The Progressive Ensign

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Category: Social Responsibility (Page 1 of 3)

Saving Democracy: The US Needs to Lead in Building Global Bridges Not Walls

(Saving Democracy Series:  this post focuses on how our POTUS has agreement by agreement ripped up the post WWII integrated global world that provided most of the people in the world with peace and prosperity that is unparalleled in history.  He has replaced peace with random acts of impulsiveness, doubt, uncertainty and threats which have caused major economic, cultural and societal damage to both emerging and developing countries.  A more dangerous world of nationalism along the lines of the 1930s is now emerging with all its possible horrible results.  First economic loss, then war. It is time to establish a new global order fair to labor and capital in a world order of respect, freedom of thought and speech with economic opportunities for all to establish global stability and peace.)

On July 2nd, the US Trade Representative announced possible $4b in new tariffs on the EU for subsidizing of Airbus, responding to Boeing concerns. Another episode of impulsive threats happened last May when POTUS threatened Mexico with a 10 % tariff on all imported goods if the flow of immigrants across the border did not stop by June 10th.  The action against Mexico threatened support for the just recently announced new trade treaty with Mexico – why sign a treaty when the US is just going to do whatever it wants. He backed down on the threat after the Mexican government made a commitment to redouble efforts at stopping the wave of immigrants from Central America. We can add these trade attacks to a long list of treaties, agreements or international organizations that our POTUS has taken the US out of (or renegotiated):

  1. Nuclear Arms Treaty – Russia
  2. Iran Nuclear Treaty – EU joint signators  
  3. Trans Pacific Partnership – TPP – with 10 emerging countries, Mexico, Canada and Japan
  4. NAFTA – replaced by two bilateral agreements under consideration by Congress
  5. UNESCO – UN cultural program
  6. UNHRC – UN Human Rights Council
  7. UNRWA – UN Refugee and Works Agency – supports 5M Palestinian refugees, when the US pulled out riots broke out for a week
  8. Paris Climate Treaty
  9. Global Arms Treaty
  10. G7 – developed countries council – POTUS wants Russia added back in, they were barred after annexing the Crimea
  11. Brexit – US has been cheering the UK leaving the EU, offering a ‘big agreement’ if the UK leaves the EU

POTUS has continued to bash NATO, a long standing military organization uniting Europe and the US against an aggressor. The constant undermining of the group opens a divide that adversaries may see as a crack to drive division and move ahead with probes or territorial gains.

The president has also focused on economic agreements – taking a unilateral approach around the provisions of the World Trade Organization and standing economic agreements on tariffs. He calls himself the ‘Tariff Man’ and has implemented with the acquiesce of Congress tariffs on allies like Canada & Mexico (new separate agreements under Congressional review), competitors like China, and cancelled a favorable import agreement for India.  Businesses are worried:

Source: Moody Analytics, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 5/28/2019

Consumers have been hurt already in nine different product classes with increases in prices of over 10 %, as consumers or the importer pay the increase tariff on an imported goods including appliances (washer and dryer tariffs 12 months ago), furniture, bedding, floor coverings, auto parts, motorcycles, sport vehicles, housekeeping supplies and sewing equipment:

Sources: Department of Labor, Department of Commerce, Goldman Sachs, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 5/13/19

The United States and China have been sparing since July 2018 in an escalating trade war, which seemed to be coming to a conclusion as recently as last April.  Then, the President announced in a tweet that China a reneged on commitments it had made and was ending negotiations.  The Chinese sent a delegation to try and restart negotiations but it was fruitless. For two months tensions escalated until a truce with a restart in negotiations was called as a result of a summit between President Trump and Chairman Xi at Osaka on June 29th.  The US relented on planned additional tariffs on all China imports up to $325b, and eased restrictions on Huawei sales by American companies in return for a vague promise by the Chinese to purchase more farm goods and to negotiate.

