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My Pal Vlad: Leadership on a Slippery Slope

September 25, 2016

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This is a story about two leaders. And as we’ll see shortly, leadership is not always as clear cut as we’d like to believe. It can, indeed, reside on a slippery slope.

He was born to Maria Shelomova in Leningrad on October, 7, 1952. His birth came a mere eight years after the siege of Leningrad. The boy and his parents lived in the squalid, cramped quarters of public housing (two brothers died early on in the mid-1930s). His father, who was in his early forties at the time, worked in a train factory, while his mother worked a variety of physical menial jobs.

As a young boy, he shared space outside with thugs and misfits, learning to use his fists at an early age. Because he was picked on, and as a human response to survival of the fittest, he learned how to fight. The smallest insult, perceived as humiliation by him, prompted an instant beating. He later became active in judo, an activity he became proficient at as an adult.

Vladimir Putin learned long ago never to take any prisoners in a figurative sense, and in a literal one he has, according to several informed security experts, been linked to the assassinations of those who have opposed him. His ascent through the ranks of the much feared KGB was largely unnoticed by the CIA and other foreign intelligence groups. Putin’s rise was largely aided by President Boris Yeltsin in the nineties, such as when he was appointed deputy chief of presidential staff in 1997.

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In a telling recounting of an event that occurred when he was a young man, Putin came face-to-face with a rat that he had corned in an alley. The rat sprang at him, teaching Putin a lesson that he has carried for life: when cornered fight back, to the death if need be.

Putin has been called a narcissistic autocrat. That shoe fits fairly well. However, Putin’s behavior, past and present, is more akin to that of a sociopath who found his way to power by employing Machiavellian principles, as laid out in The Prince. One definition of a sociopath is: an individual possessing a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.

There’s a congruence with Niccolò Machiavelli’s description of The Prince, wherein he states: “It is much safer to be feared than loved because …love is preserved by the link of obligation which, owing to the baseness of men, is broken at every opportunity for their advantage; but fear preserves you by a dread of punishment which never fails.”

For those who follow international politics and who are aware of the high polling numbers that Putin has been receiving in Russia, don’t be misled. Much of this is based on fear and respect for a man who will do whatever it takes to maintain power and to remain top alpha dog. Remember the rat story.

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The other man was born on June 14, 1946, in Queens, New York City. And it so happened that with that birth came the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. The second youngest of five children, the family lived in a two story tudor revival home. His father sent him at age 13 to a military academy in an effort to straighten out his mischievous ways. Later as a university student at Fordham University in the Bronx he transferred to the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce where he specialized in real estate.

Avoiding having to serve in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War by means of several deferments, he began working full-time in the real estate industry. And from that point on Donald J. Trump began his meteorite rise, with a number of flame-outs along the way, to real estate tycoon. However, his greater success, given his propensity for bankruptcy, has been his rapid ascent to mega reality star host.

Trump’s silver spoon was not a figurative one. In 1978 his father, Fred (once one of the richest men in America), loaned Donald almost $1 million as part of the building of the Grand Hyatt Hotel near Grand Central Station. Later on, Donald borrowed $9 million from his future inheritance when he encountered financial difficulties (as stated in a 2007 deposition).

Today, as one of the world’s most polarizing public figures, Donald Trump’s net worth is estimated by financial experts at around $4 billion, though he insists it’s closer to $10 billion. But his greatest success has been winning the Republican leadership ticket to take on the much despised Hillary Clinton for the position of the President of the United States.

That Donald J. Trump is the greatest reality star in the history of television is not an overstatement. How a bumbling business man has been able to pull the wool over the eyes of millions of Americans, not to mention a segment of the media, can only be explained by: a) the deep disgust that Americans rightly hold towards Congress, b) a profoundly ignorant portion of the U.S. adult population, and c) Trumps insatiable ability to lie without reservation and to be believed by many Americans.

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So that brings us to Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. There almost couldn’t be two more dissimilar men, with the exception of one particular common trait: they’re both narcissists, with Trump likely being the bigger one of the two. From a sociopath perspective Putin has Trump over the barrel. However, it needs to be pointed out that Trump exhibits his own sociopathic tendencies. His faux empathy for working Americans rings hollow when one considers how Trump’s supporters idolize him yet he doesn’t love them back. For example, we don’t see Trump meeting face-to-face with working people in their kitchens. Indeed, it took a while for germaphobe Trump to start shaking hands with his supporters. Someone pass the Purell, please.

When Trump gushes over his new pal, Vlad, it becomes a nauseating affair of pandering to one of the world’s most powerful politicians and, by coincidence, a purportedly head-of-state murderer. Trump’s near homoerotic behavior towards Putin causes one to pause to question The Donald’s judgement. And yes, both men are proficient at lying through their teeth and for making outrageous, crude remarks. On that point, Trump and Putin are running neck and neck.

But does Donald J. Trump not get it? Is he so of touch with reality and so poorly informed on geo-political issues that he’s essentially clueless about Vladimir Putin? Has he not read any biographies on Putin, or familiarized himself with the Russian president’s geo-political aims and adventures? Right, Donald doesn’t read books.

