Tuesday, March 21, 2017

There it is again

In a report from NPR this morning, a Trump supporter says, "I think this country really needs to be run more like a business at this point."  Yikes. So what does this mean to run the country more like a business?  This particular Trump supporter is particularly worrying about the growing federal deficit but sees other serious problems.  So let's see if we can take a casual definition of a business and tease out what people might mean by this notion of running government like a business.

Let's define a business as an entity that provides goods and services in return for money or other considerations.  The usual goal of a business is to obtain more money for its good and services - a profit - than it puts out to provide those goods and services.  So the business owner makes a budget, forecasting what it will cost to provision itself and advertise, etc and forecasting what units of service and goods it can reasonably expect to sell/barter, and thus sets a price for the individual goods and services that should return a profit.

Notice the verb "forecasting".  This means the owner guesses.  The forecasts are for a specific length of time and are usually updated periodically, since costs and actual sales rarely meet their forecasts exactly.  A business may "run in the red" (run a deficit)  over a course of a year but the business will fail if it never makes a profit.  So, in a business sense, running a deficit for a long period of time is the road to failure.

Governments are not out to make a profit from the goods and services they provide.  A well-run government breaks even.  Still, a deficit is red flag that there is something wrong and should be addressed.  For the years 2007 up till now, the government purposely ran in the red because if it didn't the people it serves would not have been able to buy from the businesses existing in the US.  The deficit avoided plunging the US into another Great Depression.

The US seems to have climbed out of its steep recession, at least as far as the Fed believes, since it raised rates recently.  So, may be it is time to reduce the deficit.  A business would seek to raise profits in several ways:

  1. Lower costs:
    • Find cheaper sources.
    • Lower quality of what is offered.
    • Lower amount of goods in a unit offered.
    • Cut out unprofitable goods and services.
  2. Increase revenues/make more sales by:
    • Add additional goods and services.
    • Revise goods and services to be more responsive to buyers' needs and wants.
    • Expand geographic range of where business finds buyers.
A business that just lowers costs in order to up its profits will eventually find itself back in the red unless it increases revenues because costs beyond the business's control will go up.  Likewise, a government will find itself back in the red if all it does is lower costs.  A government has only one way to raise revenues - raise the taxes it imposes on its citizens.  The Trump campaign wanted to lower taxes.  So does that Trump supporter want his taxes to do the opposite and go up so the government can reduce its deficit?  Is that what is meant by running the government more like a business?

The real question is how to raise taxes so the raises don't hurt the people the services are meant for.  The American Health Care Act strives to "lower costs" and it cuts taxes yet its effect is to raise costs on the persons it is meant to serve. A bad bargain so don't buy it.  

And, please stop thinking that if the government was run as a business we would be better off.  Some people might but I bet those would be the people who need government services the least.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Two of the notions really bothering me today

The first notion really bothering me today as I follow the news is that if we just run the government as if it is a business,  there will be a better outcome.  Pick your favorite - less taxes, less corruption, better national security, or whatever.  This notion has been around for years yet every time I encounter it, I shudder.  Now, with the Trump Administration have installed successful CEOs in positions of great power and responsibility, that notion is being tested in real time with big stakes. 

Failures are happening big and small, but especially on the global stage.  A small one was the media flap about Rex Tillerson being too fatigued to dine with South Korean officials, which was false.  It was reported widely in Asian countries before the US State Department corrected it.  Why it became a flap is because Tillerson made a judgment as if he was a CEO that he did not need a press contingent to accompany him on his diplomatic journey to Asia.  Well, Tillerson is not a CEO but a diplomat.  In fact, he is the top US diplomat.  He needs the press to accompany him so that the facts are reported, not speculation by observing media who have their own biases to push.  

Companies and corporations, whether they are domestic or global in scale, can put out press releases that carefully detail and/or limit what news they want released that fits their image.  Media can, in turn, put out reports that may distort or paint of very different picture of that company or corporation. But, if those reports do not report facts but are fabrications, the company or corporation can sue.  Governments can not do this; all they can do is counter with press reports of their own. 

Governments are not businesses nor should they be run as such. 