Sources: The Peterson Institute, for International Economics, BBC, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 5/15/19

The Chinese have dug in for a long haul, threatening to cut rare earth shipments to the US and curtail further purchase of US Treasury bonds, with additional $60 B in tariffs at 25 %. We must remember the Chinese form of capitalism is really not ‘state based capitalism’ as the financial media likes to label in a benign way. The China economy is really ‘authoritarianism cloaked in capitalism’.  This is a mixed economy of state based industries subsidized with some free capital sectors kept in place by central planning. A key aspect of the this cloaking activity is the lack of transparency about who actually owns a Chinese company. In addition, the China Central Bank (PBOC) and sovereign wealth fund own about $200 B in US stocks providing insights and investment control. The Chinese government has deployed Orwellian digital surveillance to keep the people loyal to the state and not thinking or speaking freely. Internet news and social media sties are heavily censored by the state. That’s not democratic based capitalism. Another twist in the relationship with China, is Wall Street leaders have been instrumental in assisting the Chinese government in gaining approval to join the WTO years ago, and still make billions of dollars from fees and investments. The recent Chinese overture to open financial markets maybe a way for the Chinese to win over Wall Street and blunt the trade war of the GOP administration. The Trump Trade war with China is a failure, because it misses the true character of authoritarian government and economics how it uses the economy and capitalism to placate the masses to increase state control. Central government loyalty is the prime directive. Trust is missing between the people and the state – yet the people give up freedom for money when we here the Hong Kong protesters who vandalized the legislature building in late June criticized by mainlanders with comments like ‘they need to quit protesting and get a good job and buy things’. This is a bargain with manipulative leaders resulting in an unhappy ending, as people’s hearts and minds are imprisoned for money, the benefits with be fleeting and the costs dear.

Farmers in the Midwest, growing soybeans have seen their market collapse, other crops like corn, sorghum, wheat have seen huge price drops as China stopped buying from US suppliers. As soybean prices have fallen farm income has dropped almost 20 % and Midwest bankruptcies of farmers have risen above levels seen in the Great Recession.

Sources: Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 7/15/18
Sources: The Federal Reserve Bank – Minneapolis, US Courts – 11/28/18

Since last fall when this Federal Reserve report was filed, bankruptcies have continued to increase at an accelerated rate, as farmers cannot get loans from banks to buy seed when prices are so low. The Administration has promised subsidies to farmers totaling $16bn yet the president of Soybean Farmers Association says he has not been able to see Agriculture Secretary Perdue or any of the subsidy money nor farmers in his group. Many farmers believe that when the money does come from the government it will not be enough and not replace the contracts for farm goos lost to Brazil, Russia and other countries.

Next Steps:

World War II was catastrophe for the world, millions of people killed, whole societies wiped out, along with an aftermath of starvation and depressed economies.  World leaders did not want to see a repeat of the WWII disaster.  They knew if they built a set of world-wide agreements and regional organizations to sustain and enforce those agreements there might be a better chance to prevent war from happening again.  The United Nations was founded in October of 1945 in San Francisco to provide a forum for discussion and implementation of world community building programs. The NATO alliance was founded by 29 countries who were WWII allies by approving the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington in April, 1949.  Economic disputes were to be settled by adhering to the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs approved by over 100 countries in 1948. The World Trade Organization charted in 1994 succeeded GATT, headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. Thus, many treaties and organizations were founded by most developed countries and many emerging countries to give economic, cultural and governmental support toward building a world community.  Presidents from both parties through the years since WWII have supported the uniting of diverse people around the globe so they all have a piece of the economic pie and security.

Now, our POTUS seems to think that ripping up global treaties and organizations, undermining them, and going it alone will somehow be better for the US.  Maybe things will get better for a few companies or sectors for a little while. However the trade deficit continues to trend worse since the January 2017 term of POTUS to the highest deficit ever with $55 bn last May,

Source: Department of Commerce,, Federal Reserve of St.Louis, Marketwatch – 7/2/19

Some soybean contracts have returned, yet the US still imports more from Europe, Mexico and Canada than we export, the tariff war is just making the deficit worse.   Already, we have seen with retaliatory tariffs from China, threats of reunification to take Taiwan – as a national publication likened to Lincoln unifying the United States. Today countries are going after their own goals spiraling downward into economic wars and eventually military action.  The lessons of the Great Depression, the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, harsh reparations on Germany and nationalism (rising today in a hideous way) led to WWII. When other countries see the US leader of the free world embrace ‘America First’ ambitions, why should they sit back and let America get ahead, the fight is on.  We should work with the capitalism elements and businesses in the China that are largely free of state control, building bridges to them, empowering them so country leaders see that the only path to lasting prosperity is when the people’s minds are free to innovate and create.

