Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Science is Settled

This week, emails from several global warming researchers were exposed to show collusion in manipulating the data to show "evidence" of global warming when the "evidence" was not that convincing. According to the emails released, that data shows that the earth has not warmed for the last decade but the researchers have manipulated the data to show that it has. This now raises doubts about the science of global warming and if we can truly believe what we are being told. This includes the statement I have heard from many that the "science is settled" on global warming and now we have to figure out what to do about it.

We should always be wary of any scientist that declares "the science is settled". For example, we can say that the science is settled in regards to gravity. It is true that we understand the law of gravity, how it works, and how it changes with respect to distance and mass. However, we do not understand why it happens and the underlying cause of gravity. The law of gravity was introduced by Newton in 1687. It has since been superseded by Einstein's general theory of relativity but for most purposes, Newton's law is still valid. We have over 300 years of science since Newton's discovery and I would still say the science of gravity is not settled since we still cannot explain it's origins.

As for global warming, we do have data that shows the earth warms and cools. We have theories as to why it warms and cools but these theories are far from settled science. In fact, the science is so unsettled that we struggle to come up with an accurate weather forecast 1 week out.

Here is my theory - when someone tells you that the "science is settled", they want you to accept their theory without question so they don't have to debate it with you. Now a good scientist will question that theory and try to disprove it. I'm open for debate!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Give it to us Straight

In front of Congress this week, our Treasury Secretary testified that the TARP program was winding down and some of the leftover funds would be used to pay down the deficit. When I read that, I thought that is like saying we are going to use the remaining credit limit on our credit cards to pay down our mortgage. You cannot use borrowed money to pay down your debt.

We need more straight talk from our government officials. When I hear things like "deficit neutral", "paid for from savings", or "lower costs", I really wonder what sort of "spin" they are using to make that justification. I realize many don't really question these statements but we should. We cannot solve our country's problems if we refuse to accept the truth and demand straight talk from our politicians. I realize that the truth will be hard and we probably won't like the solutions. We are in a state of denial and we need to face the facts. The fact is, ss a nation, we have max'd out our credit cards. We need some serious debt counseling!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Checks and Balances

I have come to the conclusion that there are many in this country that believe we can rid our society of all our ills if we can just implement the perfect system of government. For example, there are those that believe we can get rid of violence if we ban guns, we can get rid of obesity if we ban transfats, we can get rid of global warming if we ban SUV's, or we can get rid of corruption if we ban political contributions. This all stems from a belief that it is the system that lets us down rather than individual people. To all those people, let me say that there is NO perfect system without perfect people.

Our founders understood this clearly and that is why they put in a system with multiple checks and balances. It is not perfect because people are not perfect but it puts limits on government since there is always a check on power and the needs of any one group are balanced against the needs of other groups.

As frustrated as I get with government, I still believe in our system of checks and balances and that good government will ultimately prevail. The biggest check on government is the people themselves. If we don't agree with the direction of the country, we can vote in new representatives. To make this work, we have to be engaged in what is going on because ultimately, there is no check on us. If we the people do not demand good government, we will get what we deserve.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

1787 vs. Today

The original constitutional convention in 1787 consisted of 55 men who spent 4 months in lively debate in drafting a 4-page constitution. There were major issues to resolve such as the power of large states vs. small states, how to address slavery, the role of the federal government vs. the state governments, and how much power to grant to the people. There were strong opinions on both sides of these issues and in the end each delegate and state had to compromise to achieve the final draft of the constitution. The delegates themselves wrote the words of the constitution and there was often debate over individual words. The delegates all served at their own expense and endured a hot and muggy summer in Philadelphia in a closed room with no air conditioning.

Fast forward to today and we have strayed far from that standard for making legislation. We now spend hours or days in debate (if that) on 2000 pages of legislative language written by someone else. Our congressman all get paid for their work (and many find ways to make significantly more than their salaries), they have staffs to write their bills, and they debate in a spacious and air conditioned room. We have heard this year that many congressmen don't even read the bills they vote on.