This a very sad time for America, the world’s oldest contemporary democracy. The Land of the Free deserves more than this. Check out this interview on CBC Radio with conservative talk show host Charlie Sykes, whose frankness about the Republican Party having lost its way is a wake-up call.

In the face of this dark chapter in America’s political history, the world can only hope that from this, regardless of the election result on November 8th, that the country will make a self-correction during the period leading to 2020. It will be painful, but from that will emerge a re-born Republican Party that will provide the much-needed two party system that has driven the economic success of the United States.

This is America’s urgent leadership challenge.

Nobody should have any illusion about the possibility of gaining military superiority over Russia. We will never allow this to happen.
—Vladimir Putin


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The Whole World is Watching

September 18, 2016

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I love living in Canada and being a Canadian. In typical Canadian fashion, I’m not a flag waver nor engage in what often seems at times adolescent patriotism south of the border. But I have to share a secret, not only mine but that of my fellow 35 million Canadians: we can’t seem to get enough of the political circus that has been going on for the past year in the United States. Canadians are great voyeurs, and have a certain competency at crapping on Americans in order to build themselves up. And that’s not something of which to be proud.

It doesn’t matter where you’re at—grocery store, work, gym, you name the place—Canadians are having a ball watching the world’s greatest reality show star inch his way to the White House. All the while, the first woman in U.S. history to run for President is desperately trying to repel accusations thrown at her on several fronts. Her teflon shield seems to be getting badly chipped in the process.

It’s a very sad state when instead of Americans rejoicing that finally a woman has a shot at the White House—a sad indictment for the world’s oldest existing democracy since 1776—many voters are either repulsed by Hillary Clinton’s political baggage or indecisive of whether to vote for her on November 8th.

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton meets with civil rights leaders at the National Urban League in the Manhattan borough of New York

In a recent leadership post I wrote on the U.S. election, and which appeared on another social media site, an American (Trump supporter) told me essentially to butt out since he couldn’t give a “shit” what Canadians think. Well, I can understand that comment to a point. Except, as I pointed out to him, not only do Canadians have a big stake in the November 8th outcome but indeed the entire world has a stake, a huge one at that. For example, about 75% of Canada’s exports go to the U.S. (at one time it was as high as 83%). Commercial vehicle flow across the border is extremely important to Canada. Cooperation on security and defence for our two countries is of utmost importance.

Hillary Clinton has never shown herself to be a friend of Canada. To gain political points, she blamed Canada for the 911 terrorists, stating that they came across the border (they came from Saudi Arabia). She later blamed Canada for the huge power failure that struck northeastern North America on August 14, 2003 (it started at an Ohio power plant).

But this doesn’t make it any better with a potential Donald Trump presidency. The truly scary part is that no one knows (except maybe his immediate family) what his true intentions are and how he would behave both on the international stage and how he would lead America on numerous intersecting domestic issues. How many of Trump’s rantings and flip-flops are genuine as opposed to being fabricated, made up along the way, to appeal to disenfranchised voters?

Is the reality show ringmaster as crazy as they say, or as cunning as a fox? Is Donald Trump’s end game, now that he’s stumbled his way to where he’s at, to accept losing to Hillary Clinton and then launch a new realty show series aimed at smearing a Clinton presidency? And if he were to win on November 8th, would he bring in the TV crews and cameras to give Americans—and the world—a never-before-seen reality show from the White House?

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Where does the weirdest election campaign in U.S. history end? In Armageddon, if we’re believe those who oppose Donald Trump’s bid for the role of President of the United States? Or more cronyism and pandering to the rich and powerful if Hilary Clinton wins?

In less than two months we’ll find out which of these two polarizing figures wins the presidency. However, it will be months later for the world to start seeing the real intent and policy changes of a President Trump or President Clinton. For example, would Donald Trump actually show some compassion and common sense towards America’s huge number of illegal aliens? Would Trump have the back of NATA partners who face aggressive tactics from Russia? And would he re-think his strategy to hugely increase the deficit, and in turn the debt, of the United States through idiotic tax measures?

On the flip side, would a President Hillary Clinton actually shoot the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) in the head as she’s espoused, or cave to the demands of conglomerates? Would she show some love to Canada, a country to which she’s shown little interest in the past?

Regardless of who wins on November 8th, Canada is more or less screwed. And while Americans may believe that their national election is their business and their’s alone, there’s so much at stake this time that it’s the world’s business what happens in the United States.

Americans like to brag that they live in the best country in the world, that they have the right to intervene in countries on the other side of the world if they don’t like what’s taking place, and that what’s good for the United States is good for the world (aka their version of democracy). If that’s the operating premise for America at large, then the world has a vested stake in how that country leads itself, and by extension, the rest of the planet.

The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.
— Dwight D. Eisenhower (34th President of the United States)


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Revolution or Police State? Beware the Pitchforks!

