friends with Democrat Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill as put forth in the book “Tip and the Gipper,” by Chris Matthews, who was on O’Neill’s staff. Reagan and O’Neill disagreed a lot, but both loved their country, so they found common ground and passed legislation. Clinton was not best friends with the two speakers from the opposing party, Newt Gingrich and Dennis Hastert, but he worked with them and fellow Democrat speaker Tom Foley to get things done, including the efforts to get us out of a deficit position and sign key trade agreements.

Recognizing that presidents get too much credit and blame for the economy, they do provide tailwinds or headwinds. So, it should not be ironic that two presidencies where the first and third most jobs were created were under collaborative presidents. Moving forward to today’s time, our current president has also seen success on these fronts with 67 consecutive months of job growth and halving the unemployment rate which is now at 5.1%. When done, his job numbers will rank pretty good among all presidents.

Yet, so much more could have been done if he and Congress worked together more. The opposing party has set out not to collaborate with the president and is on record as such. This president could have done a much better job of reaching out to this Congress, in spite of the negative partisanship. A good example is we have let an ideal time pass (with low interest rates) for investing more in improving and shoring up our outdated infrastructure. Outside of the Stimulus Act which provided funds to infrastructure projects, we have kicked the can down the road. And, these investments are known job creators.

So, as we see the machinations of a small number of folks who want the gears to come to a grinding halt, we need to remember how we got here. Government, of course, could be more efficient, yet it does play a huge role in our economy, safety and well-being. Collaboration and compromise are the keys. Let’s focus on getting things done.

 

The better part of me

One of our favorite songs since the turn of the century is “Superman” recorded by Five for Fighting and penned by John Ondrasik. I am intrigued by the humanity afforded Superman in the haunting lyrics. But, the words that resonate the most with me are the lines spoken as Superman, “I’m just out to find, the better part of me.” Here is the first half of the song.

I can’t stand to fly
I’m not that naive
I’m just out to find
The better part of me
I’m more than a bird. I’m more than a plane
More than some pretty face beside a train
It’s not easy to be me
Wish that I could cry
Fall upon my knees
Find a way to lie
About a home I’ll never see
It may sound absurd, but don’t be naive
Even Heroes have the right to bleed
I may be disturbed, but won’t you concede
Even Heroes have the right to dream
It’s not easy to be me

To me, the song reveals even a superhero has insecurities, wants and dreams. Even a superhero is searching to find “the better part of me.” We are an imperfect people. While we have true heroes that live and breathe amongst us, they are imperfect just like everyone else. So, we should not hold people up to a higher standard, as they will only fail to live up to those standards. Even if heroic or a great leader, they will also be imperfect.

One of the finest people ever to walk the earth was Mother Teresa, a true light for many. Yet, Mother Teresa noted in her journal that she prayed to God when she felt less pious. When she was broken down and tired, she prayed that she could get back to a better place. She prayed to rekindle “the better part of me.” In a recent survey published in Reader’s Digest, ministers also noted that there are occasions when they feel less pious and need to find their way back.

Gandhi was in a similar predicament. Here was an attorney who decided his life’s calling would be to fight for the disenfranchised. He would use his voice and body to say things are not right through civil disobedience. Yet, he was imperfect and had enemies as well. Martin Luther King took to heart Gandhi’s civil disobedience and adopted the strategy in the US during the civil rights fight. Yet, MLK was not perfect either. But, both Gandhi and Martin Luther King lived “the better part of me” and because of that, helped millions and are heroes to many.

I wrote recently about the wonderful series on PBS by Ken Burns on The Roosevelt’s – Teddy, Eleanor and Franklin. All came from the elite and were by no means perfect. Teddy could be a bully and liked notoriety. But, Teddy hated unfair advantage and wanted folks to have equal opportunity, a “square deal,” he called it. Eleanor was strident in her convictions, but was shy and aloof and turned many off, until she learned how to cultivate relationships and use her powers of persuasion to do great things. Franklin would use his version of the bully pulpit to get things done. He also had several affairs. But, he helped save the world from tyranny, promoted the New Deal and helped America focus its manufacturing muscle on the war effort. Each accomplished a great deal for this country and our world is better place because of them.