How do we get back to the ideals of 1787? We can start by getting rid of the staffs of our congressmen. Let them have a secretary and that is it. If they were forced to write their own bills without the benefit of a staff, then we might get more real debate and less grandstanding, shorter bills that can be understood and explained, and politicians that can be held more accountable to the people that elect them.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Special Interests and Lobbyist

A common refrain in the political debate is the accusation that special interests and lobbyists are behind any attempt to express opposition to any particular plan or idea. A special interest is a group of individuals that have a common interest. Lobbyists are paid by special interest groups to exert influence on members of Congress to push forward their desires. Having political office holders complain against the special interests and lobbyists is like an alcoholic complaining about having cirrhosis of the liver. Lobbyists have influence because Congress and the political parties let them have influence.

Our political leaders should listen to special interest groups. They should be aware of the effects of legislation on different groups and special interest groups are able to represent the views of the people they represent. The problem is that our elected leaders let money influence their decisions and this is the problem. If an alcoholic wants to avoid getting cirrhosis of the liver, they can stop drinking. If politicians want to lessen the influence of special interest groups and lobbyists, they can simply stop taking their money. They should still listen to the viewpoints of special interest groups - that is their job, but they don't need to be influenced by how much money they can give to the candidate.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lively Debate

In 1787 at the beginning of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, John Rutledge of South Carolina stated the following, "Only by taking a position and then engaging in lively debate to defend it do we find its weaknesses and flaws. And once such flaws are discovered, prudent men change their minds accordingly."

We have many issues in this country. We have had lively debate on health insurance reform, cap n' trade, troops in Afghanistan and this should be encouraged. Unfortunately, I've seen a lot of name calling instead of debate. Stop making it personal and make it about the issues. If we cannot have honest and open debate about the issues, we are never going to find solutions without flaws. If you cannot defend your position in a debate, then maybe your position is not right? If you can defend it, then maybe it is a solution to a problem.

This week we have seen officials at the White House resort to attacks on Fox News. If they don't agree with the views expressed on Fox News, then debate those views with them. Resorting to non-specific attacks does not help any of us. Only through lively debate will we figure out the solution to our problems.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Keeping your Eye on the Goal

There was another lesson I relearned while participating in my daughter's Crash Avoidance class last Saturday. There were a few exercises we did which helped to reinforce the idea that for safe driving, you should look well ahead of where you are. You are much better able to stay on course during routine driving or when avoiding an obstacle by keeping your eyes focused on where you want to go rather than where you are.

This is a good lesson for government and business. If we make decisions based on where we want to be years down the road rather than what we want right now, we will make better decisions. Politicians and business leaders too often make decisions based on short term gains. As citizens and shareholders, we should demand that our leaders think long term by keeping their eye on the goals rather than what is only right in front of them.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Defensive Driving School

As part of my daughter's driver education training, she signed up for a defensive driving and crash avoidance course. A parent was to attend with her so I had that duty yesterday on a Saturday morning. I was not excited about taking the course but knew that it would be good for my daughter's education. As it turned out, I learned a lot from the course and feel I am better prepared for my own driving.

The course involved a number of exercises in the car to give you the skills and knowledge to avoid an accident in different situations. The exercises became increasingly difficult as the morning went on. In the latter exercises, all of the students (myself included) failed on the first few attempts. As we practiced, however, all of us became proficient in a driving skill that would help us avoid an accident.

The instructors were asking us to do hard things and they knew we would experience early failure. If they had let us get away with failure, we would not have learned these important skills. Through practice and repetition, we eventually succeeded.

There are many important lessons we learn from failure. It is only through failure that we learn hard things and achieve success. We should celebrate failure if we don't give into it and use it as merely a stop on our journey towards something great.