Yes, it is true, there were unbalanced agreements, the US did lose jobs to overseas countries, and maybe a few emerging countries took advantage the US.  But, we need to be thinking about helping people build their economies, or they will want a piece of the economic pie by force from the US. Job safeguards for American workers should be in place in all agreements, and fair levees and access to markets, protection of intellectual property, yet we need to work within the world order to make structural changes supported by all countries.

What Ever Happened to Integrity and Service In Our Leaders?

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Photo: wikipedia

Our 41st President, George Herbert Walker Bush passed away quietly at his home in Houston this past evening. He was 94 years old. His legacy is multifaceted yet in contrast to today’s political discourse his integrity stands out. House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s described Bush as “great in his character, leading with decency and integrity.”  Integrity defined by linguists focus on two character elements: adhering to a set of moral principles and character definition.  Integrity is seen in leaders who are humble enough to continuously learn from their mistakes, listen to others and are honest to themselves and others.

Former President Barack Obama noted about President Bush’s life that he was:

a patriot and humble servant with a legacy of service that may never be matched, even though he’d want all of us to try.”

“While our hearts are heavy today, they are also filled with gratitude. Not merely for the years he spent as our forty-first President, but for the more than 70 years he spent in devoted service to the country he loved.”

Bush demonstrated a level of dedicated service to his country that few have matched. He was the youngest Navy aviator to fly in WWII.  Shot down over the Pacific he was rescued. Later he continued a career of public service in the House of Representatives, Ambassador to the U.N., U.S. Envoy to China, Director of the CIA and Vice – President among many positions he held in 70 years of public service.

His service did not stop at his one term presidency.  One unusual partnership developed 20 years after his presidency with the man who pushed him out of office, Bill Clinton.  In 2004, Bush’s son George W. Bush asked his father and Clinton to tour the devastation after a huge tsunami hit Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand.  They discovered during the two week tour how much they had in common including an unlikely support of several education programs. After Hurricane Katrina in 2008 they two joined together in raising over $130 million in relief.  When the program eventually was not needed, the funds were distributed evenly to the two men who then gave them to charities in the U.S. Gulf coast region. Bush observed on his relationship with Clinton that “politics does not have to be mean and ugly”.  Seems like light years ago from our perspective today.

Reflecting on the recent death of another great Navy flyer, Senator John McCain, it seems impossible to miss that with the passing of these two men our country is losing not just the people but the values of service and integrity they exemplified.  We hope during this coming week of memorials and remembrances that George H.W. Bush’s character traits of selfless service, integrity, honor and a humble love of all people is reborn, not lost on this generation.

Truth Has Lost It’s Most Important Defender – POTUS

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: spjla.org

Just before Thanksgiving, the FBI briefed the president on what actually happened to Washington Post columnist Jama Khosshoggi, that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia had to know and give the order for his murder in the Saudi Turkish Consulate.

Instead of defending the constitutional right of freedom of speech and the press and those that work so diligently at revealing and publishing the truth – POTUS defended the brutal killing of Khosshogi.  In a wholly greedy, self-serving, money grabbing (as Dickens would put it) way he talked about how important Saudi oil was to the U.S and for the kingdom to keep buying U.S. arms – killing thousands of innocent Yemeni people along the way.

The Truth lost its most important defender today.  We all lost out to geo politics and power in its most naked way.  The message being sent by our President is: “as long as you keep paying us and buying our stuff you can kill anybody you want and we will look the other way, including journalists”.  Historians will look back on this event as the low point for Truth in this country and the defense of the Press.

Our founding  fathers knew that a strong press was crucial to keep government in check from overreaching with its power over the people.  Jefferson and Madison believed in the American experiment that a well-informed citizenry will in the end make wise decisions about who and how they should be governed.

This president with all his demagoguery, scapegoating, bullying and no respect for the truth has taken the moral level of our country to a new low – in our eyes and the eyes of the world. He passed the 5,000 mark in falsehoods, misleading statements and just plain lies as recorded by the Washington Post this past September.  He has actually increased the number of falsehoods as he was campaigning for candidates he backed to an average of 32 per day from 8 per day up to his 601st day in office.

Journalists are under attack around the world, in the first 6 months of 2018 there has been 47 journalists killed worldwide almost the same number as for all of 2017.

Source: Statista – 2018

With nearly double the number of deaths through June 2018 journalists have a target on their backs.  Our POTUS did not help the situation by sending the message that dictators can kill journalists and there is no consequence.  When worldwide we a renewed focus on the truth, instead we are giving a green light to the creation of lie after lie.