September 11, 2016

pitchfork

You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising….It’s not if, it’s when.

It’s not often that you get a really rich person talking publicly about the dangers of growing income inequality in the United States. And especially the consequences of looming social unrest. Come to think of it, we never hear someone in the super rich club talking about the need to rebuild the middle class and to seriously address the huge numbers of Americans who live in, and at near, poverty.

Well, there’s one rich guy who not only gets it but who has increasingly become more vocal for a call to action by America’s elected representatives and business people. Meet Nick Hanauer, author of the opening quotation. (It should be acknowledged that investor and philanthropist Warren Buffet has spoken about America’s warped taxation system that favors the wealthy.)

Hanauer, age 57, was born in New York City (photo below). An average student, he earned a philosophy degree from the University of Washington. After graduating, he began work at his family-owned Pacific Coast Feather Company; he’s still the CEO and co-chairman. However, when he was a young man he displayed what he’s acknowledged as an appetite for risk, and began investing in numerous ventures over the years. One of his early investments was Amazon, serving as an advisor until 2000. He created Gear.com, which later merged with Overstock.com. Many other ventures line Hanauer’s CV, but of interest was his forming The True Patriot Network, a political action tank. He also helped create The League of Education Voters in the state of Washington.

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An advocate of a higher minimum wage, Hanauer (pictured) wrote a commentary in 2013 for Bloomberg BusinessWeek, in which he proposed a $15 minimum wage. The following year, Hanauer and Eric Beinhocker published Capitalism Redefined. This is recommended reading. However, it was Hanauer’s commentary featured as a special report in Politico that caused people to sit up and pay attention.

The Pitchforks are Coming…for Us Plutocrats is an in-your-face, frank assessment of where America is at on the issue of income distribution. You can also listen to Hanauer in this TED Talk, where he makes an appeal to his “fellow plutocrats” to help initiate the needed socio-economic changes to reduce income inequality. Be sure to take to watch this illuminating video.

A contentious public figure in the past few years, owing to his TED Talks and media interviews, Hanauer’s viewed by right-wing capitalists, and many Republicans, as too left-leaning and too critical of America’s capitalist society. Based on developments over the past 20 years, from NAFTA to China’s entry to the World Trade Organization to the 2008 financial meltdown and ensuing Great Recession to the Occupy Movement to the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership, these criticisms hold little substance. American workers, especially those in manufacturing and information services, have gotten screwed.

Hanauer points out that in 1980 one percent of the U.S. population controlled eight percent of the national income. The bottom 50 percent held 18 percent. Fast forward to today and the top one percent controls 20 percent (up 12 points); in contrast, the bottom half has only 12 percent (down six points). However, of more relevance than these numbers is understanding the distinction between income and wealth.

To be in the one percent club required an annual cash income of $500,000 plus in 2008. However, at the core of the one percent issue is wealth, encompassing assets less liabilities. On that front, one percent of Americans control about 35 percent of the country’s wealth. However, that share of the nation’s wealth has barely budged upwards since 1962 (only 2.2 percentage points). Wealth begets more wealth. It’s the massive disproportionate increase in income by the one percent between 1979 and 2007, up 275 percent, that raises eyebrows—and tempers. The middle class, in comparison saw its income rise by just under 40 percent.

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The middle class has been squeezed relentlessly not just in the U.S. but in Canada, the UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, with wages stagnating in real terms, young people being underemployed and older workers being thrown to the curb as work is outsourced overseas. No wonder why Great Britons voted to exit the European Union (aka Brexit), when one considers how the country has been hammered economically outside of metropolitan London.

One can pick at some of Hanauer’s arguments, but the underlying point is that American society, as we’ve come to see it evolve into a post-WWII healthy middle class, is under extreme threat. The work of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Carter started to unravel with the later introduction of trade agreements that saw jobs outsourced overseas. President Reagan, who oversaw the growth of the U.S. debt by $1.86 trillion (more than even President G.W. Bush), did take on the Soviets and through a sustained effort with Mikhail Gorbachev saw a large reduction nuclear weapons.

It was under Presidents H.W. Bush, Clinton and G.W. Bush that China’s massive manufacturing hub was created and took hold. President Clinton, many have forgotten, signed the legislation to eliminate the Glass-Steagall act of 1933 (enacted under President Roosevelt) which was aimed at separating consumer banking from investment banking. And President G.W. Bush and his successor Barak Obama didn’t have much of a clue when it came to economics. In short, for the past two decades-plus it has been America’s plutocracy that has controlled the way forward for the US economy, and by extension Canada.

We hear about the “One Percent,” as portrayed by the Occupy movement” that not only spread across the U.S. and Canada but Europe, the UK, Australia, India, Brazil, Argentina and many more countries. But what’s really at issue is the .01 percent, those super rich people who as this two-part British documentary explains benefitted mightily from the exploitation of consumer debt, initiated by CITI bank. Watch The Super Rich and Us, Part One. And here for part two.

