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.

 

Corruption abounds

If you have read my earlier posts, you may recall that I cite the comments of a missionary in Nigeria who has lived in the world of disenfranchisement for many years. He believes the global corruption is one of the top three concerns in the world behind global poverty and climate change.

He sees corruption standing in the way of doing positive things and sowing the seeds of poverty and disenfranchisement. This lays the ground work for extremists who seize opportunity to say we can help. On “Real Time with Bill Maher” the other night, Raihan Salam, a frequent guest, made the astute comment that the extremists swim in the sea of the disenfranchised and woo them to consider working for them.

But, the corruption fuels the fire of poverty and disenfranchisement. A significant investigative journalistic effort has just been published which documents the pervasive nature of this corruption. It referenced as the Panama Papers and can be found with the following link:

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/panama-papers-reveal-massive-international-corruption/ar-BBriMmx?ocid=spartanntp

This stuff makes my skin crawl. It has been happening for years, whether it is a democratic, communistic, or totalitarian regime. You need only to think of the Robber Baron period in US history and consider the undue influence of an oligarchy of leaders today. Some in the oligarchy are attempting to unwind laws that affect their ability to influence and make even more money.

You can remember George Orwell’s book “Animal Farm,” who described how the pigs lived in the house while others toiled under communism. You can see why Putin is able to control power by making his oligarchy wealthy. You can ask how did Hosni Mubarak have $81 Billion in wealth when deposed, while his Egyptian people tried to get by on $2 a day. You can consider the vast nepotism in Saudi Arabia, where the ruling families live a much better life than others in a very rich country.

History has two basic truisms. People will die once they are born. And, people who have, will take advantage of people who do not. We must guard against this, which is why Teddy Roosevelt fought so hard against the Robber Barons. Everyone deserves a “square deal” as he called it. A chance to live a reasonable life and feed, clothe and protect their family. What is interesting is the data shows “we do well, when we all do well,” which is a quote from Franklin Roosevelt. When too much goes to too few, we suffer more and the economy does not reach its full potential.

Please read this article. And, then begin asking questions of our leaders.

 

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.

Stemming the decline in American Exceptionalism

In 1961, the New York Yankees won the World Series defeating the Cincinnati Reds going away, winning four out of five games. This team was voted one of baseball’s all time best teams, with six players hitting twenty or more home runs, led by Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle. What many did not realize at that time, is this huge success was the beginning of the end of a long-lasting Yankee dynasty. Yes, they made it back to three more World Series, even winning one, but that was the apex of the dynasty and its hero, Mickey Mantle and by 1965, they would be out of the limelight until the late 1970s.

I use this example as it is a metaphor for the United States that has touted its exceptionalism. Mind you, we have one of the greatest governmental constructs of any country, but we have let others catch up and pass us, by investing less in our country than others. We have also let our country drift further into a land of haves and have-nots, where not everyone has full access to the same opportunities, what Teddy Roosevelt called a “square deal.” However, it is not too late to stem the tide of decline. We have rallied before and can rally again. But, we need to recognize the world has changed and we will be only one of several great economic engines and world influencers.

Not to belabor the decline too much, but to highlight where we have lost our way, note the following:

– Our educational rankings per the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development show we have declined in rankings in math, science and reading where we can barely hear the music the band is playing. On this subject, it should be noted that India sent a rocket to orbit Mars on its first try and did it cheaper than we could.

– Our upward mobility rankings continue to decline where we are no longer in the top ten. Some measures have us even further down the list. It is increasingly more important in the US where and to whom you were born than your own relative merit to achieve success. It should be noted that Canada now has a higher median level of wealth than in the US and our bottom 90% have stagnated in earnings, while our top 10% have done quite well per a recent survey.

– Our governing process has been thwarted by special interest groups, funders and lobbyists, to the extent deadlock, gridlock, ineffectiveness and inaction are words used more often than others to describe our leaders in Congress. Plus, bizarre and hypocritical decisions are made by many and few notice. Our own Department of Defense has noted Congress as a security risk to our country, as they are not governing and prefer to grandstand.

– Our focus has been on entertainment and sound byte issues. Fewer people care to investigate and pay attention to what really is going on with some biting hook, line and sinker the propagandized version or a superficial version of the news. If it is not exciting, Americans tend to lose interest. They do not recognize when smoke is being blown at them or question rhetoric.

– Our infrastructure is declining and we need to invest in roads, bridges, ports, technology, education, and renewable energy. The fact that one major political party refuses to admit publicly climate change is man-influenced is beyond lunacy and has harmed America and our planet. This is prima facie evidence of the power of funders, in this case the fossil fuel industry which favors the continuation of non-renewable energy where their greatest profits lie. Per “The Global Warming Reader” edited by Bill McKibben, the industry sold through an advanced PR campaign the story that “global warming is a hoax” and many bought this story and some still do.

So, how do we fix this? First, we must invest in our country. We built this country with leveraged public and private investment and other countries have followed our model. Yet, we have lost sight of this and we have fallen behind. There are several books on this subject, but the best one is “That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World it Invented and How it Can Come Back” by Thomas Friedman (who wrote “The World is Flat” and Michael Mandelbaum.

We must provide equal opportunity for everyone and not favor those with the most money. As a 55-year-old former Republican, what I have witnessed in my business dealings and observations, is people say they want free market capitalism. What they tend to want is capitalism that favors them. Our country needs some governance on capitalism, which is why Teddy went after the Robber Barons who ran the country. Everything was tilted in their favor and they used everyone else as their pawns. We must avoid collusion, price-fixing, interlocking boards, insider trading, back dated stock options, unfair labor practices, aggressive marketing and fraud, etc. I also don’t like that long time employees must pay for the sins and bad decisions of their leaders through lay-offs while the leaders continue on or go out with a golden parachute.