Our national leaders need to be defending journalists throughout the world and in the U.S in particular because they are the investigators, researchers and messengers of truth.  Truth is the fresh air of democracy.  Our democracy cannot survive as a representative government when the truth and those who find and express the truth are under attack.

Congress and our national leaders need to take action to show the Saudi government that we want a relationship with the nation, not their present brutal leader, and the Saudi people.  We must defend the Truth, Liberty and Freedom wherever it is under attack in the world.

‘Facts’ Can’t Be Ignored in XL Pipeline Decision

Photo: commondreams.org

In a win for all those interested in using facts, science and in depth analysis to make policy decision, a federal court held in a 54 page decisions that the Trump administration had disregarded the facts prepared in a 14 volume report by the Obama administration in 2014.  In January of 2017, President Trump executed a memorandum to approve the XL pipeline project and move it along.  The State Department which has jurisdiction in the pipeline project because it crosses the US – Canadian border surprisingly used the 2014 findings to justify its conclusion that the pipeline environmental damages were ‘inconsequential’. The court held that the Trump Administration had provided no supporting evidence for their argument.

Judge Brian Morris, sitting on the Montana federal court found the government must complete a through, fact based environmental review before approving the project.  There is long standing environmental and procedure law dating back to the 1970s which federal judges have found the GOP administration trying to short-circuit to make a policy shift toward fossil fuel development. Judge Morris provided additional related findings:

  1. The State Department is issuing the approval failed to analyze the climate change impact of greenhouse gas emissions.
  2. The Department acted without complete information on the impact of the project on Indian territory and culture.
  3. The Department failed to use a ‘fact based’ set of reasons for the reversal of previous law and policy of the previous administration.
  4. The Department needed a ‘reasoned explanation’ for its finding that their were no climate change impacts from the project.

The environmental review is likely to take at least a year, the Administration is likely to appeal the ruling.

Let’s step back here a moment, the project taps thick oil from Canada oil field and pipes the oil to refineries in Oklahoma and the Gulf Coast.  Why do we need this project?  We are trying to reduce green-house gas emissions.  We know that the latest UN report on climate change estimates that within 12 years the planet will be 1.5 degrees Celsius hotter if present climate regulations and changes are implemented.  Yet, even at that level the impact would be monumental causing more damage to the planet with hotter oceans, intense rainstorms, drought, wildfires, and rising seas engulfing valuable shore line and displacing millions of people. We are already experiencing, more category 5 hurricanes than ever, wildfires that create their own windstorms racing through cities nearby in seconds, coastal areas flooding on a continuous basis and the list goes on.

Sources NRDC, The International Energy Agency -2013

Experts predict significant degree increasing impacts based on Keystone plans as outlined.  If Keystone was implemented at the 4.6 million per barrel level by 2030 there would be a 6 degree global impact. This level of global warming can’t be justified compared to the UN findings.

We applaud legal efforts of the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Indigenous Environmental Network and others who focused their efforts on protecting our planet and our lives.  Maybe Jefferson and Madison’s faith in the people of this country ‘in a reasoned’ manner based on truth and facts making decisions will win out over corporate inertia and politicians that are bought off by corporate campaign contributions.

Memo To CEOs: Invest in the Company, Not Yourself

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Photo: wikipedia.org

To: CEOs – S & P – 500

From: The Progressive Ensign

Subject: Stock Buybacks Are Out of Control

Date: November 5, 2018

Congratulations, this past quarter you knocked earnings out of the park, profits were higher in particular, though revenues lower and you did well by raising stock prices to new highs in September via stock buybacks.

Source: Standard & Poors – 11/4/18

Ok, you did well on stock compensation too with soaring stock prices.  You can take that trip to Cancun, buy a boat and a villa for extended stays.  You have worked hard, your team has gone all out to make your companies successful, and worked harder.  Remember, while you were traveling and making decisions on sales, financing, product development and marketing they are actually designing, building, shipping, selling and supporting your products and services.

