Income disparity during snow days

snow day in ohio

I heard the blizzard warnings last night on the television and immediately thought all the news stations were just salivating at the chance to finally scare the living crap out of us with spun-up winter weather.

Shortly after sun-up this morning, I knew I was wrong. We were getting some real winter weather.

I’m lucky. I don’t have to go into my office to make a living. I just need an Internet connection and a laptop. I can redirect my office phone to my cell phone with a few clicks and log into servers from anywhere I can get WiFi.

But many employees are not as lucky. Many employees who work for retail and fast food places at or near minimum wage are not only expected to show up for work during bad weather, but will probably get their hours cut or fired if they show up late or not at all. In addition, many will also choose to sleep in their cars after their shift today so they won’t be late for work tomorrow morning.

Something to think about on Boxing Day when those of us who are more fortunate are supposed to be mindful of those less fortunate and labor in service for our comfort.

Why every private sector company should want single-payer, Medicare-for-all

Yesterday, I made a call to Verizon Wireless to cancel my MiFi card. At $59.99 per month for unlimited use, it was an expense I could live without. But I won’t be saving that money for long.

In March, I am expecting Anthem BCBS of Ohio to increase my health insurance premiums at least 20%. I still have to find about $100.00 in savings I am paying some other private-sector company to break even with where I am today. I may have to stop eating organic food.

I’m most definitely not buying an iPad Mini.

“Why are you canceling your MiFi service?” the woman on the other end asked me, expecting some service issue she could happily resolve with some equipment upgrade.

“Well, I am fixing to transfer some more wealth to the private insurance company, BCBS, that the good folks at the GOP are saying is my freedom of choice,” I explained. “You know, if we had single-payer, Medicare-for-all, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Pretty soon, the medical industry will have all the money we might be paying you.”

With incomes being flat and no sign of them rising, us middle-aged, middle-class folk will have to get the money from somewhere to pay for our medical care. The private-sector medical industry doesn’t show any slowing for their appetite for increasing costs.

If you are a private sector company, why are you not supporting single-payer, Medicare-for-all? In ten years when you wonder why your customers have no money, won’t you at least wonder why the medical services industry is the only growth industry?

Something to think about.

Mitt the painter

While all the cable news shows are struggling with how to balance the odd appearance of Clint Eastwood and covering Mitt Romney’s speech, I went back and looked at the transcript and watched the video more times than one dog should be allowed. I nearly went deaf with all the dog whistles, but I soldiered on, trying to get to the essence of what he was saying.

The speech kinda rambled, trying to cover too many things too quickly, but one phrase popped out that lays bare the Romney thinking. It’s at about minute 33:50. So far, I think all the “analysts” have missed it. They may have been too busy focusing on the applause in the house instead of the words being said on stage.

President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. MY promise…is to help you and your family.

For months, we have been told the GOP was the party of big ideas, of bold and brave decisions. I think this one statement — buried right after the five-part jobs creation plan that appeared to be ripped out of a freshman economics textbook — crystalizes what a Romney presidency would really be like. It is the one thing in the speech that is consistent with his life and his campaign.

While President Obama works to solve the structural problems that creates the symptoms, a President Romney would focus on solving the symptoms. What does it help your family if they are in a nice house that is being swallowed up by the rising tides?

In short, we will paint over the water stains, flip this country and sell it to the highest bidder. Romney’s America is not a country that needs the foundation shored up and invested in, it is a 1 1/2 story bungalow with a crumbling foundation that just needs a new coat of paint.

This is the essence of what Romney did at Bain Capital. He found a fixer-upper, leveraged it to suck wealth out of it for a few owners at the top and discarded it or sold it off to the suckers who thought they were getting a good deal. That’s not a bad thing, that is what private equity is supposed to be good at. But I’m pretty sure it is not the skill set a president needs.