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Many people have attributed the expression “The One Percent” to nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. While Stieglitz is a perceptive commentator on the socio-economic-class tensions prevailing in the US, it was actually President Franklin Roosevelt who coined the expression in the summer of 1914. It was at a public address in Reading, Pennsylvania, just when WWI was breaking out in Europe, and Roosevelt as Assistant Secretary of the Navy remarked in his address:

“There have been two kinds of successful politics devised in our system of government…. The first is the kind which seeks to build up party strength by obtaining … power based on the personal domination of a few men and the perpetuation in places of authority of those few men and their own appointed successors. That has been in the past, we must admit to our shame, a successful kind of politics, but the day of its success has just about come to an end…. The administration believes that the national government should be conducted for the benefit of the 99 per cent, and not, as has been sometimes been the case in the past, for the benefit of the 1 per cent….” (from Young Mr. Roosevelt, by Stanley Weintraub).

This is not the first time in history since the Industrial Revolution where extreme income and wealth inequality have become incendiary issues. Yet we, as human beings, like to consider ourselves as more sophisticated and educated compared to our forebears in the early 1900s and during the 1800s. We shouldn’t congratulate ourselves or feel superior, given our technology advancements. As a 21st Century society we’ve actually fallen backwards. The longer we wait to seriously correct the disparities in the economy, labor market and financial system, the longer and more difficult will be the road back. Hanauer’s correct about the metaphorical pitchforks. One has only to read some history on what happens when repressed people finally stand up and assert themselves.

The most ironic thing about rising inequality is how completely unnecessary and self-defeating it is. If we do something about it, if we adjust our policies in the way that, say, Franklin D. Roosevelt did during the Great Depression—so that we help the 99 percent and preempt the revolutionaries and crazies, the ones with the pitchforks—that will be the best thing possible for us rich folks, too. It’s not just that we’ll escape with our lives; it’s that we’ll almost certainly get even richer.
— Nick Hanauer (from “The Pitchforks are Coming”)


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21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps: A Leadership Call to Action

September 5, 2016

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Sometimes a great idea is staring you in the face. Indeed, such an idea may have been introduced many years ago to phenomenal acclaim. And then time went on, and people and subsequent generations forgot about it. But it doesn’t have to be that way, nor should it. Great ideas can be rejuvenated, refurnished or overhauled. This is the job of leadership.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was a new president, having been inaugurated on March 4, 1933. He faced a mess: an estimated unemployment rate of 25%, a GDP that had fallen 15% since 1929, a plunge of 60% in crop prices, a devastating drought in the Midwest, potential social unrest, and numerous other problems.

FDR was not just an eloquent politician, with excellent people skills, gregarious personality and savvy disposition, he was also a visionary with a particular skill in taking effective action. Within months of assuming office, FDR launched the greatest public relief work program in U.S. history. This earlier post in which I wrote about the Civilian Conservation Corps provides additional information on this historic initiative. The purpose of this post is to push forward the idea of creating a 21st Century CCC.

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The current Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewel, wants to create what’s being called a 21st Century Conservation Service Corps. Introduced by Senators John McCain (R) and Michael Bennet (D) in August 2015, the 21CSC Act would enable federal land water departments and agencies to be more cost effective and to partner more easily. The 21CSC would employ by 2018 some 100,000 youth and veterans to improve public lands and waterways, as well as responding to natural disasters and wildfires. Already, there are 192 21CSC member organizations, employing tens of thousands of youth.

This is a great idea whose time has come. However, we’re on the cusp of a national election in the United States, and depending on the outcome this idea could shrivel away over time. Even if Hillary Clinton wins on November 8th, it’s very unclear on whether she would push further ahead with this initiative. Granted, both Trump and Clinton have stated that they support infrastructure spending. However, the key here is not just strategic infrastructure investment but human capital investment, with both tied together. The CCC under FDR’s leadership was able to achieve that.

As Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s August 22, 2016, edition noted (“A Cautious Return to Fiscal Stimulus”): “There’s no need to build bridges to nowhere or hire armies of unemployed youth to dig and refill holes in the ground.” Some readers may recall Alaska’s Bridge to Nowhere, which became a controversial topic when former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin flip-flopped on it when chosen as John McCain’s running mate in August 2008.

In the aftermath of the 2008 election, the new President Obama blew much of his political capital on driving through (with the help of chief of staff and now Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel) his healthcare legislation, when he should have deployed his energy and resources to the collapsing U.S. economy. In her 2014 acclaimed book This Changes Everything, Canadian activist Naomi Klein makes some compelling comments about the Obama administration:

… three huge economic engines—the banks, auto companies, and the stimulus bill—were in a state of play, placing more economic power in the hands of Obama and his party than any U.S. government since the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Imagine, for a moment, if his administration had been willing to invoke its newly minted democratic mandate to build the new economy promised on the campaign trail—to treat the stimulus bill, the broken banks, and the shattered car companies as the building blocks of that green future….The stimulus package could have been used to build the best public transit and smart grids in the world. The auto industry could have been dramatically reengineered so that its factories built the machinery to power that transition.

