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Why America is Good and Great

November 27, 2016

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Negativity is corrosive. It eats away at one’s spirit, slowly weakening an individual’s outlook on life to the point that all seems to be lost. It’s a travesty to watch.

When it occurs at a collective level, such as within a community or even that of a nation, then a serious state has been embraced by citizens.

The United States of America, the world’s oldest contemporary democracy, has been undergoing a serious corrosion of its spirit and will to be the free leader of the planet. The two-year lead-up to the November 8th national election proved to be a national nightmare, out of a bad B-rated movie. And it wasn’t just an issue with the Republican Primaries and subsequent contest between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The Democratic Primaries were a sordid testimony to deceit and manipulation, with the victim being Bernie Sanders and his supporters.

As if this two-year endurance test of people’s tolerance wasn’t bad enough, the results of the election have led to protests and riots not just across America but here in Canada. Not riots per se, but protests and numerous instances of racial abuse hurled at non-white Canadians. It’s sickening to read reports about this—Canada, allegedly the land of tolerance, opening its arms to immigrants.

But people have forgotten just how wonderful so many Americans are. Sure, in a country of some 320 million you’re going to encounter idiots, assholes and racists. Canada surely has its share, with a small population of 36 million. Americans are hugely generous people, as witnessed by $358 billion in donations in 2014.  According to GivingUSA this was the highest level reported in its 60 year history. In contrast, Canadians donated $12.8 billion in 2013 (Statistics Canada). That’s $350 per Canadian compared to $1,118 per American.

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Reflect on the kindness that’s shown on a daily basis by Americans towards one another, and especially those in need. For many years I’ve watched CBS Sunday Morning, an excellent program covering current events, arts, culture, entertainment and people. It’s the segments dealing with fascinating regular Americans that I find so captivating. These vignettes portray people who have conquered adversity, or helped those in periods of pain and despair, or unconditionally donated their time to improve something in their community.

Just recently on Sunday Morning, the last story was about an amazing man in Tampa, Florida, who self-initiated to clean the headstones of veterans. Andrew Lumish (pictured) arrives at a cemetery with a scrub brush, toothbrush (for detail work) and a plastic container of water. And he goes to it using good old fashioned elbow grease. The results of his work are amazing. One headstone dating back to 1917, covered in moss and dirt, looked new by the time he finished with it.

What drives a fellow like this to do this type of work? No one asked him to do it. He receives no compensation for his efforts. But he’s immensely satisfied with what has become his passion. As Lumish explained in his interview with CBS:

“If they can’t read it at all, they can’t celebrate it, they can’t honor that person, they can’t appreciate that person. Whereas if you properly restore the monuments, you can begin an entire conversation, and potentially—in a figurative sense—bring that person back to life.”

This is personal leadership in its finest form. No big-shot CEO or some prominent community leader getting the attention. Just a regular American fellow who doesn’t ask or expect anything in return for his efforts.

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It’s unfortunate that most of the news stories we watch on TV or read in print or online deal with the negative. The motivating stories, such as the one shared above, are few and far between in the media—but they’re all around us every day. Indeed, the media can legitimately wear the label of purveyor of fear, narcissism and hate. Nowhere enough attention is given to those events and stories that reflect the goodness of the human spirit and what people can learn from expressions of kindness, love and generosity.

Again, it’s about personal leadership

If the United States is to turn the corner on this ugly episode in its 240 year history, then 320 million people will have to learn how to respect their differences while working towards the same vision of living in a wonderful country. A nation built on immigration, diversity, and hard work through entrepreneurship.

More positive story-telling is needed. There are so many good news and heart-warming stories across America that they would eclipse the negative if only allowed to be shared. Doing so would help stop the corrosion of a nation’s spirit and, hopefully, contribute to its rebirth through collective healing.

The journey in between what you once were and who you are now becoming is where the dance of life really takes place.

—Barbara De Angelis


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Whole Lotta Frettin’ Goin’ On

November 20, 2016

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s thick dark locks must have stood up on end when the results of the U.S. Presidential election were finally in. As Canada’s 23rd prime minister, and second youngest in the country’s history, the 45 year-old Montrealer is only one year into his first term. But during this first year, he’s toured the globe and attended numerous meetings with heads of state. And along the way he made pals with the leader of the free world: President Barack Obama.  The two became bosom buddies, as did their spouses, Sofie Gregoire-Trudeau and Michelle Obama.

Unfortunately, becoming pals with the U.S. president can be a fleeting experience, worsened if that individual is at the end of a two-year term and if a national election changes the political party in power. What happened on November 8th is a game-changer for Canada. The big question is whether, on net, the election of Donald J. Trump will be good for Canada.

In the days following the election it was clear that, to borrow from rock ’n roller Jerry Lee Lewis, there’s a whole lotta frettin’ goin’ on in the Trudeau cabinet, notably with ministers holding such portfolios as immigration, trade, energy, foreign affairs, and environment.

Justin Trudeau Barack Obama

Like the vast majority of media pundits, pollsters, analysts, strategists and a long list of pseudo experts from the intelligentsia, it was assumed that Hillary Clinton would win the election and that she would carry on with the general thrust of President Obama’s agenda. One particular issue stands out: climate change and the attached-at-the-hip direction that the President and Prime Minister Trudeau have had on reducing carbon emissions. Just days before the election, Trudeau announced unexpectedly his plan to introduce a carbon tax that would increase over time. For provinces that haven’t initiated their own carbon taxes, the federal government will do it for them.