These folks are all heroes. Yet, they are all imperfect. For some reason, we have forgotten this and want our leaders to be perfect in every way. By the numbers, Bill Clinton may be the best president we have had in the last fifty years, yet he had a wandering eye and an impeachment scandal evolved when one tryst occurred in the Oval Office. Ronald Reagan is touted as the paragon for conservative presidents and did many good things, yet he was almost impeached over the Iran-Contra affair and did not believe we should sanction South Africa for Apartheid, his veto fortunately being overturned. Yet, Reagan’s ad lib comment in a speech helped bring down the Berlin Wall among some of his other accomplishments.

We are not perfect either. We will  make mistakes just like everyone else. We should do the best we can and find “the better part of me” for ourselves. If we can do this, we can more legitimately expect others to do the same, especially our leaders. We can also treat others like we want to be treated. And, that includes forgiving others for mistakes, as we would hope they would do with ours.  No one is perfect, not even Superman.

What if an event in history did not happen?

If I were a history teacher, I think I would gauge how students think by asking them to respond to a simple question – what would have transpired if an event in history did not happen?  This would show the importance of that event on world affairs, as well as revealing the influence certain events have on decisions to act or not act on subsequent issues. For example, the US delayed getting into WWII as a result of being involved in WWI, which was used as an argument by isolationists not to participate.

Here are few examples to think about. Pick one or two and tell me what you think may have transpired.

  • What if Japan never bombed Pearl Harbor?
  • What if President George W. Bush and team did not fabricate the Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) story as a reason to invade Iraq?
  • What if Robert F. Kennedy was not assassinated?
  • What if the Robber Baron period in the US continued without check?
  • What if the verdict in Brown v Board of Education said separate but equal schools were constitutional?
  • What if President Teddy Roosevelt did not sanction the building of the Panama Canal?
  • What if the South prevailed enough in the Civil War to remain separate?
  • What if President Ronald Reagan had not made his famous speech in Berlin and ad-libbed, “tear down this wall?”
  • What if Senator Joseph McCarthy was stood up to earlier by other leaders?
  • What if Great Britain prevailed in the War of 1812?

Although, there are some global questions, most of these questions are US centric, so please forgive. If the reaction is good to this, I may follow-up with less US centric questions.  I would love to hear your thoughts. Keep them reasonably brief, so others can enjoy and react to them.

The Pursuit of Truth in a World of Lies

Stephen Colbert invented a word a few years back on his show “The Colbert Report” which was prescient – “truthiness.”  His painful point for all of us is every source seems to have its own version of the truth. In his comical way, he noted truth is fluid rather than being more concrete. Yet, we must endeavor to seek the real truth. We must all be “truthseekers” which is actually a Human Resource personality test term given to people who want to help others understand the truth.

I think one thing people would all agree on is we don’t care for being lied to. With so much money and power at stake on so many things, politicians, business leaders, industry leaders, religious leaders, etc. have been prone to embellish the truth. Yet, with the advent of the internet and competitive news sources who don’t (or care to) dive into detail, there are so many misinformed and disinformed truths to combat the real underlying truths.

Some people and organizations even hire public relation firms to establish their version of the truth as the underlying gospel, when in fact they know it is a lie – I call this disinformation which is straight from George Orwell’s classic “1984.” As a result, you truly have to work at understanding what the real truth is. You have to be a truthseeker. And, absent these truths, it is quite difficult to come to more sensible solutions.

To give a few examples of what I mean, here goes:

  • The US fossil fuel industry hired a public relations firm whose sole purpose was to dissuade people from believing global warming was real. They did their job so well, Congress even took up in committee the issue of “global warming is a hoax.” This PR measure set the US years behind where we should be on combatting climate change. There is a good chapter in the “Global Warming Reader” compiled by Bill McKibben, one of the planet’s global warming experts, on this topic.
  • The same PR firm was hired by the natural gas industry (per McKibben) to convince people how safe fracking is. By its nature, fracking is not safe nor can it be made totally safe. In “Gasland II,” a former fracking engineer notes that 5% of fracking cement casings fail immediately, so if a firm is fracking 10,000 wells, then 500 will fail immediately. The question to which I have never been provided a good answer is “if fracking were safe, why did Vice President Dick Cheney, the former President of one of the largest fracking firms, have inserted in the 2005 Energy Policy Act that fracking companies need not be subject to the Safe Drinking Water or Clean Air acts or have to disclose the chemicals they use in the process that wind up in our environment?”
  • Bill Clinton told us time and time again, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Of course you did. You will be remembered as one of our better presidents, but you lied to us about this issue. And, by the way, my guess is you had sex with all of those other women, too.
  • Ronald Reagan told us on national TV that we were not selling weapons to Iran to pay for fighters in Central America. He lied to us about the “Iran/ Contra” affair and could have been impeached if Oliver North had not fallen on his sword. Reagan went on TV later to say he lied. By the way, this is the origin of the disembodied helmet in Doonesbury to define George H.W. Bush, as he denied being in meetings about this topic where the roll call said he was present.
  • Richard Nixon lied about so many things, when the knowledge of the tapes of the Oval Office became known, he started erasing things. Two of my heroes are Elliott Richardson and Archibald Cox who both resigned as they did not want to give up the pursuit of the truth when their boss the Attorney General told them to stand down at the President’s behest.
  • President George W. Bush, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld and our friend Dick Cheney also built a case of lies of weapons of mass destruction that led to the invasion of Iraq. One of Rove’s men, Scooter Libby, went to jail for outing a CIA operative to discredit her husband whose report was misused for going into Iraq. American and allied troops died along with countless Iraqi civilians. So, this was a disservice to Americans and our friends.
  • While Barack Obama lied about not having to give up your insurance policies (he did), the bigger lies have been perpetuated by the Republican Party distancing themselves from the fact Obamacare is largely a GOP idea. While not perfect, complex and rolled out poorly, Obamacare needs to continue as it will help millions of people. What I find hypocritical is when people like Jim DeMint who supported Romneycare before it was morphed into Obamacare, was a huge fan, yet, once the latter was passed, said both are unconstitutional. I also detest people doing everything in their power to make it fail and then point a finger and say “I told you so” when it struggles. By the way, the President deserves every criticism he is getting for the roll out.
  • Obama is far from perfect, but he has been given a bad rap on the “failed stimulus” bill to help boost the economy. This PR campaign mantra, where all Republicans had marching order to always say “failed stimulus” worked so well, the legend has become the acceptable truth. The trouble is the truth is it did not fail. As reported by Time Magazine, six econometric firms said the stimulus bill actually aided the economy by 2%. It was just not enough. In my mind, it could have been better if it did not restrict itself to “shovel ready” projects, but it did not fail in its efforts.
  • Even after last night’s “60 Minutes” show on the NSA, I am not fully convinced that Americans are not being spied on. It sounded all good, but I am struggling with this still and don’t believe the President is giving us the unvarnished truth.
  • From the movie “Toxic Hot Seat” regarding the flame retardant chemicals used on furniture covers, we learn the three chemical producers have been proven to collude against those who say the chemicals were causing cancers in firefighters and residents. The critics said the data indicated that the retardants actually did not work very well and the industry information was pulled erroneously out of context from a report that the exact opposite conclusion. Writers for The Chicago Tribune got to the bottom of a story that these three companies had an organization advertised for firefighters, when in fact, the chemical companies were its only members. Once this was known, the states of California and Maine abolished the use of these flame retardants going forward.
  • According the Journal of Acute Trauma and Surgery the US has 87% of the children and teen gun deaths from the top 23 wealthiest countries. Yet, this fact is largely ignored by the NRA whose primary mission is to perpetuate the sale of guns. Guns are part of the problem and we must do what 90% of Americans want and extend background checks to all purchases and make longer waiting periods.
  • Finally, we have Tea Party whose premise is we are “taxed enough already.” While they are right to focus on the deficit and nobody wants to pay taxes, according to the Paris based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the US is one of the least taxed countries in the world. Out of 34 countries, we are third from the bottom on taxes as a percent of GDP and almost 10% below the average ratio of the 34 countries.