Our politicians need to learn that a society that tries to make it so everyone succeeds without failure is a society that will fail. Only through the consequences of our failures will we learn to overcome our weaknesses and make them strengths. Americans throughout their history have risen above failure to accomplish great things. The government should stop trying to take care of us by protecting us from failure but rather allow us to succeed which will only come through our failures.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Local Control

I read a business book several years ago that studied companies that had been at the top of their industry for a time but had then been overtaken by a much smaller competitor. The study was trying to determine what caused their downfall and how they could be blindsided by a competitor that had far fewer resources. The conclusion from this study is that smaller organizations work more efficiently, they are able to react to changes in the marketplace in a more timely manner, and tend to foster more innovation. The recommendation to companies is that they need to operate as a group of small companies and when they get too big, to spin off certain parts of their company into smaller business units. These small units should act like any other small company by securing their own capital, being responsible for profit and loss, and managing their human resources. The larger company can set certain guidelines for all of these but each smaller business units is responsible for running their business.

That lesson applies to our government as well. Local governments tend to be more efficient, better able to react to changes in the local community, and more creative in developing solutions to problems. When everything is being directed by a large central government that is many layers removed from the individual citizen, we end up with a system that delivers services in a very inefficient manner. We also introduce many levels in which corruption can enter into the system. The federal government can and should set some guidelines to enforce some consistency but they should be careful in adding so much regulation that it inhibits innovation and adds excessive costs from regulatory enforcement. Local governments also are much closer to the individual citizen which helps keep everyone honest.

Our founders realized that a central government was necessary but they also set up a system where the states had significant control over their governance. We need to get back to their original model of a smaller federal government and more control at the state and local levels.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Food Chain

When I was in school, I remember learning about the food chain. An animal eats a plant, then a bigger animal eats that animal, a bigger animal eats that animal, and so on. Plants get their energy from the sun so in the end, you can trace all life back to the sun. Even though a coyote eats only meat, you can trace his energy back to the sun by following its food chain.

The government food chain is that all government revenue can be traced back to the individual. Our politicians often play the game of making you think that someone else is going to pay for this program but it can all be traced back to the individual. Let me illustrate with a few examples:

1) "We're going to pay for this by taxing big corporations" - Corporations are in business to make money and to be viable in the marketplace, you need to show profits that are consistent with others in your market. When governments collect revenue from corporations, this eventually gets passed onto the consumer through higher prices which is a tax on the consumer.

2) "We're going to pay for this by taxing the rich" - Rich people don't just put their money under a mattress. They buy things (houses, yachts, cars) and they invest. Both of these activities create jobs which helps the overall economy. When the rich have less money to spend due to taxation, there is less money in the economy for jobs which ends up being a tax on individual workers.

3) "We're going to pay for this through savings in other programs" - Currently, Medicare reimbursement rates are not sufficient to cover the costs of treatment so hospitals and doctors charge more to the non-Medicare patients to make up the difference. If the government chooses to further reduce Medicare reimbursement rates, costs will go up for everyone else and treatment options will go down for the Medicare patients. Both groups of individuals lose in this case and end up paying this tax. True savings that can really reduce costs need to come from efficiency and productivity gains in the system.

Therefore, when you hear some politician tell you that this program won't "cost you a dime", remember that all government revenue can be traced to you eventually. Just as all food chains can be traced back to the sun, all government revenue can be traced back to the individual. Think about that when being sold a new government program - if it were my money, would I spend it on that? In the end, it IS your money so spend it wisely :-)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Primrose Path

A primrose path was referred to by Shakespeare and others. It is often meant to denote an attractive path lined with flowers that eventually leads the traveler to an undesireble location.

When I was in college, there was a common thoroughfare from where the students lived to the school buildings. The path passed by a oval filled with grass surrounded by other buildings. There was a worn path across the grassy oval that represented the shortest path from Point A to Point B. The conscientious student would avoid the path so as to try and preserve the grass but the path was used regularly be others to save a few steps. An English professor approached a group of us one day and asked if we would be willing to help her in doing an experiment. She wanted to plant primroses and flowers along the path and put a sign at each end labeling the path as the "Primrose Path". We agreed, so late one night we went out to plant flowers along the path. The next morning, we watched the reaction of people. It appeared that it deterred some from walking along the path, to others it appeared to entice them to walk on the path and to others it seemed to make no difference. Over time, it didn't seem to change behavior much and the flowers eventually died and we pulled them up while the worn dirt path remained.