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The CCC, which lasted for nine years up to 1942 when the US Congress voted to end it in order to deploy resources to the Armed Forces, employed 300,000 men annually, for a total of three million during its lifetime! Consider that the population of the United States in the mid 1930s was a mere 125 million in contrast to 2016 of 320 million. Extrapolating from that produces a 21st CSC of 768,000 workers per year. In other words, to be more effective and to engage the huge numbers of disenfranchised American young adults, the federal government needs to jack up the number by over 700%. And then there are the tens of thousands of veterans who served their country admirably but who are largely ignored by society and government.

Sure, today’s unemployment rate is much lower than during the Great Depression. However, the CCC focused on younger males. Considering the role that women play in the labor market today, the large numbers of displaced older workers due to offshore outsourcing and technology, and the huge numbers of disenfranchised youth in both urban and rural America, raising the participation in 21CSC to over three quarters of a million annually is essentially a no-brainer.

The CCC wasn’t just about men working on environmental and natural resource infrastructure projects; in the evenings they studied in classroom settings to boost their education. They improved their health by building muscle and getting fresh air. When President Roosevelt met with one group of workers, which was recorded on film, he joked that while each man had put on 12 pounds he needed to lose that amount of weight. FDR went on to talk about the good that the men were doing and how they were improving their health, something that he himself was very conscious, given his polio.

In today’s context the CCC may seem somewhat primitive, yet that program’s results are still seen today in America’s national parks. The CCC also served to maintain the dignity of men who were unemployed, thus, in FDR’s primary aim, to avoid social unrest. Each worker was paid $30 per month and given three square meals a day. Of the monthly pay, each worker was allowed to keep $5 for personal use, with the remainder being sent home to their families. FDR didn’t want to see men squander their money on alcohol and other vices, knowing the desperate situations their families were in.

It’s a personal mystery to your correspondent why Canada and the United States have not re-created a modern big-scale version of the CCC. In the brutal aftermath of the 2008-09 Great Recession, President Obama had every opportunity to initiate a serious national infrastructure program. The same applies to former Prime Minister Stephen Harper whose Action program was more about funding music festivals and rebuilding docks.

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America’s crumbling infrastructure, from highways, to rail systems to airports to ports, was once lauded around the world. Ignoring its declining state only significantly raises the rebuilding costs, estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Canada, on a smaller scale, is seeing its bridges literally falling apart, its highway network grossly underdeveloped and its ports struggling under the weight of increased trade. And then there’s the issue of broadband, where vast areas of Canada and the U.S. have either totally inadequate or zero access to the internet (Photo: California Conservation Corps)

But it’s not just about infrastructure; it’s also about the future: building the country’s human capital, helping those disenfranchised youth and laid off older workers to restore their dignity, honouring the service of veterans, and providing vital work experience and skills development.

This is not rocket science; however, our elected representatives for some alien reason don’t seem capable of understanding the huge benefits and merits of a nation-wide 21st Century initiative built on the principles of the CCC. Sally Jewel and other elected representatives seem to partly get it. More needs to be done—much more. And in my home country, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn’t indicated any real understanding of how a made-in-Canada CCC initiative (aka national infrastructure project) would benefit the nation.

Where’s the much needed national leadership?

The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.
— Franklin D. Roosevelt


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America’s Great Firearms Hoax: Are You REALLY Safe?

August 28, 2016

Woman with gun

A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

Passed by Congress on September 25, 1789, and ratified on December 15, 1791, the Second Amendment has become increasingly an emotional—and divisive—issue for Americans. However, it took over two hundred years for it to reach an almost extraterrestrial intensity, as witnessed during President Obama’s two terms, during which the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the far right wing of the Republican Party voiced their shrill warnings that the federal government would seize their firearms. Gun sales have never been better.

The question on whether the Second Amendment protects the right of citizens to keep and bear arms, or whether it was intended by Congress to be exercised solely through a “militia,” namely established military units such as the National Guard, remains a hotly contested debate.

As explained in this law piece from Cornell University, there remains NO definitive conclusion on what the Second Amendment means specifically. That gun-loving Americans parrot the NRA’s refrain that citizens not only have the right to carry firearms but to possess those more appropriate in war zones or with police tactical units is a fraud perpetrated on an ignorant segment of American society.

Journalist Hannah Levintova observes in this prelude to an interview with Michael Waldman (The Second Amendment: A Biography), president of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University:

As America grapples with a relentless tide of gun violence, pro-gun activists have come to rely on the Second Amendment as their trusty shield when faced with mass-shooting-induced criticism. In their interpretation, the amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms—a reading that was upheld by the Supreme Court in its 2008 ruling in District of Columbia. v. Heller.

Yet most judges and scholars who debated the clause’s awkwardly worded and oddly punctuated 27 words in the decades before Heller almost always arrived at the opposite conclusion, finding that the amendment protects gun ownership for purposes of military duty and collective security. It was drafted, after all, in the first years of post-colonial America, an era of scrappy citizen militias where the idea of a standing army—like that of the just-expelled British—evoked deep mistrust.