Trudeau’s announcement has been met mostly with positive reviews, though Saskatchewan’s Conservative premier (Brad Wall) went mildly apoplectic, as did Alberta’s NDP premier (Rachel Notley). All was good in the Great White North since, again, it was expected that Hillary Clinton would win. That scenario will never materialize, and in its place is a president-elect who has made it clear that he doesn’t believe in climate change, and indeed wants to allow oil and gas drilling on public lands, including national parks.

While addressing the effects of climate change on the environment is of vital strategic importance to the Trudeau government, this is but one of myriad challenges it’s facing. As one CBC journalist put it on November 11th in a CBC Ottawa Radio interview, the Trudeau government is not panicking, but fretting would be a good word.

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Unfortunately, to borrow from another rock icon, Led Zeppelin, there’s unlikely to be a whole lotta love that’s going to be apparent between President Trump after inauguration day and Prime Minister Trudeau. If the prime minister were wise, he’d put down his smart phone and focus on Canada’s inter-connected, complex issues, instead of doing selfies with adoring fans. Canada’s longstanding relationship with the United States is THE most important issue on Trudeau’s plate, spanning cross-border trade (over $1 billion a DAY), security, defence, immigration, labour mobility, environment, energy, and so forth.

In his National Post column on November 14th, John Ivison referred to the Trudeau government “disintegrating like cheap toilet paper” in the context of the prime minister offering up to re-negotiate NAFTA. Or as Derek Burney, chief of staff to former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, commented: “Naive would be a polite term.”

Prime Minister Trudeau’s one-year, post-election honeymoon was officially over on November 9th. It came unexpectedly and with a huge (or “Yuge” in Trumpian speak) imminent shift in direction for his government. Trudeau’s big problem is that he has some 230 election promises to fulfill; at last count (October 2016), media sources estimated that he’d fulfilled 34. And now a reality show host and real estate magnate has turned Trudeau’s political world upside down.

Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, a competent Alberta politician who served capably in former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, stated on November 9th that Prime Minister Trudeau had better quickly re-think his carbon tax plan. Otherwise, it will “kneecap” Canada in how it attracts investment, companies and talent, in the context of its economic relationship with the U.S.

Yes, there’s undoubtedly a while lotta frettin’ goin’ on with Prime Minister Trudeau and his cabinet, and more broadly the Liberal caucus. Creating a solid working relationship with President-Elect Trump is absolutely critical. Trudeau’s mistake would be to not make this effort, reminiscent of Stephen Harper’s weak relationship with President Obama, or Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s similar weak effort with President G.W. Bush.

Let the love in, Prime Minister Trudeau.

I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend.

— Thomas Jefferson


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So What NOW? America’s Struggle to Remain the Leader of the Free World

November 13, 2016

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You don’t have to be an American citizen to feel battered and bruised following the November 8th presidential election. We Canadians, all 36 million, were sucked along for the roller coaster ride over the past two years, from the nutty Republican Primaries to the astonishing Donald Trump victory out of some 20 candidates. The vitriol that spewed forth during the primaries, and then Donald Trump’s profanity-laden presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton, exceeded the bounds of the seediest reality show one could imagine.

And then in typical Trumpian reality show fashion, he astonished the world by cleaning Hillary Clinton’s clock in electoral college votes (290 to 228, at the time of this post), though he was a few hundred thousand behind in the popular vote. The pollsters, self-described political strategists, media hosts, reporters, analysts, and so forth all got it wrong, except for the LA Times which consistently held Trump in the lead during the campaign.

Putting aside the blame-it-on-angry-white-voters peddled by the media (a butt-covering attempt for blowing their prediction), the core of the problem is the elitist stance that upper middle class people have maintained against the Republicans, and in particular Donald Trump from the moment he declared his candidacy in the Primaries—the Coastal Elites as some call them. Forget that he’s a douche bag, chauvinist pig, racist, nasty businessman, etc. The intelligentsia, from the media to academics to economists to political analysts, all of whom waded into the Trump swamp, live their lives in privilege, ensconced in their lovely suburbs, oblivious to the realities that tens of millions of Americans face each and every day.

Donald Trump was merely the vessel through which millions of Americans, many of whom were not regular voters or members of the Republican Party, expressed their outrage with the country’s political power system. Trump, the strategist, successfully channelled that outrage towards his personal political ends. He accomplished what he excels at.

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Whether it’s trying to keep up with rising health care premiums, feeding their families and keeping a roof over their heads, or working two or three jobs, to many Americans the dream of a better life has been steadily fading away. In short, the American Dream is dying. Yet the intelligentsia is still not getting it after the election. Blaming it on angry white people seems to be the media’s post-election analysis. Donald Trump and his team knew where to focus their efforts and in which states. Hillary Clinton, the hard worker she is, made the mistake of over-campaigning in states where she was strong. Check out this Bloomberg BusinessWeek article on how Trump’s campaign strategists got the data right.

Hillary Clinton had the resume to back up her run for office, but not the political strategic thinking. Donald Trump is a brilliant strategist who knows how to deploy resources, but his political resume was non-existent. And guess who won?

Consider these numbers based on exit polls:

— Hillary Clinton won 88% of African Americans, in comparison to Barack Obama’s 93%,
— Clinton attracted 65% of Latinos; Obama drew 71%,
— She received 54% of those 18 to 29 years of age; Obama got 60%,
— She got only 54% of women’s votes; Obama drew 55%.

This piece from The Guardian explains how 53% of white women propelled Trump to victory.

What went wrong with the Clinton campaign? Plenty. But adding to Clinton’s political baggage and how Americans in the Heartland feel disenfranchised, her strategy was obviously wrong. On that point, listen to financial historian and Harvard professor Niall Ferguson’s succinct remark following the election: “A Donald Trump presidency is not the liberals’ biggest nightmare … It’s a successful Trump presidency.” Reflect on that for a moment.