Sources: The Labor Department, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 11/5/18

Next, you have not been making the investments in capital equipment , R & D and innovation to move companies along and be prepared for more overseas competition or increase productivity. Thanks for moving wages higher for less than high school educated workers recently they still aren’t enough to keep up with inflation though. If you can increase productivity we can give workers raises without it hitting the bottom line an increasing cost, and earning would be stabilized or even get better. You wouldn’t need to use financial gimmicks like stock buy backs to take stock off the market, and goose the price so earnings look better on a per share basis.  Between 2010 and 2017 S & P companies spent 51 % of their operating earnings on stock buy backs.  That’s money just hyping stock nothing else.  Note that business investment is continuing to decline with lower highs and investments flat since 1998.

Sources: The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 11/5/18

Your joy ride on $1 trillion of stock buybacks needs to end.  We want to see a plan by the end of the month on how you will use that $1 trillion dollars in meaningful long term ways such as raising wages, job training, purchasing new equipment and systems, and innovating new products.  You are basically taking away the future of your workers and the country for your short term gain. Show by quarter how you will implement the plan and get your businesses actually growing again (in real dollars not financial gimmicks), workers supporting their families in sustainable lifestyle and making America stronger.

P.S. By the way, it is time to end your constant borrowing, rates are going up, and you spent most of the money on stock buybacks or other goodies not investing in the company.  You are mortgaging the future of the business by taking on a record amount of debt.  Please submit a plan for retiring this debt as part of your financial plan for investing in the company by the end of the month.

P.P.S.  For those of you ( a minority) who are not doing stock buybacks, thank you, and you who are spending on capex and raising wages thanks a lot!  Just submit a set of graphs showing your investments so we can show the other CEOs how it is done – as a best practice.

Dignity of Presidency We Can Agree On

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: YourLittlePlanet.jpg

A recent survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, showed that nearly 70 % of all Americans agreed that the dignity of the presidency had been damaged by  POTUS.  Even, GOP members agreed with this finding by 40 %.  Another point most Americans agree on is that the President should be more consistent with previous presidents by a wide margin of 69 %, the majority of GOP members agreed by 57 %.

We look to our Chief Executive to set the tone for national discourse on critical issues facing the country – not abusive language, mocking, and divisive rhetoric most of which is untrue.  It is heartening to see that most Americans see what is happening today as being out of bounds in the dignity and behavior of the present Chief Executive.  Americans still have respect, and support a President who is seen as fair, truthful and exemplifying dignity.

If we can’t get the building of civil national discourse going at the top – let’s start building from the grass roots up.  The following observations on building service in our lives is attributed to Mother Teresa:

“If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway, What you spend years building, some could destroy overnight.  Build anyway.  The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.  Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give the world the best you have got anyway. You see, in the final analysis it is between you and your God…anyway.”

Over 80 % of Americans believe in God or some higher spiritual force.  Maybe we start with the universal understanding that as spirit beings we need to be building our communities, families and relationships with each other.

Let’s start building regardless of whether we receive a positive response in return or our motives are suspected.  The world needs nothing less than the best we have to give today to bend the arc of universal justice toward equality and peace.

Administration Drug Price Reduction Plan – Good Start

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: blog.medicareright.org

The GOP Administration has announced a new drug price reduction program that will use a basket of prices that 16 nations pay for certain drugs in the Medicare Part B Plan (hospital and health services plans) to determine the price the federal government will pay.  Biotech drugs which are extremely expensive, yet have high efficacy are to be targeted.  The price reductions will be phased in over a 5 year period.

The difference between what the U.S. pays for many often prescribed medicines is huge as the following chart shows:

Sources: Bloomberg, The Washington Post – 10/26/18

How did U.S. prices get so much higher than other nations?  Simply, the other countries negotiated  tougher than we did. The pharma industry lobby in Washington spends tens of millions of dollars every year to persuade lawmakers and the White House to give drug makers complete pricing freedom.  In effect, Americans are paying for the low prices other countries receive where the drugs are being sold with low margins or below margin.  Pharma companies do not have a problem with this inequitable situation as long as they make money.

For example, in the U.S. Genentech, a division of Roche, prices a single dose macular degeneration drug Lucentis at $1000 while the same exact bio medicine – Avastin costs 10 times less.  The firm says that the extra testing for the eye version requires a higher price.  This premise disputed by scientists who worked in the Lucentis division and left in part due to the greed of management.

The administration is also planning on developing ways to give the private sector more leverage in negotiating prices with drug makers.  Plus, HHS wants to create new policies that would reduce incentives for doctors to prescribe expensive drugs.