We must also recognize that we have a poverty problem in this country. Most of the vanishing middle class did not go up in ranks, but fell down the ladder. We must increase opportunity through education and training. We must provide a living wage to people by increasing the minimum wage and tagging it to periodic or indexed increases. We need to embrace health care access for all, so we should refine Obamacare which is showing success in spite of its complexity. It should not be lost on others that the countries with better social mobility rankings tend to have some form of national healthcare. While Obamacare is not national healthcare, it does improve access and is dampening cost increases.

Finally, we citizens need to pay more attention and tell politicians we are watching. We need to share our concerns and vote for people who are willing to collaborate. The rigidity of a candidate in his or her belief system is in direct proportion to his or her inability to govern. We don’t need leaders shouting at the wind; we need leaders willing to listen and look at real data from reputable sources. We need leaders who are less enamored with their own voice and do not believe their own BS simply because a supposed news source regurgitated that rhetoric as fact, so it must be right.  We also need our citizens to be better informed. I encourage you to read and watch news sources that are more even-handed and in-depth, where actual subject matter experts speak civilly with informed newscasters.

It is not too late to stem the tide of our decline. But, we do need to wake up and change our behavior. The Yankees did learn from their demise and eventually rebuilt their team. They won two World Series in 1977 and 1978 and then created a new dynasty that rivaled the older ones in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Derek Jeter is retiring this year and serves as a great example to learn from. He carried himself with professionalism, came to work every day on time and ready to play and cared more about winning than individual success. Not a bad act to follow.

We do well, when we all do well

Beginning tonight, Ken Burns’ documentary series called “The Roosevelts” will be aired on PBS. The series highlights the impact President Teddy Roosevelt, President Franklin Roosevelt and Teddy’s niece and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt had on America and the world. While all three were “to the manor born,” they each took up the cause for the marginalized and disenfranchised people in America, even while Teddy was a Republican and FDR was a Democrat. But, Eleanor could hold her own and her influence and ambassadorship to those in need spoke volumes as she is noted as our greatest First Lady.

On CBS Good Morning, Burns was talking about the forthcoming documentary and he quoted a line which embodied their mantra – “we do well, when we all do well.” This line is so very pertinent and is one which I believe to my core. It also shows that the time of greatest growth in our country occurred when more of us did well and were out buying goods and services, moving into our homes (not necessarily estates), and living a heretofore idealized version of the American dream.  It also reveals why our recovery has not benefitted everyone equally, with the top 10% of our country doing quite nicely, but everyone else treading water or sinking below. Since we are not “all doing well” fewer goods and services are bought, so our recovery is not quite as strong.

It should be noted that both Roosevelt presidents are known for eco-energy measures and protecting our environment. Teddy is known as our greatest “water” president, by buying up land for national parks and watersheds and overseeing the construction of the Panama Canal, which is a heavy contributor to US naval power and sea trade prominence. FDR constructed more dams on his watch as part of the New Deal which helped provide jobs and infrastructure. FDR’s infrastructure investments were carried forward by Republican President Dwight Eisenhower which helped contribute to the aforementioned period above.

It is for these reasons we need to move forward down a path of doing more of what made America great. Investing in ourselves, our infrastructure and our future. This is the key premise in Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum’s book “That Used to be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World it Invented and How it Can Come Back.” This book highlights the co-investment in America’s infrastructure between private and public funds to maintain, restore, rebuild, and build anew our infrastructure to support business development and job creation. But, as history has shown us, we need to do more to help those who seem to get lost in the future growth or never get the same opportunities. Our history has also shown us the “haves” will take advantage of the “have-nots” to move ahead.

So, clearly we need to invest in ourselves and our future. Even while we cut expenses elsewhere, we need to invest in our infrastructure and development. But, we need to do some or all of the following, as well:

– Raise the minimum wage. Going to $15 an hour is a pipe dream, but following the recommendation to phase up from $7.25 to $10.10 is doable and has bipartisan support. It will create more spending and lessen pressure on public assistance programs.

– Invest more in education, not less and make sure after school programs are robust to attract kids and keep them engaged. Also, we need to improve access to pre-K reading programs which have shown to be impactful. But, most of all listen to teachers and not politicians. For example, teachers have noted the ideal class size is between 18 and 24 students. More voices can be heard and break out groups are easier with those sizes.

– Clamp down on pay-day lending who prey upon who Jesus called the “least of these.” Pay day lenders also prey upon our military families. Please know that pay-day lenders are a form of usury and they are one step above leg breakers. They also fund a lot of politicians who are blinded by the money to recognize what they do to poor people.

– Limit for-profit colleges who also prey upon people using government funding. People may find of interest the graduation rates from for-profit colleges are abysmal and they spend more money on marketing than teaching. And, when one area of funding was tightened up, they moved over to follow the pay-day lenders lead and are preying upon veterans and military people who have financial benefits since coming home.

– Educate people on what state lotteries are. They are a regressive tax taking a disproportionate share from people in poverty. Too many people throw money they need away on something extremely unlikely to happen. Ten lottery tickets per week may increase your chances by tenfold, but it is still a 10 out of 10 million probability, which is a likelihood of .000001

– Invest even more in our community college systems who are more geared toward career retraining and development. The former Clemson University president partnered with area community colleges as they knew how to reach out to industry better to help train the new work force. The President deserves credit for some of this, but we need more.

– Finally, per the lead in and the Roosevelt’s legacy, invest in our infrastructure and assets. Asset Based Community Development should be enhanced  and incented.

The Roosevelts’ legacy is significant on America. We are better as a country because of them. I look forward to seeing the series. Please join me as it may spur some more ideas. Some or all of the above would make us better and give us each more opportunity. We do well, when we all do well.