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The sheer lunacy of America’s infatuation with firearms ownership is manifested in countless ways. Check out this video Serving up the Second Amendment about a restaurant in Colorado where the female servers pack handguns on their hips (above photo). Ostensibly, the restaurant’s owner’s argument is that it keeps patrons safe and exercises the Second Amendment, which she incorrectly states is the basis on which the United States was founded. In reality, this is an intelligent marketing ploy, especially aimed at males: pretty gals packing six guns.

Let’s take a sober moment to reflect on a few firearm statistics:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2013 firearms were used in 73,505 nonfatal injuries (23.2 per 100,000 U.S. citizens); 11,208 deaths by homicide (3.5 per 100,000); 21,175 by suicide with a firearm; 505 deaths due to accidental discharge of a firearm; and 281 deaths due to firearms-use with “undetermined intent.” This adds up to 33,636 deaths due to “Injury by firearms”, or 10.6 deaths per 100,000 people.

Of interest, America’s neighbour to the north, with a population of about nine percent of the US, has a homicide rate seven times lower. The population of the United States is just over 315 million, yet an astounding 300 million weapons of various sorts are possessed by Americans. Contrast that to Canada and its seven million registered firearms (note the word “registered”). Extrapolating Canada’s population to its giant neighbour, you still only come up with a hypothetical 67 million firearms.

What about Down Under? Well, 20 years after Conservative Prime Minister John Howard spearheaded passage of legislation to ban assault weapons, there have not only been no mass shootings but firearm-related homicides and suicides have fallen sharply. Australia, in the 18 years leading up to 1996 when the legislation was passed, experienced 13 fatal mass shootings in which 104 victims were killed and 52 wounded.

Take a moment to read this illuminating article, Gun homicides in England are about as common as deaths from agricultural machinery accidents in the United States.

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In 2015, the National Gun Victims Action Council produced the report Does the Quality and Frequency of Training Determine the Realistic Use of Firearms by Citizens for Self-Defense? The Council was direct in its findings on the civilian use of firearms for the purpose of self-defense:

What we can say with certainty is that carrying a firearm in public has enormous implications and responsibilities for both citizens and police officers….Safe and effective firearms usage requires mental preparation, legal knowledge, judgmental awareness, as well as firearm expertise, skill, and familiarity….Legislators and public policy makers must stop denying the reality that carrying and possibly using a firearm is the same as riding a bike and that once
you learn you are ready for the Tour de France or the Olympics.

The bottom line is that it is sheer folly for a civilian, regardless of spending time on shooting ranges, to believe that he or she is capable of functioning properly in a high stress situation involving an active shooter. As human beings, our ingrained and involuntary fight or flight reaction to extreme stressful and traumatic events produces instant chemical changes in the brain.

Called tachypsychia, time slows down, tunnel vision occurs and colour blindness may appear. It’s not something that one easily overcomes. Special forces and police tactical units train constantly to ensure that they’re capable of responding effectively to stress. Civilians don’t have this training. When placed in simulated situations involving gunfire and having to separate perpetrators from innocent civilians, including returning fire at the assailant, time and time again civilians fail. Check out this video clip series on what happens when regular civilians react to situations involving firearms.

Yes, there have been a few instances of armed civilians intervening in situations where a shooter or armed perp was about to do harm to others. However, in the totality of crime and mass shootings in the United States, these cases are minuscule. Remember that many more innocent people, including children, are killed and maimed every year because of firearms in comparison to bad guys who get the Clint Eastwood treatment.

Generations of gun owners have taught their sons and daughters that it takes as much patience and skill to be a good shot as it does to be a good steward of a powerful weapon.
— Gabrielle “Gabby” Giffords (former Arizona state representative, assassination attempt survivor and gun owner)


Holisti LeadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.


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The Tripod of Brand Differentiation

August 21, 2016

Light BulbsLast summer we decided to downsize our living accommodations, since we’ve been empty nesters for a few years. During the winter I decided it was time to get rid of all my stereo equipment, which was taking up too much space. I’d had some experience with Bose sound devices and after some further research decided to go with its new SoundTouch 30 system. At about 35 pounds, this compact system kicks out excellence sound, in keeping with Bose’s reputation.

Instead of ordering off their website, I decided to visit Bose’s downtown Ottawa store so that I could ask some questions. The sales experience at the Rideau Centre store was excellent. Because the store didn’t have the colour I wanted the sales rep arranged with one of their Toronto stores to ship it to my home. He also called Bose’s tech support so that I could inquire into connecting my turntable to the SoundTouch. A pre-amp was promptly sent to me, shipping fee waived.

The unit arrived within a few days, and it was a matter of a few minutes to get it connected to my Wifi. The sound quality proved what I expected. All was good.

Some five months after I’d been using the SoundTouch, I encountered a problem with the Bose app, which resides on both my iPhone and laptops. After repeated attempts to fix the problem I decided it was time to call Bose tech support.