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The U.S. presidential election was tantamount to a Brexit 2.0 American style. Citizens of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union on June 23rd for reasons similar to why Americans rejected Hillary Clinton (excluding the perceived corruption issues surrounding her and the concern with labour mobility in the EU). With the exception of metropolitan London, citizens voted Yes to leave the EU.

The 2016 presidential campaign has been labelled the nastiest since 1860 when President James Buchanan, ranked as one of the worst U.S. presidents, was defeated by Abraham Lincoln. That election is also seen as one of the most important ones in U.S. history, because for one thing it created a more defined edge between party loyalties. It was after the 1860 election that the Democrats and Republicans became the two defacto political parties in a primarily two-party system.

The lanky Abraham Lincoln was not seen as a potential president when he entered politics at age 23, where he failed to win a seat in the Illinois state legislature in his first attempt. Yet he’s seen as one of America’s greatest presidents for the stand he took against slavery and the secession of the southern states from the union. Lincoln’s leadership, however, took place during the bloodiest period in U.S. history. James Buchanan, who had no interest in pursuing a second term as President, exhibited indecisiveness—and indeed impotence—when it came to the secessionist states that feared the national government’s intervention.

People lose perspective when it comes to current political events and a nation’s challenges. Witness the idiotic refrain from the U.S. media during the 2016 campaign that this was the most important election in a lifetime. Rising standards of living breeds a pampered intelligentsia that either deliberately distorts issues for the working and lower middle classes or detaches the elite from the rest of society. What’s most offensive is when top business people and the country’s elite spoon feed a steady diet of adolescent patriotism to the masses in a reminiscent 19th Century attempt to keep citizens obedient. It’s bullshit.

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When it comes to Donald J. Trump, it’s just so tempting to lay into him, calling him all sorts of names. Comedian Jon Stewart and numerous other celebrities (including Shark Tank star Mark Cuban, who was initially a Trump supporter) went into potty mouth overdrive during the campaign. What does that accomplish? And now that the election is over, protests have broken out as Democrat supporters express their outrage. Why would you burn the cherished and iconic American flag?

Donald Trump helped to create the vitriol that spewed forth during the Republican Primaries and the presidential campaign. He lambasted Hillary Clinton as a liar, threatening to lock her up if he were elected president. Well, now he’s President Elect, with inauguration day on January 20th.

In her masterful concession speech on November 9th, Hillary Clinton called for Democrats to have an open mind to Donald Trump and to give him the chance to lead. Secretary Clinton reminded her supporters of America’s long standing democracy and its hallmark of a smooth transition of power following elections. As Clinton stated:
Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power. We don’t just respect that. We cherish it. It also enshrines the rule of law; the principle we are all equal in rights and dignity; freedom of worship and expression. We respect and cherish these values, too, and we must defend them.

The ball is now in Donald Trump’s court, and fortunately he has just over two months to start preparing to become the leader of the free world. It’s time for The Donald to put on his big boy pants. And with any luck, his election may provide the much needed reset to the country’s paralyzed and highly partisan political system.

So to readers, some of whom have no doubt expressed serious angst with the November 8th results, it’s time to pause and reflect on the words from Angeles Arrien, a brilliant leadership practitioner and author who passed away a few years ago:

Be open to outcome, not attached to it.

We’ve collectively been far too attached to outcome for the past two years. It’s time for personal leadership and to learn how to control what is within our grasp.

Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.
— John F. Kennedy

holisti-leadership


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The Allure of Populism—and the Confusion with Fascism

November 6, 2016

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Populist: 1) A member or adherent of a political party seeking to represent the interests of ordinary people. 2) A person who supports or seeks to appeal to the interests of ordinary people. Adj. Representing or appealing to the interests and opinions of ordinary people. Derivatives: Populism.

Fascism: An authoritarian and nationalistic right-wing system of government.

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary)

Photo: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and wife, Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau

Sometimes a little clarity and precision is helpful before wading into a controversial area. Populist leaders, and populism as political movements, have been around a long time. With events occurring recently in the United States and parts of Western Europe, it’s a good occasion to pause to reflect on the accuracies in media reporting when it comes to the use of the term “populism” and how some commentators are mixing it in with the detested and overused word “fascism.”

The rise of fascism in post-World War I Germany was the consequence of the Treaty of Versailles and the onerous load that was placed on that nation to pay reparations to the Allied powers. The rub-your-face-in-the dirt treatment to the Germans, a proud people with a long history, combined with a populace susceptible to a charismatic World War I corporal by the name of Adolf Hitler, led eventually to World War II.

Reflect on this for a moment: Loss of national pride places a populace in a very vulnerable position to the emotional appeal of a charismatic leader.

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Hitler capitalized on Germans’ pain and humiliation, and became in some ways a populist leader among his followers, except that he was not as much interested in representing the interests of Germans but more focused on prosecuting his distorted plan to re-make Germany as a pure Aryan race.

To be clear, Hitler was not a populist politician.

A number of factors and events have given rise to populism’s surge in recent years. Globalization, and its accompanying effects on global trade, the labor market, and domestic industries (manufacturing in particular), have amplified people’s fears. Add on the role that technology is playing in enabling most jobs to be done anywhere on the planet, and you have a potent mix to stoke the fears of citizens. Introduce a charismatic politician who cleverly knows how to manipulate the public and you have a potentially dangerous situation for a nation.