The second notion really bothering me is that government assistance whether in healthcare or education or foreign aid or whatever is a zero sum game.  I have read many articles about the "forgotten", who voted for Trump.  Too many of them seem to have chosen Trump because "someone else" was getting government assistance and they weren't and the best solution was to take that help away from the "someone else,", whether by deporting them or repealing the programs giving that government assistance, or building a wall or whatever stops the "offending" help.

Yes, the Democratic campaign waged by Hillary Clinton made many US citizens feel neglected and ignored.  Yes, there a vast portions of the US economy that have not recovered from the 2008 recession nor are they on a path towards recovery.  These are valid reasons for wanting change and recognition of the need for change.  But change doesn't mean you take something away from those who have the least.  Change can mean something like a universal health care system (not universal health care insurance) that might have spotted the opioid abuse trend before it because a US health problem.  Or, as some European countries have implemented, an education system that puts individuals preferences and aptitudes towards either helping them choose an appropriate secondary level of education and helping them afford it, without crushing debt.

If you believe government assistance is a zero sum game, let's figure out a different set of rules where we are all winners in that game.  However, I can't make life fair.

Further, I really believe that the reason the majority of job descriptions out there ask for a college degree is that they really want someone familiar with computer applications.  If our high schools are not teaching basic notions of computer science on an equal footing with math, that is a crime easily fixed.   Even a plumber or a mechanic or a salesman should be able to write a letter, do a simple Google search,  or enter and understand simplified checking account software.  With the advent of smart phones, many of the current generation have already mastered these skills long before they encounter such teaching in high school.  

Yes, these are "socialistic" notions.  Yes, I am "privileged."  Yes, I am an ardent "feminist."  Do I think universal health care and universal public education are rights of every individual?  Yes, I do.    Am I a member of some elite?  Yes, everyone has some skill or quality or ability that very few (relatively) share.  Am I an "elitist?"  Gosh, I hope not.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Thank you to the last of the Newfield Swim Club Founding Fathers

Daniel Asselta, 90, passed away yesterday.  His obituary mentioned he was one of the Founding Fathers.  That's a title bestowed on the men who established the Newfield Swim Club in 1959.  Polio was still a very real threat, often closing the many small recreational swimming areas on the lakes around Newfield, and with the shore about 50 minutes away by car,  this meant hordes of the baby boomers roamed the town with nothing to do. 

Not really hordes but certainly a boom of children had been born in Newfield starting in 1946 and since there were no dedicated summer sports facilities then and none nearby, we (I was one) roamed around on bicycles and foot.  The town library opened once a week on Tuesday evening in a one room building for two hours.  Various churches held summer Bible school, but that only kept some of us occupied for a week at most.  There were boy and girl scout camps and some families could afford to rent a house at the shore for a week, or may be a whole season but that was rare.

So, with a very real threat to our well being and the possible problems we could cause as we approached puberty (in those days, there was one cop and he walked the town as his beat),  a group of fathers had a brilliant idea -- buy land, build an olympic size pool (for that time), and establish a members only swim club association.  It was brilliant in concept and from ground breaking in 1959 to opening in the beginning of summer 1960, took dedication and and lots and lots of hard work apart from their regular bread winning jobs. 

They chose to make it private so it would not get bogged down in any town, county, or state politics and/or funding.  They had a business plan that forecast they would need about 100 families to sustain it through the years and while there have been lean years, it still exists 56 years later with about the same goal.  Oh, there have been many changes in that time and lots of hard work by many fathers and mothers alike to keep it vibrant but the original vision and hard work has paid off for three, possibly four generations of Newfield and surrounding areas residents.

So, thank you, Mr Asselta, as I would have called you.  I will also miss your bright and wide smile.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Calling Millennials who believe global warming is big issue for next US election

Remember the slogan "Think globally, act locally."  Global warming has become, for many, the global issue most important in the next US Presidential election.  Local actions have taken the form of protests and rallies against oil drilling/fracking, and small items like choosing better packaging (no plastics) from the grocery stores and retailers.    I don't want anyone to stop those local actions but I want you to add another local item: demand action on your local Superfund site.

There have been over 1100 Superfund sites listed since 1976 when the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) was passed.  If you search and find a local site and its status is final, that means it is on the list not that the problem is fixed.  Sites are deleted when all actions are completed and tests show no more contamination.    This process can take years, even when it has been decided what needs to be done. 