America needs infrastructure investment like health care, modern railways, education, roads, bridges, communications, modernized banking, environment and power. She also needs help with the intangible infrastructure like happiness, relief from chronic anxiety and a boost of confidence. And yes, she needs more hope and change.

America does not need more paint on her walls.

Seventeen minutes that changed the world

Like many Americans, I stayed up late last night to listen to Governor Chris Christie deliver the keynote address at the Republican National Convention. I wanted to hear how Mitt Romney will transform the stagnant economy, how he will inspire us all to get up each morning and work; not because we have to, but because we are eager to build something our children and their children’s children can be proud of.

I was disappointed. What I heard was a tirade about how we need to quit whining, walk it off and get back into the coal mine. You haven’t yet lost all the fingers on your hands and your back is not yet broken.

When he finished speaking, I lifted my broken body from the coach, silently turned off the television and shuffled off to bed, feeling not only uninspired but a little more depressed. I prayed silently that I not wake up in the morning. Not in Chris Christie’s America.

But I did wake up. And on a whim — for the sake of comparison — I Googled Barack Obama’s 2004 keynote speech. I was reminded that life is lived in the moments, that seventeen minutes in a life can make a difference. Whether or not you voted — or will vote — for Barack Obama, would you not really want to live in an inspired America than a downtrodden and drepressing one?


On C_SPAN

I want to live there. I think many, many more do as well.

What the housing experts are missing that Warren Buffet sees

Watch the following video. See if you can spot the trend. I’ll give you a hint; it is almost at the very end, but you have to watch the whole thing to pick up on it.

Did you hear it? If not, watch the video again.

Warren Buffet is investing in COMMERCIAL INVESTMENT stuff, the banks that lend money to commercial leasing companies. But these commercial leasing companies aren’t leasing traditional commercial space. They are leasing to commercial property holders that are buying up the inventory of foreclosed properties, fixing them up like flips but instead of flipping for resale, they are flipping for longer-term leases to people who have kids and have grown used to the suburban lifestyle.

These commercial leasing companies are creating suburban slums in the first and second outer suburban rings to city centers.

Watch the video again. Did you catch it? Do you now understand why these pompous “experts” never quite see trends coming? I’ll give you more than a hint on that; I’ll give you the answer.

They are too enamored with the sound of their own voice to listen to what they’re saying.

This is why Congress has no interest in helping out those going through foreclosure. If they intervened, it would slow or stop the flow of inventories into the private residential leasing industry.

The real estate market is heating up and recovering; it’s just not flowing wealth into the middle class but rather, pushing more wealth into the upper classes and corporate coffers. Corporations have found a way to skim off the wealth that even a massive recession creates.

Give me another ten years and see if I’m right. I’ll bet you $10,000 I am.

A calculation almost every American man over fifty has made in his head

There is one calculation that almost every American man over fifty* has made in his head that he will almost never admit to. The ones who have made it more than once and many times a year are the ones who have families and responsibilities who now find themselves at the scary end of a medical diagnosis and/or the threat or reality of unemployment.

That calculation is:

Am I worth more dead than alive?

….

The columns and totals never really see a piece of paper, but they are nonetheless very real.

In the assets column:
That term life insurance that has five more years before it expires and has no value: $250,000.00; Cash in the bank: $50,000.00; That 401(k) I started too late; $30,000.00; Stocks and bonds I randomly bought; $35,000.00; House equity, assuming it can actually be sold in this economy: $100,000.00… and on through the value of furniture, cars and power tools in the garage.