Indeed, when one reflects on the individuals through history who have captured the hearts and minds of citizens, charisma is the common ingredient. Add a dash of Machiavellianism (the amoral pursuit of power) and fear of the unknown among a populace and you have a leader who may not necessarily be working towards society’s common good.

At this point, readers are likely thinking of one individual in particular: Donald J. Trump. We’ll come to him in a moment.

Populism is appealing to voters because it gives the perception that they’re taking back control from elected politicians to foster better representative democracy. If one does a fast rewind to the founding of the United States or Canada, the founders resisted the notion of citizens having a direct say in decision-making. It’s one reason why the requirements for the Senate of each country had strict requirements for being part of this body of second sober thought. Much of the population was excluded from potential membership.

As anthropology professor David Graeber explains in his excellent book The Democracy Project, the U.S. Constitution was modelled on Republican Rome, which had two consuls that filled a monarchical role. One was a permanent class of senators, while the other was composed of popular assemblies. In the case of the U.S., the Senate was designed to represent the interests of the wealthy, while Congress was to represent democracy. The latter’s role was mainly to raise and spend money. Popular assemblies were eliminated. The farmers of the Constitution were aware that they were building a new political structure that blended democratic and aristocratic elements.

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Fast forward back to today and we’re seeing citizens pining for the misplaced belief of direct public involvement in the political decision-making process. Representative democracy is what Canada, the United States, Great Britain and other Western nations were founded upon. In some jurisdictions, such as California, the use of referenda has grown to become politically inefficient and costly processes to involve citizens, but with frequent undesired outcomes.

America’s presidential election campaigns and the preceding party leadership nomination processes are nothing short of endurance marathons, making an Ironman competition look like a stroll in the park. The 2016 campaign saw the rise of two so-called “populists:” Bernie Sanders (pictured), a left-leaning, Brooklyn-born Vermont senator, who surprised everyone with his stamina and ability to create a following of largely younger people with basically a one-issue message. And Donald Trump, a real estate tycoon and reality show TV host who shocked the nation—indeed world—by beating out some 20 other contenders for the leadership of the Republican Party.

It has been a bizarre year in U.S. politics, where the media in typical fashion (and not just America) turned into babbling idiots at times. The media’s inability to understand the history of populism and to distinguish it from fascism has been a sad commentary on the information-providing role it is supposed to play in society.

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Donald Trump, because of his rantings on immigration, Mexico, Hillary Clinton, ISIS, defense spending, nuclear weapons, President Obama’s administration, and anyone who got in his cross hairs (such as women who claim he sexually assaulted them) was labelled a fascist by segments of the media and critics. Sure, he’s a bumbling businessman who excels in bankruptcies, but he’s very clever when it comes to the tax code and the entertainment business.

Trump is in some ways a populist because of the following he’s created based on: a) his charisma and b) his ability to identify and exploit the fears that many Americans have on a long list of issues, from immigration to outsourcing jobs to healthcare. And while his rantings about Mexicans being “rapists and murderers,” his insults aimed at women who’ve pissed him off, and his claim to “Make America Great Again” may come off as fascist in some respects, Trump fails the fascism test.

Donald Trump is not a fascist, and is a rather lousy populist politician because of his hidden agenda for post-national election day on November 8th. Yes, he’s a great reality show host. Perhaps he should be labelled an “Entertician,” a hybrid of politician and entertainer.

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Compare Donald Trump to the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders (pictured), a nasty piece of work as a politician. Founder and leader of the Party for Freedom, Wilders is one of the most divisive individuals in Dutch politics. He has led the attack on immigration, Muslims and the European Union. In particular, he’s fighting against what he deems is the islamization of the Netherlands.

Most recently, he’s used Twitter to state that the Netherlands needs few Moroccans, claiming that 43% of Dutch citizens stand behind this. The Dutch government is in the process of attempting to try Wilders for hate speech, specifically for inciting discrimination and hatred of Moroccans. However, with the Dutch showing growing intolerance for immigration and Islam, divisions are growing among the populace.

Wilders is certainly charismatic and has used this to great effect to rile up Dutch citizens, both those who are for and against him. But is he a populist leader? No, and no more than Donald Trump. Wilders claims to be speaking for ordinary Dutch citizens, yet he has in the process antagonized many people and divided the country—just like Mr. Trump.

The rise of the above-noted “populist” leaders has led many to suggest that fascism is on the increase and that politicians such as Donald Trump and Geert Wilders are feeding this trend. Russia’s Vladimir Putin has also been included in this list of fascist-style leader. Putin has capably created a loyal following of Russians through his populist appeal as an outdoors, macho guy who wants to make Russia great again (to borrow from Donald Trump). Of these three individuals, Putin is the closest to being a fascist leader, given some of his domestic and foreign antics in the past few years.

In contrast to the examples given, perhaps one of the best examples of a true populist leader who aimed to represent the interests of citizens—and succeeded—was Tommy Douglas, leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, which later changed to the New Democratic Party. Douglas, noted for his barn-burner-style speeches in the 1950s and 60s, is Canada’s father of Medicare, the legislation of which was first enacted in the Province of Saskatchewan in 1962. In 2004 he was voted the country’s greatest Canadian. He died in 1986 of cancer at age 86. Douglas is a more appropriate example of populism than many of the weak cases given by media commentators.

And in the U.S., a modern example of a true populist is Bernie Sanders, as just noted, who created an incredible following across the country on a political platform of one issue: addressing how regular Americans have been screwed by the banks and big business and how it’s time to correct that problem.

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Let’s pause and hear from someone who helps provide some historical context and perspective to the emerging trend to conflate populism with fascism.