Next Steps:

We applaud the GOP Administration for taking on the drug companies and their money making over all else approach to drug pricing.  The pharma companies most affected are stung by the plan and charged it with ‘socializing medicine’.  We don’t see their gouging prices to Americans as fair and equitable, so controlling prices to reasonable margins is common sense not a value shift of the health industry.

A good place to start cutting costs is to end prescription drug TV advertising like over 100 countries worldwide ban – that would allow the firms to cut billions off prices each year.  Next, they need to end stock buybacks which take shares off the market to increase share price.

Sources: Leerink Group, Market Watch – 10/30/18

These are the top 6 of all pharma firms wasting money on goosing their stock price with stock buybacks to increase stock compensation to executives while patients get hit with soaring drug prices.  Nearly $100 billion dollars spent in the last year would go a long way to bringing down the price of drugs.  When the industry cries it does not have funding for research it needs to start here and drug advertising if they tried harder to find the money they could.  The executives just don’ want to take a pay cut and run their firm with reasonable margins, yet are fine with driving patients into bankruptcy or adding thousands of dollars of debt to patient accounts.

The GOP plan does not go far enough, all medicines purchased by Medicare and HHS should be negotiated.  The negotiating authorization for HHS has been in numerous bills in Congress repeatedly defeated in by the drug lobby.  Congress needs to pass the bill, and get moving with a fair drug pricing model, with complete transparency from insurers and pharmacies to patients.  The federal government can learn from the assertive approaches many states are taking by looking a efficacy based pricing to bring prices within reason as well.

It is time the pharma industry took a hard look at its financial engineering and redesign a more equitable pricing and reasonable profit model for patients, hospitals and suppliers.

Our Leaders Set the Tone of Civility, Yet We Can Change It

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Photo: cityofhomer-ak.gov

It is next to impossible to have a national conversation toward the Common Good when our POTUS is using threats, invective, fear, hate, mocking and inciting violence as political tools.  The national media repeats all these negative, destructive emotions which invite and give permission to those who would breed and support divisiveness and lack of compromise.  We need to wake up to the fact that the combination of authoritarian politics and instant media will undercut the voices of reason and compromise creating hurricane force headwinds for any reasonable proposal.

Our founding fathers saw that compromise was a critical element in the success of the American experiment which is why they designed a ‘compromise forcing’ structure to our government – Congress, Supreme Court, and President.  They did not want to create a parliamentary democracy as a structure because they saw the majority wielding too much power in both the legislative and executive. Yet the Elite minority and mega corporations run the show in Washington. We have a borderline authoritarian Executive branch, an uncompromising Congress and lifetime conservative appointments to the Supreme Court.  The Electoral College system undermines our democracy by allowing a President to be elected without  a plurality of votes.  The installation of a President who does not represent the selection of the majority of the people sets the stage for more divisiveness because the majority feels their ideas have been left out of the political process. Even worse is the loss of legitimacy toward the Executive branch and the policies and programs it implements.  Citizens then go after these illegitimate policies and those administering them with even more angst applying uncivil tactics to be heard.  Accosting our elected officials, and agency leaders in restaurants by heckling them or otherwise making their normal day to day life miserable is not the way to build bridges of communication, understanding and respect.

What is the antidote to this incivility?  There are at least two things we can do.  First, Melanie Rudd, an assistant professor of marketing t the University of Houston found in her studies on happiness that people felt better after they had done something kind or good for someone else.  This observation makes sense as we all can experience this feeling in our lives particularly if we grew up in a family where our parents demonstrated how service and acts of kindness made our lives happier.  Or, at work when our company leaders support charitable causes ‘doing the walk for cancer research’ etc.

Second,  as in our family or at work our identification with a group doing good things helps to create ‘kindness contagion’.  Jamil Zaki, assistant professor of psychology at Stanford University has studied kindness contagion in depth. He found that kindness can be transmitted , “We find that people imitate not only the particulars of positive actions, but also the spirit underlying them.”

So maybe by doing good things in service to others, in a group we can change the underlying spirit today toward civility, compromise and consensus moving our country forward.

Major Corporations Underfund Pensions While Pocketing Stock Buybacks

 

Photo: marketplace.org

Five major corporations, among many others were examined by Danielle DiMartino Booth, in the Quill Intelligence blog,  The Daily Feather – Boeing, GE, American Airlines, Lockheed Martin and AT &T on their spending for pensions versus stock buybacks.