We are often enticed to take the easy path in life. It is good for a time helping us get to our destination with less work but after awhile, it leads us to places we don't want to be. For the path across the grassy oval, it started fairly innocently by some students who were in a hurry and could save a few steps walking across the grass. As others followed, it eventually became an eyesore. If those who had been first to walk across the oval would have thought about the eventual result of their actions, would they have acted differently?

In our government, we should be wary of taking the easy path. It often looks enticing and politically attractive. Who wouldn't want the promise of "free" this or "free" that? People keep reelecting their representatives because they are good at bringing back "goodies" to their districts. Many of the fiscal problems we are in now are due to the start of well-meaning programs that promised an easy fix to a problem.

We have many issues to resolve in our country. Let's demand that our representatives do the hard work that is required to develop long term solutions. If we keep asking them to "plant flowers" to make the solution attractive now, it will often lead us to an undesirable location. Grass is not as pretty as flowers but a grassy oval is better than one with a dirt path in the middle of it.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Happy Labor Day

As we celebrate Labor Day, we should celebrate the value of hard work. Our founders did not give us liberty from work but liberty to work in whatever we choose to do. Hard work is good. It builds character, helps develop skills, provides mental and physical exercise, and improves the quality of life for all. The people that settled this country, the immigrants that came here to start a new life, those who fought in wars defending this country, the businesspeople, inventors, and innovators that run businesses, the farmers, laborers, and factory workers all worked hard to give us the life we have now. Labor Day is a day to honor them.

Our government should strive to promote hard work by discouraging laziness and rewarding hard work. Over the last several decades, we have unfortunately moved away from that ideal. We provide way too much to those who choose not to work and punish those that work hard. The intentions are often noble - help out those on hard times but are we really helping them when we provide little incentive for them to get back on their feet and be self-reliant? And by punishing those that do work hard and earn a lot, we take money that would otherwise be used to create jobs and new businesses and use it to fund more government and more laziness. A society that doesn't work will not survive. Now, let's get back to work!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Lesson from History

In the Spring of 1783, the British had asked for negotiations for a peace treaty to end the Revolutionary War and the men of the Continental Army were starting to look forward to their return to their homes and families. When they signed up for battle, they had been promised pay and 100 acres of land so they began thinking about how they would use the land and spend the money. However, the word started getting out that Congress had no money or land to pay them and they were likely to go home with neither. The Continental Congress had no taxing authority to raise money and they did not own any land. They relied on the States to provide the money and land to provide the Army and the States had not provided that for various reasons. This was complicated by the fact that each State had their own currency which was for the most part worthless. People generally bartered goods or traded in British pounds. Most States and the Federal Government were near total bankruptcy.

Men were obviously agitated and there were some who were using this sense of frustration to encourage a mutiny. Some were calling for the States to grant additional powers to the Continental Congress to put down any disputes among the various factions. Others were calling for revolt, a march on Philadelphia and Congress, secession from the Union, or a military coup to take control of the Congress. Tensions were high and the country that had just won their independence was on the brink of total chaos and anarchy. In the midst of this growing anger and frustration, a meeting was organized by Horatio Gates and attended by several officers. In the meeting, 2 documents were handed out that were planned to be delivered to Congress. They demanded that Congress fulfill its promises to the soldiers or the Army would take control of the government or leave the Union altogether and leave the United States defenseless. A second meeting was scheduled where they invited all officers and hoped to gain the backing of the Continental Army for their pursuits.

George Washington learned of these plans and requested that the meeting be postponed a few days so he could attend. He asked that those behind the plans be in charge of the meeting but to allow him to speak. The organizers thought that Washington was sympathetic to their cause and gladly accommodated his request. At the meeting, Washington stepped to the lectern and calmly but forcefully spoke out against any plans that would break the fragile republic, urged calm and patience with Congress, and pleaded with the officers to not lose the gains they had sacrificed so dearly to achieve. After he sat down, a hush fell on the crowd of officers and a motion was made for a vote of confidence in General Washington which was passed unanimously. That speech by Washington and the resulting reaction of the officers likely saved the new Union.