Sheri Berman, a professor of political science at Columbia University, wrote an excellence piece in the November 2016 issue of Foreign Affairs. She states: “Despite real problems, the West today is confronting nowhere near the same type of breakdown it did in the 1930s. So calling [France’s Marine] Le Pen (pictured above), Trump, and other right-wing populists “fascists” obscures more than it clarifies.”

Berman acknowledges that the right-wing populists of today share some similar traits as the fascists during the 1930s. However, she makes the key point that fascists, regardless of country, have in the past opposed democracy and liberalism (enabling free enterprise) and been suspicious of capitalism. That’s hardly Donald Trump’s stance.

Berman argues that right-wing extremists today are more oriented towards populism than fascism because they claim to speak for citizens. Besides, today’s context and socio-economic conditions can’t match those of the period between World Wars One and Two. Yet, her comment that populism of any kind is a “…symptom of democracy in trouble; fascism and other revolutionary movements are the consequences of democracy in crisis.” This is a warning to the United States and a number of countries experiencing various states of populism.

As the world moves forward in what’s been dubbed the Fourth Industrial Revolution (or the Digital Revolution), overlaid with the impending disaster that rising sea levels will impose, geo-political events, and an ageing population in many Western countries, it’s not surprising that populism appears to be surging in many countries. People are fearful of the unknowns that lie ahead.

And when one takes into account the frustrations that many people have with unresponsive elected bodies (read the U.S. Congress and Senate) and concerns in Western Europe with immigration, populism becomes very appealing to many voters. Just remember that populism comes in various shapes and forms, some to be very much avoided.

Take a moment to reflect on this thought: When emotion overrides reasoned debate and the valuing of diverse views, a nation’s representative democracy is on a slippery slope.

My dream is for people around the world to look up and to see Canada like a little jewel sitting at the top of the continent.
— Tommy Douglas


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


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Generation Y’s Playbook to Succeed in a Messy Economy

October 30, 2016

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Bill Morneau, a newbie politician, probably didn’t quite bank on being handed the country’s most senior cabinet post, and then only months later in a new government mandate find deficit projections and economic forecasts going out the window. Age 54, the handsome Bay Street millionaire was the executive chair of Morneau Shepell, Canada’s largest HR company specializing in pension and employee assistant programs. Plucked out of relative obscurity by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in November 2015, himself fairly new as a member of parliament, Morneau was handed the job of finance minister, the most senior federal cabinet position.

To your faithful correspondent, and to many others, it was a surprising appointment, considering some of the very experienced heavy weights in Trudeau’s new cabinet, such as former Liberal finance minister Ralph Goodale. But Trudeau wanted to test out new blood in his cabinet, and along the way received accolades for creating a gender balanced cabinet, a first in Canadian political history.

The point of boring readers with these little factoids is to set the stage for this post. Indeed, it was Bill Morneau who raised eyebrows when he publicly stated on October 23 that young Canadians will need to get used to job churn. In other words, workers will have numerous job changes and short stints of unemployment during their working lives. A year previous, the respected Toronto-based Globe & Mail newspaper criticized Morneau on his apparent naiveté on labor market issues.

Your correspondent worked as a labor market economist and manager for many, many years in the federal government. Subsequent to that, it was in innovation, industrial competitiveness and management development. This is an old story of the many job changes that workers will need to make and the need to keep learning and re-skilling during their working careers. There’s nothing new here, except that it seems new to Bill Morneau, which is odd given his background in human resource management.

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While there’s a saying never to question a person’s motives—perhaps question their judgement—Morneau’s comments since becoming Canada’s finance minister are certainly a little offtrack.

There seems to be a link to the Trudeau government’s weakening fiscal situation. The most recent GDP forecasts show 2017 as another lacklustre year, with GDP growth under two percent. The following year looks, again, weak. This will certainly create a certain tension within the Trudeau cabinet, with an election expected in November 2019. Voters tend to re-elect governments when the economy is doing well and unemployment relatively low.

So let’s get out of the political clouds and figure out what this means for Canada’s young folks. And yes, my neighbours to the south are in a similar boat when it comes to labor market changes caused by technology, globalization (read that as work being done anyway on the planet), an ageing population and the upheaval it is starting to create, climate change (and its geo-political implications), and a likely highly tense political environment for several years following the U.S. election on November 8th.

We’re all in this together, whether we’re 25, 45, 65 or 85 years of age.

As a 61 year-old Baby Boomer with four adult kids and a sixth grand kid on the way, and who’s worked with a ton of young people (and loved it), it’s easy to understand why Generation Y (Millennials, if you wish) is pissed off. They’re not dumb. My kids (27 to 37) see what’s ahead when it comes to pensions, job security, healthcare, supporting old farts like their parents, and so forth. They talk about RRSPs (401 Ks if you’re American). Two of them own houses while the other two would like to become home owners. All four are either married or have partners.

It’s freaking brutal for Gen Y.

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How are you supposed to invest in a house, with steadily rising prices, while Canada’s finance minister clamps down the lid on younger buyers and with what Morneau referred to as short-term contract work? You don’t. Layer on growing student loan debts from college and you have a big problem. Financial analysts and economists have noted that student loan debt and motor vehicle debt are two ticking time bombs in North America, akin to the mortgage crisis that imploded the financial system in 2008.

In Canada, household debt exceeds the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) for the first time. Canadians have an insatiable appetite for credit cards and consumer loans. Statistics Canada, a federal agency, stated that the ratio of credit market debt to disposable household income rose from 165% to 167% in the spring of 2016. In a country of 36 million people, it’s frightening that total credit market debt hit $1.97 trillion mid 2016, with consumer credit reaching $586 billion and mortgage debt of $1.3 trillion.