I welcome your comments and thoughts. I have tried to be truthful with the information I presented above. As an independent voter, I am not a fan of biased version of the facts of either party. People may say I am more one-sided in my comments above. That is true. I left the GOP in 2006 for several reasons – stance on global warming, guns and social issues, but also due to a higher propensity I see of making stuff up. Democrats embellish the truth as well, but I see a much a heavier weighting toward our conservative friends, especially with the popularity of Fox News which has taken it to a new art form.

Stop equating things you disagree with to atrocities

Earlier this week, former Presidential candidate Rick Santorum equated Obamacare with Apartheid. Obamacare has also been referred to as Nazism because in the mind of its critics they associate anything that has a hint of socialistic concern as something that should be labeled with such an atrocious label. The obvious purpose is to inflame and influence an uninformed electorate using terms representing atrocities to label something that they do not like. While imperfect, complex and rolled out poorly, to equate something that is trying to help people gain access to insurance and healthcare as akin to Apartheid and Nazism to me portrays ignorance, deception or some of both.

Apartheid was the government sanctioned version of our Jim Crow laws and culture in the US. The sad difference is in South Africa, the main perpetrator was the federal government itself as it cracked down on people of color stripping them of human rights and their dignity. It took worldwide boycotts and sanctions to shine a spotlight on these atrocities. It should be added that President Reagan did not support these sanctions, but fortunately Congress overturned his veto and we joined the rest of the world in economically condemning South Africa’s apartheid. I have yet to see sanctions or boycotts on the US for passing Obamacare, so I think it is indeed a stretch by Mr. Santorum’s to equate the two.

Nazism means far more than the socialism in its underlying name. Nazism stands for fascism and purging of those who disagree with you. It also stands for exterminating Jewish people or people of different sexual orientation. When people say Nazism to describe something, its meaning portrays malevolence. To equate anything with Nazism needs to be a very serious set of atrocities. To call Obamacare or anything that has a concern for a greater good as Nazism is just plain wrong and akin to the Santorum’s ignorant remark about Apartheid.

Setting the atrocity labels aside, socialism is getting an unfair rap. First, per a recent survey, the happiest people on the planet are in Sweden, which has a socialistic economy. Second, the US Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are all social insurance programs and they are appreciated by Americans. If you don’t believe me, just watch the fervor over any issue to decrease or cut back those benefits. Since I mentioned President Reagan above, he did several commercials calling Medicare socialism before it was passed in 1965. Does this tactic sound familiar? Fortunately for him, he did not say Nazism, as the greatest generation who fought them twenty years earlier and all Jews would have ended his political career then and there.

Third, Obamacare is actually a blend of socialism and capitalism. It is not national healthcare nor will it lead to it – the healthcare industrial complex won’t let that happen. While the Medicaid expansion is socialistic in nature, the exchanges are capitalistic in nature. The ironic part is the exchanges are a GOP idea created as an initial concept by the Heritage Foundation (yes that one) and used in Romneycare and supported by Mr. Tea Party, former Senator Jim DeMInt until Obamacare adopted the concept. DeMint even went so far to advocate the mandate on talk shows. So, for several years now, I have found GOP opposition to Obamacare fairly hypocritical.

I recognize that I will not change the minds of people on Obamacare. The public relation engines against it are quite powerful and its imperfections and poor roll out provide suitable ammunition. Yet, it does move the ball forward in spite of highly political attempts to cause it to fail – not expanding Medicaid in twenty states, not running state based exchanges in 36 states, telling young people not to sign up (what parent would do that?) and not allowing communication dollars to help promote how to use it. Even with the balky rollout, as of November 30, 803,000 people had signed up for Medicaid expansion in the states allowing it and 365,000 have signed up for the exchanges and those numbers are growing rapidly. That is on top of the 3 million young adults who have been able to remain on their parents plan before age 26 because of an early implemented feature of Obamacare.

Yet, irrespective of how you feel about the law, please stop calling it Apartheid or Nazism. You are showing your ignorance or being Machiavellian or both. Plus, it does a disservice to South Africans and Jews who died at the hands of their oppressors and that is an insult. I think Santorum owes an apology to many people, those he offended and those he tried to disinform.