There are several lessons we can learn from this incident. First, we need to act with patience and restraint when dealing with the weighty matters of this country. Congress had some very difficult issues to resolve and they needed time to resolve them in a deliberative manner. The only crisis that requires haste is when lives are in immediate danger. Second, we should be very wary of granting government additional powers in a crisis. Washington resisted any calls to use this crisis to have the States grant additional powers to the Federal Government. He understood that when we grant government additional power, it is difficult to get that power back. The power should be in the hands of the people. Third, Washington was able to quell the frustration and anger of these men because each member of the Continental Army implicitly trusted him. They had come to know him, his character, and his dedication to the cause of liberty. Above all else, we need to have trust in our elected representatives. When that trust is broken by corruption, spin, empty promises, or backroom deals, we are in danger. Our Congress and leaders today need to be most focused on regaining the trust of the American people. Trust cannot be gained in an instant or through a single speech. George Washington was able to change the course of our history with a single speech but that was backed by several years of honest actions. We the people should demand that our elected officials act with honesty and integrity worthy of our trust.

We have weighty issues today that require attention but they are not the first. We can learn much from our Founding Fathers in how to deal with a crisis. Do not act in haste, be wary of any attempt to grant additional powers to the government, and in all things, act with honesty and integrity.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Where It All Began

I was discussing the current healthcare debate with a relative while hiking in the beautiful Olympic Mountains this past week. He was asking how we even got to this point of considering universal health care. As we discussed that, we came to the conclusion that we started down this path by having our employers provide health insurance to the employees. With that, we have become dependent on someone else for our needs so it is an easier transition to consider shifting that now to the government. Would you ever consider a single payer system for auto insurance? Probably not but you might consider it if your employer provided you with auto insurance and you had little choice and no direct view of the expenses. If you lost your auto insurance when you lost your job, you might opt for this.

This should be a lesson to us all. When we give up our choices to someone else whether it be our employer or the government, we eventually will lose our freedom. It may all sound very attractive at first, but it will slowly erode our liberty. We should look at where this can lead us rather than what this will do for us now. We need to get back to more individual responsibility and accountability.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Health Care Solutions

There was an excellent article this week in the Wall Street Journal by John Mackey who is the CEO of Whole Foods, Inc. You can read his article at:

John Mackey Article

He presents several things that we can do now to improve our health care system including many things he has implemented in his company.

Politicians keep pointing to the success of Medicare and Social Security to push for a similar system for the rest of us. Yes, our senior citizens have come to rely on these programs but that does not mean they are good programs. They are both running out of money and cannot be sustained at the current benefit levels. Instead of modeling our health care systems after programs that are unsustainable, let's try some ideas that have actually worked. John Mackey has found some solutions that work for his company and his employees. We should listen to his ideas.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Art of Listening

I have been in sales and business development roles for most of my career. Many years ago, I would spend lots of time preparing PowerPoint presentations and rehearsing a software demo. I would go into the meeting with the idea of impressing the audience with my presentation and demo. I rarely do that anymore preferring to go in with some information in a binder that I can refer to if needed and then just having a conversation. What I want is for the individual or group to let me know their problems, what they would like to do better in their business, and what is giving them a particular challenge right now. I then can discuss ways in which my company may be able to help them solve their problems and help them be more efficient.

I'm afraid many of our politicians are very good with a prepared speech and a quick soundbite to the reporter but not very good at listening. Town Hall meetings are supposed to be a discussion, correct? It is an opportunity for the politician to listen to their constituents, find out what is not working for them, their challenges, and discuss potential solutions with them. It is supposed to be a dialog. It appears that the congressmen and women have gone into these meetings like I used to go into sales meetings early in my career - prepared to "wow" us with their speech and knowledge. The issues of today are complex with many opinions and potential solutions. Congress needs a lesson in the art of listening to the voters. If they want to stay in office, they better start listening to the real frustration that is out there. People want their voices heard.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Scout Camp

I spent the last part of the week at Scout Camp with my Son. It was a beautiful setting on Silver Lake near the Canadian Border. The camp staff were great and the boys learned a lot of new skills including working alone on a difficult task and working together as a team. It was a great week well worth the expense and time away from work.