A reality check is desperately needed by Canadians.

Older Boomers and the Silent Generation (age 70-85) don’t seem to really give a crap for young people. What’s important for these cohorts is ensuring that they maintain their lifestyles, tending occasionally to their kids and grandkids. They want and demand independence, and politicians know not to mess with their entitlements. Former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and his finance minister Micheal Wilson got that message loud and clear in the eighties when they tried to means test the Old Age Supplement (funded by general revenues). Old people, including my parents, went nuts.

Here’s a tip to Gen Y: politicians pay attention to people who vote. You guys don’t, so you don’t count that much. Old folks do vote; they count a lot. Your correspondent has been voting regularly at all levels of government for 40 years. It means something.

Okay. So what do young folks do to cope with the fucked up mess that older generations have created?

Here are eight lessons for Gen Y’s playbook for success in a messy economy:

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Playbook Lesson #1: Screw Home Ownership

Give up the idea of owning a home, especially in the suburbs. Prices will eventually collapse as the massive building spree of the past many years produces a huge glut of overpriced, poorly built homes. Rent. Invest what you save. You’ll be better off in the end.

Playbook Lesson #2: Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Young people tend to be getting it faster than Boomers and the Silent generation. They want to see governments effectively addressing climate change and environmental pollution. They’re exploring other ways for personal transport. And it’s not just buying more fuel-efficient cars, using public transit, riding bicycles to work and walking, but taking advantage of what technology offers. Sure, there’s Uber and Lyft. However, car sharing, such as Zip Car, is making its emergence. Whether car sharing has a long-term future is uncertain. But it’s a very clever business concept for its practicality and contribution to reducing carbon emissions.

And that leads to lesson #3.

Playbook Lesson #3: Go Urban

Living urban is where it’s at in the 21st Century. And by that we’re not talking way out in the far reaches of the suburbs but in more densely populated areas in cities. Studies have shown that urban dwellers aren’t just more healthy but also have a lower carbon footprint. As downtowns across North America become gentrified (in turn jacking up housing costs but increasing safety), as public transit continues to improve, as cycling grows in popularity, and as new forms of entrepreneurship appear in the ways of consumer services, they’re becoming the cool place to live.

Lessons #1 and #2 feed into this Go Urban lifestyle. However, to make it work well consider the next two lessons as ways to refocus your priorities and lifestyle.

Playbook Lesson #4: Pay as You Go

The explosion in consumer debt, from credit cards to loans to mortgages, certainly acted as a huge catalyst to increasing the material well-being of people. Along the way, employment in building trades and associated services took off as home and commercial building rose. Consumer spending, which drives over 60% of Canada’s and America’s economies, has been a hugely important driver of economic growth. However, it has imposed a high degree of vulnerability on the economy and job market. This has been accentuated by the unwillingness of the business sector to invest adequately in the U.S. and especially in Canada.

The point here is that just as a business that takes on too much debt puts it future at risk, the same applies to individuals. Instead of having an immediate gratification approach to life, shift to pay as you go, where you’re not accumulating any debt and feel more gratification when you know you’re free and clear of financial obligations afterwards.

The big bonus is that you’ll be in a better position to explore new opportunities, take some calculated risks and embark on new adventures, whether its travel, starting a new business or going back to school to study a new field.

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Playbook Lesson #5: Adios Starbucks

This is not to pick on Starbucks, but they are huge and growing internationally. Estimates vary, but regular customers of Starbucks and other coffee houses pay $700 to $1,400 a year just for a morning coffee. Some individuals may blow a few grand a year, depending on how often they visit and what type of drinks they order.

Buy your own whole bean coffee and grind it at home. You’ll save not just a ton of money over a year but you’ll have fresher, better quality coffee. Seek out local roasters and support small business.

Playbook Lesson #6: Small is Beautiful

This lesson is more philosophical, embracing the playbook lessons listed here. It acknowledges and draws from a highly respected thinker of the 20th Century. The late E.F. Schumacher, a British economist and statistician who died in 1977, wrote a compact book under this lesson’s title. He believed in the appropriate use of technology that was user-friendly and environmentally responsible. His work and writing coincided with the rise of the environmental movement, and Schumacher became a leader to those wishing to make the world a better place.

Integrate Small is Beautiful in your approach to life and daily routines. And check out Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Matter. It’s excellent reading.

Playbook Lesson #7: Use Plastic Credit Responsibly

It creeps up on you insidiously. You suddenly realize that you owe a whack of money. The allure of accumulating points from various credit cards, for whatever purpose, can become an addictive routine. However, it demands self-discipline to regularly pay off accumulating card balances. Remember the above comment about Canadians’ huge debt problem?

Don’t engage in this when you’re young while trying to get an education and a foothold in the job market. In fact, don’t get into the points game when you’re older unless you have strong self-discipline.

Use plastic responsibly and with a clear purpose in mind. Yes, society’s going cashless slowly (Sweden’s way ahead of us) and plastic is essential for everything from ordering online to Uber to Airbnb. Don’t blow it by having the collections department give you a call. Nurture your credit rating. (Note: when just out of university, your correspondent worked in consumer leading, which included collecting delinquent debts face-to-face. You don’t want to be on the other side of the conversation with the loan collector.)

Playbook Lesson #8: Keep Learning

As mentioned earlier, young people are taking on huge student debts. It’s bad in Canada, worse in the United States when one looks at the size of loans. At the end of 2015, the Globe & Mail reported that the average student loan in Canada was $29,000 CAD (with a 13% default rate); in the U.S. it was $29,000 USD (with a default rate of 11.8 %).