Newfield has a Superfund site with contaminated ground water and a slightly radioactive slag pile.  The ground water problem impacts residents in the City of Vineland more than it does Newfield and some action has been taken to reduce that problem, whether its the right action or not is not something I can judge but at least the problem is still being addressed.  Many years pass and the slag pile sits there and sits there and sits there while the company responsible and the US and NJ regulatory agencies have their days in court. 

I am assuming this is true for every Superfund site.  So, look up your local Superfund site and if it isn't cleaned up, demand action from your local politician, especially if they have a re-election coming up.  Make some noise, please.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Pursuing forgiveness

Several months later after a panic attack over another person's behavior that just enraged me, I read a passage in a book that spoke urgently to me.  It said basically that the best revenge is forgiveness and the best insult is indifference.  Applying the methodology known as "fake it til you make it", I have been putting the indifference part into good practice both externally and internally emotionally.  I am having a much harder time with the forgiveness part.

I have seen how powerful forgiveness can be in the example of the Charleston church members.  I don't believe the battle flag of the Confederacy would have been removed from the S.C. capital without their swift and direct forgiveness of the murderer.  It took the spotlight off the murderer and right on the nature of the crime - hate - symbolized by that very flag.  The response was historic.

I heard the message of forgiveness again when I went to see Disney's 2015 Cinderella movie along with its adage of "have courage and be kind."  Being kind enough to forgive often takes courage because forgiveness takes inner strength and a belief in one's own humanity and ability to make mistakes.  Mistakes that can alter one's entire path through life.

Pope Francis has declared a year of mercy that runs through Nov. 20, 2016.  Mercy sometimes requires forgiveness so I will take it as another sign I am on the right track.  For me, of course, the hardest person to forgive is myself.  Because in learning to experience forgiveness emotionally not just externally I have to separate failure to accomplish something from thinking of myself as a failure as a human being.  People with entrepreneurial spirit can do it, why can't I?

After all, having experienced various systems management group efforts where the emphasis was on finding the root cause of the problem not on personnel fault finding, I should have incorporated that lesson into my own emotional responses, but I haven't reached that state yet. 

I try to inspire groups to do that by providing examples.  I analyze situations I am experiencing or  others are reporting to me and look for ways to reduce or remove a problem but I can not reduce or remove an emotional reaction in myself or others.  I experience that lack of control as my failure whether it is or isn't.  

I need to say to myself I failed and then forgive myself and ask forgiveness of others if I have lashed out towards someone else.  So how do I get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.  I have plenty of mistakes in my past just ripe for practicing on.  Wish me luck, add me to your prayers, or not.  Regardless, thanks for listening.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

A good man died on June 4th

I am sure many good men and women died that day around the world but I want to talk about one I knew for almost thirty years - Al Erickson.  I heard about Al and his wife Marlys when my son began dating one of their three daughters although I didn't meet them in person for awhile.  Al was still working in Security for Boeing in the Seattle area then, a job he had moved his family to after moving around in the service.  Soon I knew any fears I might have that my son would encounter a rigid father who thought no man was good enough for his daughter were allayed.  Al's big heart had reached out to bring Brent into his family by feeding him plenty of meat and potatoes.

When Brent and Sheila moved into together while she was still a student at UW, Al wasn't fazed but helped them with their bills.  When Brent and Sheila went to France for a year as part of Sheila's education/career development, Al and Marlys went to visit.  When Brent and Sheila got married after 10 years of being together, Al gave a sweet toast at the reception held at Al and Marlys's backyard to the effect that Brent was already part of the family and had been for quite awhile.

Al was a good man who loved his wife, wanted only happiness for his daughters, supported his church, and lived every day of his life with integrity and grace, and he knew how to smile, which he did often.  He is missed.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Arrogance, Inspiration, Insult and Impressed

My self confidence has toppled over into arrogance again recently.  I was insulted when someone I only know in passing started to say they were impressed with some ideas I had gathered from others, added some of my own, then put into a succinct presentation.  I told myself I was upset because what I wanted to accomplish was to inspire them to put some of the ideas into action, not to be impressed with my writing skills.

There was a time when I would have let the person finish and bask in the compliments because I had very little confidence in my ability to put ideas down in a clear, readable fashion or, if my self esteem was particularly low, deflect it with a modest comment.  Now, I need to stuff that arrogance back in the box and practice humility again before that arrogance turns into self-entitlement.