Lord Baden Powell started the Boy Scout program because he saw a need - a need to help boys grow up to be men with honor, a good work ethic, and skills to help them in life. The scouting program today is largely carried out by volunteers, men and women who devote their time to help these boys. There are a few paid staff but it is not a career for those who want to make a lot of money. There were several teenager boys and girls who basically ran the camp for the week teaching the merit badge classes, putting on the campfires, acting as guides for the troops, and serving the meals. They put in long hours for very little pay but had opportunities to develop leadership and management skills that will serve them well in the future.

I reflected on the great achievements of the scouting program with a relatively small budget. What would have happened if Lord Baden Powell would have decided that the best way to accomplish his desires was to have a government program that would help all boys? I'm sure in this day and age he would have found listening ears in the halls of Congress but if we left this up to Congress, I'm sure the results of the program would be far different. The program would be inefficient. would be bogged down by endless regulations, and would blame any failures on an inadequate budget.

The Scouting program is successful because it is run by people who have a sincere desire to help others. Unfortunately, most government programs, although often well intentioned, end up being vehicles for government to gain greater power and control. Our founders warned against this and established a system of limited government with checks and balances to make sure government did not become too big or wield too much power. I'm afraid we have drifted ever farther away from that ideal.

Our society has problems and if we let individuals and groups solve those problems, they will develop efficient methods and organizations to accomplish great things. We have come to rely on government too much to solve every problem in society. The danger with this is that many people do not step up to solve the problems because they expect government to do it. We also end up with solutions that are often worse than the original problems because they are inefficient and drift away from actually helping the people they were intended to assist. The programs simply become means for government to yield more power and influence. If government can get out of the way, American generosity and creativity will step up to solve our problems in innovative and efficient ways. Let's get back to limited government with limited powers and unleash the American spirit again to accomplish great things.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Health Care Debate

When I got my first apartment on my own, the landlord included the utilities in the rent. Since it was included, I ran the dishwasher everyday, didn't worry about turning off lights, kept the temperature just right, even if I would be gone all day, and took nice long showers. After a few months, the landlord told me that my utility bills were really high so that I would need to start paying the water and electricity bills. My rent would be lowered some to accommodate this. Since I now was responsible for directly paying the utility bills, I was much more frugal.

This is the answer to health insurance. The best way to control costs is to have people directly pay for their health insurance and health care. When we have our employer (or worse yet, the government) pay for our health insurance, we tend to run to the doctor for any little thing, doctor's run more tests than are really required, and costs spiral out of control. If we actually had to pay for our health insurance directly, we would be more frugal. If we wanted low co-pays, we would have to pay higher premiums. If we could live with a high deductible, our premiums would be lower and we would think twice before going to the doctor for something.

There was a time in my career where my employer did not offer a good health insurance plan for Ohio where we lived. I was given the option of taking the money the company paid for health insurance per employee and getting my own policy. I had many plans to choose from and saw quickly that I could save a lot on my monthly premiums if I went with higher deductibles and co-pays. I chose this option and it worked out great. We were covered if anything catastrophic happened but if we were relatively healthy, we saved some money. My employer now gives us a few options and that is how we receive health insurance today. I wish we could go back to having more choice and seeing the costs more directly.

Government run health insurance or health care is not the solution. As with most things, it is individual liberty and freedom that are the answers.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Here is my idea for a pledge that we should demand from our elected officials:

I, as a candidate for elected office, pledge the following:

I will only serve for 2 terms in this office. After my service in this office, I will return to the private sector and work in the private sector for at least the term of my elected service so that I will clearly understand the effect of the laws and regulations I helped pass.

I will not benefit financially from my public service by accepting lobbying, consulting, or media jobs that are the direct result of my public service.

I am free to be involved in advocating positions or candidates; I just will not receive financial gain for those activities.

I will not vote “yes” for any bill that I have not read and that has not been properly debated.

I will disclose publicly any meetings I have with lobbying or advocacy groups and the content of those meetings.

I will treat you, the people, as my boss. You will know where I spend my time, who I meet with, and what I’m working on. I will submit to you an expense report each month that shows where I spent money for which I was reimbursed with taxpayer funds.