Competition for acceptance at universities in North America has escalated, compounded by grade inflation and the out-dated belief that a university education is the ticket to success. Community colleges, with their diversified programs of various lengths, are aimed more towards employment success and more in touch with labor market realities. Yet, community colleges, whose tuitions have also risen a lot but less than universities, are still in the back seat of public perception.

But in addition to young people (notably the upcoming Generation Z) needing to give much more thought to colleges, there are emerging forms of post-secondary education that make use of technology. MOOCs have a lot to offer, as well as the newest form of a university without teachers. This isn’t for everyone, and self-motivation is key to its effectiveness.

Young people need to take the necessary time to make decisions on where they want to pursue education after high school and what they wish to specialize in. Parents, too often, get in the way by pushing their kids towards fields that may not mesh with particular talents, interests and passions. Guidance counsellors have their personal biases, and contribute to steering students to certain programs.

Self-empower yourself to chart your learning and career development. This way you own your career future, and will be motivated to make the best of it.

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The point is to embrace learning for life. Work for a while after high school if necessary, both to save money and to observe the real world. Perhaps travel internationally and do community work. My two middle kids worked as servers in their late teens. The people skills and work ethic they acquired have benefitted them hugely. One is a nurse and the other works as a senior manager with a large bank.

Learning and re-skilling is something you’ll do not only until you eventually retire but until you die. My late dad was a sponge for learning, something passed on to his son.

And finally on learning, keep the preceding playbook lessons in mind during this time of personal reflection and observation.

Live simpler, build collaborative relationships and enjoy life.

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.
– E.F. Schumacher


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How Donald Trump Played America—and Himself

October 23, 2016

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President Dwight D. Eisenhower (serving from 1953 to1961) once said: Never question another man’s motive. His wisdom, yes, but not his motives. Wise words indeed, and especially relevant as the U.S. presidential election campaign—circus may be more appropriate—lurches forward to November 8th.

Plenty of people, including your faithful correspondent, have expressed their views, insights and horror on Donald J. Trump’s attempt, and associated behavior, for the crown jewel of President of the United States. This sickening spectacle, a first since the country’s independence in 1776 (there have been plenty of looney political events in its history), has prompted many to question Trump’s motives.

It certainly begs the question: is Donald Trump that unhinged and dangerous, given his propensity for spontaneous rantings and threats aimed at whomever gets in his crosshairs? Or is he more the cunning strategist, playing to America’s underbelly (Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables”), having an alternate plan if he loses the national election? Indeed, one could argue that Trump never had any expectation of winning the presidency, instead looking at his run for office as a springboard to further building his brand post-election.

And what would that hypothetical plan look like?

Some observers have postulated that Trump may want to create his own Trump TV news show or cable network, something along the lines of the wacky Fox news network and its rag tag band of pseudo journalists.

Perhaps.

Or maybe The Donald aims to develop a new reality show targeted at the White House. That would be in keeping with his reality series The Apprentice, a pretend show about the business world.

Keep in mind that Donald Trump is less a businessman (his floundering Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City finally closed its doors in October 2016) and more the masterful self-promoter, analogous to the P.T. Barnum of the 21st Century.

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As of writing this leadership post, the media has essentially concluded that Hillary Clinton has won the election. That’s how the media operates, attention span of a budgie and overly quick to conclude. Not long ago it was Trump who was likely going to win. However, what’s at stake here, as more seasoned journalists and political observers have pointed out, is: a) the Republican Party faces dissolution, and b) a Trump loss could create a huge socio-political chasm across America. That would spell disaster if the world’s longest-reigning democracy becomes in effect a one-party state.

In 1993, Canada’s Progressive Conservative Party, once proud and strong, began its implosion following a national election in which the Liberal Party gave it a sound thumping. A decade later, the PC party was no more as it merged with the radical right Canadian Alliance to create the Conservative Party. The point is that change can come swiftly and unforgivingly to those in politics who don’t pay heed to voters.

Like a desperate rat that’s cornered (to borrow from Vladimir Putin’s story as a young man growing up), Donald Trump has been lashing out viciously at whomever pisses him off, and especially following the second debate with Hillary Clinton. It raises the question, therefore, of how much of his behavior is truly spontaneous and uncontrolled, as opposed to playing to his core supporters and also following his playbook (assuming there is one).

Witness his statement at the third and final Presidential debate on October 19 in Nevada. When asked by Fox news moderator Chris Wallace if he would accept a Hillary Clinton victory on November 8th, Trump replied that he didn’t know at that point, noting that he’d keep people in suspense. This contradicts his response at the second debate when asked the same question. At that debate he replied yes he would. His VP running mate Mike Pence has also stated that Trump would accept a Clinton win. This flip flop is more than just a Donald Trump moment. There seems to be an underlying current of: “Just watch me, folks; there’s going to be some big stuff happening if I lose the election.”

One doesn’t have to pretend to be a fear monger to legitimately suggest that even in a Hillary Clinton election victory that Trump will make every effort to bring down the country’s political system, from the Office of the President to the Republican Party to helping spawn violence in the streets. The latter is not an overly dramatic statement.

Indeed, while financial historian Niall Ferguson predicted “blood in the streets” following the 2008 financial meltdown, which didn’t quite occur, your correspondent’s humble view is that it will likely happen following November 8th. Witness the disgraceful fights that have taken place at political events. And yes, it has gone both ways, with Trump supporters beating on Clinton supporters, and vice versa.