Woman on Phone

I’ve dealt with a variety of tech support people over the years with many companies. Some were very good, but most were lackluster. And when it comes to customer service, it’s been mostly a miserable experience. The exception here, it should be noted, has been Apple Care, whose phone and live chat support is very good.

However, a new low was reached that day with Bose. It wasn’t that the tech support agent was rude; he wasn’t. The issue was that he didn’t know what he was doing. I had to wait half an hour on hold to have someone answer, and then another 30 minutes going through the motions with him. He didn’t seem to have any more of a clue than me how to fix the problem. I finally asked him why he hadn’t escalated it to a more senior tech, such as what Apple Care does. He said fine, disappeared for a few minutes and then reappeared. But in this case he merely passed on whatever the invisible senior tech person had said: send back the unit. Bose would send me another one once it had my receipt from UPS that it was in their possession. A slew of emails followed my transaction with tech support, including a shipping label.

I thought about my experience and the request from Bose. The next day, acting on intuition, I phoned the Bose Rideau Centre store and spoke to the manager. Very customer focused, he was shocked at how I’d been treated and the conclusion tech support had reached, namely returning the unit.

The manager then asked me a series of questions, and then walked me through some diagnostics. The solution to get the app to work took only a few minutes. The manager could not get over that tech support hadn’t asked me to go through the steps that he had me follow. When I expressed my view that this was one of the most incompetent tech experiences I’d ever had, the manager replied that Bose had recently outsourced its tech support. Well, that explains a lot. It was reminiscent of companies such as Dell and HP whose customer support, once very good, tanked when they took their eyes off the customer service ball.

Emoticon Smiling.jpeg

Bose, despite having superior products and (in my case) excellent customer sales, failed when it came to customer tech support. I completed the Bose customer tech service questionnaire that I received the next day. When I pressed the “Submit” button, an error message appeared (a few weeks later I received another automated survey to complete, which also failed to submit). On top of that, the day after my tech support call I emailed Bose to share my experience. It took three weeks to receive a reply from someone in customer service. I provided additional information and waited several days to receive a second response.

It took several more weeks to finally get some resolution with a senior tech on the phone. But it was a protracted and unnecessary experience.

There are three legs to brand differentiation: product quality, sales experience and follow-up service. When it comes to this tripod, Bose is missing one leg. In this instance, it doesn’t matter if you have exceptional products and great sales people if your customer service support sucks. This is how the reputations of companies rise and fall.

Indifference to customer feedback extends across industries. Witness my feedback to a popular natural foods store in Ottawa after my Bose experience. I thought I’d start shopping at Rainbow Foods, which has a wide selection of products. On my third trip to the store I attempted to engage an employee who appeared intent on tasking, ie, stocking shelves. She was in her sixties and one of the retail associates. She had little interest in helping me, so I gave up, put down the product I was holding and walked out of the store. I then sent some feedback to Rainbow Foods on their website. I never received a response. Indifference.

Tech Guy

Contrast this experience to a recent one, which proved illuminating. I purchased a manual coffee grinder from GSI Outdoors, a family-owned company (founded in San Diego and now based in Spokane, WA) specializing in outdoor camping equipment. I had trouble getting it to work so returned it to the outdoor retail store where I’d bought it. I then went on GSI’s website to share my experience with their product. Two days later I had a phone call from a very friendly fellow who apologized for my inconvenience. He then promised to mail me a free one, which arrived in five business days, just in time for our three week road trip. That’s how it’s done. Kudos to GSI Outdoors. And I’ll add that during our trip the grinder worked beautifully.

In the summer 2016 issue of Canadian Business Magazine, brand strategy consultant Bruce Philip offered some pointed insights on customer service in his column:

Customer experience—especially in Canada—is the most dismal and ignored corner of marketing. Poorly measured, conferring little corporate glory and mired in office politics, customers’ affection is taken for granted—or, worse, considered unimportant by too many companies…. The worst of it, most companies never find out they’re failing….yesterday’s hard-won customers just slip away.

The message here is when you’re competing in a tough, fast-changing marketplace it’s vital to be on your game. A company’s only as good as the three legs on which it stands and competes. If one leg is shaky, it places the company in a vulnerable position. Too many companies, large and small, have learnt this the hard way.

I hope that Bose gets it—soon. They make great sound products. The manager at the Rideau Centre store was one of the best sales people I’ve encountered. It must be hugely frustrating for capable people such as him to hear from customers with easy-to -solve problems but who ran into the wall of weak tech support service. Take a cue from GSI Outdoors on how to practice excellent customer service.

If you’re part of an organization that prides itself on producing superior products, whether it’s furnaces, artisan roasted coffee beans or furniture, and that believes in providing great sales experiences, then don’t park customer followup service in the back seat. It belongs in the front seat. Ensure that the tripod of brand differentiation is rock solid. Each leg supports the other.

Keeping the tripod balanced is the challenge for corporate leadership.

As a consumer, you want to associate with brands whose powerful presence creates a halo effect that rubs off on you.   
— Tom Peters


Holisti LeadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.