Sources : Bloomberg, Quill Intelligence – 10/22/18

The underfunded pensions ranged from just 62.4 % funded to a high of 79.6% for Boeing. Compared to explosive stock buybacks the pension underfunding is not acceptable.  This typifies the character of corporate America taking care of its own executives who are well compensated in stock plans versus workers who are given the financial leftovers.  When corporations purchase their stock from the open market  the price of the stock often goes up because the shares are effectively taken off the market.  Most executives have earnings and stock price targets as part of their compensation plans.

Goldman Sachs forecasts for all of 2019 about $1 trillion in stock buybacks.  Stock buyback funds are not going into raises for workers – which are the lowest they have ever been in a growing economy 2.5 % over the past 10 years.  When inflation is considered the wage raises are basically stagnant causing workers to fall further behind financially.  Workers are strapped by the high cost of auto loans, credit card debt and increasing healthcare premiums.

Stock buybacks means that corporations are not investing in innovation to increase productivity.  Productivity has stagnated since the Great Recession between 1.5 to 2.3 % per year, not enough to boost wages or keep prices in check for many sectors.  With 70 % of the U.S. economy provided by services businesses it is increasingly important that businesses invest in services innovation because services are a challenge to reduce costs or increase quality.

Next Steps:

We have been against stock buybacks from a pure transparency and valuation perspective to begin with – stock prices have been artificially inflated by as much as 20 % some experts believe.  Soaring valuations mislead investors into thinking a company on an earnings per share basis is performing better than it actually is. Stock buybacks do exactly nothing for the economy except to line the pockets of  executives who already make 300 % more than the average employee.  The trillion dollars going into stock buybacks are better spent on pensions to ensure workers can retire, or receive wage increases to make ends meet, or invest in equipment or innovation in research and development to increase productivity.   Stock buybacks were allowed by a former E.F. Hutton executive, named to head the SEC during the Reagan administration.  Now, would be a good time to end the malpractice and for the good of workers and the economy invest stock buyback funds in the future of America.

Toward A Solutions Focused National Dialog

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Photo: better-angels.org

On the right we have a president who mocks a woman who was sexually assaulted at a campaign rally, on the left protesters stalk legislators at restaurants and taunt them while they eat.

What’s happened to our national dialog?  Why can’t we talk to each other in a way that sets up a supportive communication channel leading to solutions?  Abraham Lincoln saw the need for civil dialog to bring a divided nation together in his first inaugural address:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory … will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Recently, volunteers from the left, right and political persuasions across the board were represented at a conversation day hosted by Better Angels in Washington D.C.  The host group takes its name from the Lincoln quote focusing not on changing people’s minds but instead on just helping people to understand and respect each other – on common ground.  The founder, David Blankenhorn, started the group in Ohio after he had become friends with a gay man and changed his position on same sex marriage as a result.  Blankenhorn has developed seven habits of good discourse to keep the dialog on a positive level even in fierce disagreement.  He sees deep polarization due to multiple factors: “The intellectual habits of polarization include binary (Manichaean) thinking, absolutizing one’s preferred values, viewing uncertainty as a weakness, privileging deductive thinking, assuming that one’s opponents are motivated by bad faith, and hesitating to agree on basic facts and the meaning of evidence.”

We underline the last point, agreement on basic facts is missing from much of our dialog today.  As most Americans get their news from non-journalist sources: Facebook, Google, and Twitter.  These social media outlets sprung onto the news stage from opinion based businesses, run by entrepreneurs who are more programmers whose interest is in creating opinion platforms not fact based platforms.  Facebook, Google and Twitter are now scrambling to find journalists and news professionals to rein in the runaway opinions and falsehoods that proliferate on their sites.

As a society we are left with only a few major national newspapers, the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, the Washington Post for thoughtful in depth analysis, Major television news organizations are more focused on sound bites than drilling into issues in any depth.  The PBS News Hours does bring in experts from multiple points of view on an issues to create context and deeper understanding of the topic.  Yet, the audience of social media is in the tens of millions while PBS News Hour is seen by a far smaller audience.

Where do we go today? Better Angels, Spaceship Media and Institute for Civil Discourse all host conversations across the political divide.  Yet, it is a huge cultural issue tearing apart the fabric of our democracy.  To repair our democracy and return our federal government to the people requires seeking the common good over all our basic positions – or we can never reach enough consensus to move ahead as a unified society.

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