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Fostering violent behavior seems to be one of Donald Trump’s special competencies, something he condones based on his public statements at rallies. Therefore, it should be expected that following his defeat at the polls on November 8, Trump will pour gasoline on the expected fury from his legend of supporters. It will be ugly and frightening to watch, whether within the United States or from other across the Atlantic Ocean.

What’s so sad about the 2016 nomination process and national election campaign is that the United States has so many inter-twined domestic and global issues to address. And being the world’s dominant military power (for now) and political force for democracy in a world where it’s fast disappearing, a huge amount of national energy is being diverted due to the Machiavellian aims of a half-rate reality show host and bumbling real estate business man.

One couldn’t write a script for a TV series based on what’s been unravelling in the United States and have it accepted by the producers. Take the craziest TV series, such as the cult-followed Dallas in the eighties, and the 2016 U.S. presidential contest tops it.

Donald Trump, in his own self-perceived brilliance, may believe that he’s put one over on a large segment of America, that he’s played his supporters like a grand puppet master. The problem is that Trump appears to have lost his playbook, now ad libbing as he desperately attempts to achieve whatever his desired goal. The scary part is that we’re living—all 7 billion planetary inhabitants—a B-grade movie that’s the real thing. And one man, supported by a cast of millions, appears to be controlling America’s future.

The great sadness is even if Trump doesn’t become president, we live in a country where half the people think he should be.
— Bill Maher (Twitter, October 16, 2016)


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Samsung’s Failed Executive Leadership

October 16, 2016

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Being the top leader of an organization, whether in the public or private sphere, is no easy task. What’s more appropriately called executive managerial leadership (as opposed to the overused, feel good term “leadership”), those at the helm of companies or government agencies have huge responsibilities. The context and inner workings of companies versus the public sector is quite different. However, top executive leaders in both areas face unrelenting change caused by technology advancement, demographics, consumer-citizen evolving needs and wants, legislated regulation, geo-political events, climate change—just to list a few key change drivers.

When mistakes happen, especially big ones that may endanger the health and safety of the public, the proverbial buck stops at the desk of the individual leading that organization.

Recently, South Korea’s huge Samsung Electronics Corporation has been in the news—big time. The Samsung fiasco with the exploding Galaxy Note 7 smart phone has been an eye-popping exercise in incompetent management from the top. The seriousness of the problem is exemplified when consumers have to return their phones in fire resistant bags, a first in mobile phone history.

Samsung Electronics is a major manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries, semi-conductors, chips, and hard drives for such well-known companies as Apple, Nokia, HTC and Sony. And of course, it’s a dominant player in the consumer arena, producing TVs, laptop computers and cellular phones.

That Samsung Electronics (370,000 employees in 80 countries) told consumers to return their Galaxy Note 7s when the problem arose may sound like competent senior management. Except that the problem continued with the replacements. As one commentator on BBC America put it, the problem is likely due to the controller in the phone which is overcharging the lithium-ion battery, which have a tendency to explode when overcharged.

The bizarre thing is that Samsung’s top executives delayed in going public to apologize. Indeed, there was a certain degree of bumbling in communicating to the public. The top executives in South Korea left the task to mobile communications division president Dong-jin Koh to issue an apology many weeks later, head bowed to the South Korean press (below photo).

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Finally, Samsung declared 40 days after first reports of exploding Note 7s that it would cease production. However, the company was still bumbling along on how consumers were to return their smart phones. Airlines didn’t want them on board, officially banning them by mid-October. And no top Samsung Electronics executive has gone to North America to issue an apology to their customers. One would think that, given the magnitude of the disaster, the CEO would have actually flown to the United States to demonstrate visible corporate leadership.

As it is, Samsung faces huge losses, $5.5 billion and counting; very serious brand erosion; and consumer flight to other Android smart phone producers and Apple. The Christmas shopping season is about to commence.

Samsung’s pushing out the Galaxy Note 7 was seen as its attempt to beat Apple to market with its own iPhone 7. With haste comes risk and increased likelihood for mistakes. Given Samsung’s engineering and workaholic culture, it’s a shame that the company pushed aside quality control and safety for the prize of beating Apple to market with a new version of a smart phone. Now it will pay the price.

Concurrent with the Galaxy Note 7 fiasco, Samsung has been having problems with its washing machines which have been reported to vibrate out of control and blast through walls. A federal class action lawsuit has been recently launched in the United States.

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The most cited instance of effective executive managerial leadership during a consumer crisis involving health and safety is Johnson & Johnson’s handing of its Tylenol brand in September 1982 when an unknown number of its product was deliberately contaminated with potassium cyanide. Seven people, including a young boy, died from the poisoned capsules. J&J immediately took action, recalling 31 million Tylenol bottles. A few contaminated capsules were found as a result of the recall, and fortunately no further deaths occurred. The perpetrator was never arrested.

At the time of the event, J&J controlled 35% of the market; immediately after the deaths and recall its market share plummeted to 8%. However, following a public apology from CEO James Burke, and after a year of $100 million in investing in more safety procedures with its Tylenol brand, J&J’s market share shot back up. (Burke, who died in 2012 was awarded the Medal of Freedom from President Clinton in 2000.)

Doing the right thing in a moment of crisis is what separates top notch corporate leaders from the rest of mediocrity. It can be painful, in terms of a company having to go backwards before it can go forward to grow again. And losing face is often a problem for humans. But acknowledging immediately that mistakes were made, that the health and safety of consumers is what’s truly top priority, that the company apologizes without reservation, and that an effective action plan is being initiated will move a company forward.

Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.
– Peter Drucker


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


jim-grand-manan-fbVisit Jim’s e-Books, Resources and Services pages.

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