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Wisdom from a Curious World Traveller—Meet Derek Sivers

August 14, 2016

Derek 1

One of my favourite bloggers is Derek Sivers. I discovered Derek online several years ago, and was impressed with his love for learning and for sharing with others. His eclectic background is fascinating, as is his humbleness. In the past, he’s been an entrepreneur, programmer, circus clown, author, plus much more. A few years ago he wrote a wonderful, compact book called Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur. It’s excellent; be sure to check it out.

Recently, Derek shared three short posts with his followership. I enjoyed them so much I asked his permission to share them with my readership. These three posts have gems of insight for leaders of all stripes. I encourage you to reflect on them and to also follow Derek’s life journey via his blog.

And if you haven’t seen Derek’s narrated video First Follower: Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy”, viewed over four millions times, then take a moment to watch it.

Enjoy!

Keep Earning your Title, or it Expires

Derek 2

Until yesterday, I called myself an entrepreneur. Today I erased it from the top of every page on my site.

It’s been years since I started a company, so I can’t keep using that title.

Someone who played football in high school can’t call himself an athlete forever. Someone who did something successful long ago can’t keep calling himself a success.

You have to keep earning it.

Holding on to an old title gives you satisfaction without action. But success comes from doing, not declaring.

By using a title without still doing the work, you fool yourself into thinking future success is assured. (“This is who I am!”) That premature sense of satisfaction can keep you from doing the hard work necessary.

Stop fooling yourself. Be honest about what’s past and what’s present. Expiring old titles lets you admit what you’re really doing now.

And if you don’t like the idea of losing your title, then do something about it! This goes for titles like “good friend”, “leader”, or “risk-taker”, too.

I updated my home page to reflect what accomplishments are in the past. It’s liberating to speak in past-tense about what’s passed, and only speak in present-tense about what’s actually present.

I do plan to start another company some day. And when I do, I will have earned the “entrepreneur” title again.

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DISCONNECT

Water

Someone asked what I remember as the best times of my life.

They’re almost all times when I was being the most productive — when I was creating the most.

Turning my ideas into reality is what I want the most out of life. So that’s what gives me the deepest happiness.

Then I realized that all the best, happiest, and most productive times in my life, were when I was completely cut-off.

No internet. No TV. No phone. No people.

Long uninterrupted solitude.

When I was 22, I quit my job, and spent five months alone in a house on the Oregon coast. Practicing, writing, recording, exercising, studying, learning. No internet. No TV. No phone. No people. I only drove into the city once a month to see friends and family. The rest was completely disconnected.

In those five months, I wrote and recorded over 50 songs, made huge improvements in my instrumental skills, read 20 books (some of which changed my life), lost 20 pounds, and got into the best physical shape of my life. Not only that, but I was the happiest I’d ever been.

When I was 27, I moved to the woods of Woodstock and did that again. Months and months of lovely solitude. That’s how I started CD Baby.

It’s not that I hate people. The other best times in my life were with people. But it’s interesting how many highlights were just sitting in a room, in that wonderful creative flow. Free from the chatter of the world.

No updates. No news. No pings. No chats. No meetings. No surfing. No blogs.

Silence is a great canvas for your thoughts.

That vacuum helps turn all your inputs into output.

That lack of interruption is a great ingredient for flow.

Every business wants to get you addicted to their infinite updates, pings, chats, messages, and news. But if what you want out of life is to create, then those things are the first to go.

People often ask me what they can do to be more successful.

I say disconnect. Unplug. Turn off your phone and wifi. Focus. Write. Practice. Create.

That’s what’s rare and valuable these days.

You get no competitive edge from consuming the same stuff everyone else is consuming. But it’s rare to focus. And it gives such better rewards.

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WHEN YOU’RE EXTREMELY UN-MOTIVATED
Derek 3I’ve been feeling extremely un-motivated lately. I don’t know why. I look at things that excited me just a few months ago, and I think, “Why bother? What’s the point?” I don’t feel like doing anything.

What do you do when you don’t want to do anything?

Well, I also have a list of things that I should do, things that really need doing, but I never feel like it.

Boring things. Necessary things. Things I’ve been putting off for years, but really do need to get done. The reason I never do them is I’m always more excited about something else.

Ah, but I’m not excited about anything now, am I?

So now, when I’m not excited about anything else, is a perfect time to do them!

So I made a list of these necessary things, and have been getting them all done. It’s not fun, but I use some caffeine, and get through it. It actually feels pretty good.

Conventional wisdom tells us to do the important and difficult thing first, but doing this boring work has moved me from a state of doing nothing to doing something. I’m just starting to feel like doing something important again.

So next time you’re feeling extremely un-motivated, do those things you never want to do anyway.

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A work-only zone does wonders for your productivity. So, I prefer working at the office now. I spend 8 focused hours there, then I go home to be present with my family.
— Derek Sivers


Holisti LeadershipClick here to download a complimentary copy of Jim’s e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader, 3rd Edition.


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