In the liabilities column:
I just got fired, so my unemployment is only $481.00 a week but bills with mortgage and food is $2,100 a month, losing $200.00 a month… I’ll soon lose my health insurance and COBRA is a $900.00 set back per month making that $1,100.00 a month just standing still… if I am unemployed for more than six months, that will be about $10,000.00 gone from the bank account, making the past couple years of savings a waste of time… chances are, I will be unemployed for the rest of my life in this economy, so that will just stretch on, losing my family $20,000.00 a year with me being alive. I will lose my health coverage in less than a year and a half… That is a lot of cash, and that life insurance policy just inched its way to being one year less valuable with no employment in sight…

I just got diagnosed with a pretty serious health condition that will make it difficult for me to work. I will soon be out of a job as my employer will get tired of me calling in sick all the time… I will lose my health care coverage.. if I go into the hospital, that will cost about $8,000.00 a day, depleting my cash in about a week… the mortgage is due in a week… the last tuition bill is due in a couple months… and on and on down to how much dog food is left and how much that will cost to replenish…

If I die today, my family will be ok. If I die in a year or two, my family will be bankrupt, penniless and possibly homeless.

Sure, the kids will say that I am worth more to them alive than dead, regardless of how much money I have. Yeah, “I love you even if you are broke,” “you bring joy to others around you” and “life is not always about money” are things I expect to hear from friends and family.

But I know they are not true. Not really.

Our culture rewards those who are healthy and able to work and shuns those who have fallen on hard times. It guts the sick, dying and unemployed quickly in order to salvage what it can before the corpse begins to rot. It knows the time value of money.

Men know it too. We have made those calculations in our head at every turn throughout our lives. When we buy a house, we calculate how long we’ll have to be employed at this job to pay the mortgage in full. When we have kids, we calculate what we’ll have to earn and sock away to pay for the birthday parties, soccer practice, bicycles, cars and college tuition even as we watch them laugh and dance as if they haven’t a care in the world; even as we laugh and dance with them. We worry our backs and minds will give out before we are able to deliver them into adulthood and breath a sigh of relief when we no longer have to be concerned they won’t have enough to eat.

When we get to about fifty, we eventually make the ultimate calculation. We arrive at a break-even, whether anyone wants us to or not; whether we admit it or not.

The only thing we fear more than getting it wrong is losing the ability to execute if we ever needed to.

*With the exception of highly-paid politicians or the super-rich who never have to worry about health care. For clarification, this isn’t me. I’m fine and gainfully employed at my own company despite my best efforts at getting my boss to fire me 🙂 This is a persona of a 50+ year old man who had a “good job” for most of his life.

Two questions we should ask Mitt Romney

Last night, Mitt Romney conducted some hastily-organized interviews with the major networks in part to respond to the deluge of attacks by Barack Obama about his role at Bain Capital. He did not do very well because I think he was confused by the lack of understanding of corporate governance the reporters exhibited in their questions.

Ironically, as the GOP pushes to slash education budgets, more and more Americans are learning less and less about how business works. Most kids are now being trained to go to work, punch a clock and expect money for work. They don’t understand the difference between passive and active income, an executive vs a shareholder position in a corporation or the relationship of a board member to a CEO. All they know now is you are either the boss or you isn’t.

Oops. I’ll bet Mitt did not see that coming. If he had, his explanations would make as much sense to the nails ladies and the dogs walkers as they do to the 1%-ers. In short, he would not be in this pickle.

As someone who holds annual shareholder meetings with the shareholders (me) and my board (me) and my CEO (me) I understand the nuance. Is it silly? Absolutely. I should not have to generate meeting minutes where the Secretary (me) takes role call of all the directors (me) and also calls for a vote on mundane things and seconds them (me and me.) But, the letter of the law and my corporate charter is very specific so we (me) do it.

But we should really move on and away from all this legal crap and into some questions everyone understands.

Question One:
If you resigned as CEO, who specifically was then in charge? What was the organizational chart? Please name the names of who reported to whom. Will you release the Board of Directors meeting minutes that show these votes?

Question Two:
We will accept at face value that you resigned from Bain Captial in 1999. Since then, you have led the Olympics — a non profit — and were governor of Massachusetts, a public-sector job. Since being governor, you have been running for President of the United States. That is a thirteen year gap in your private-sector, for-profit business experience résumé. Please explain how this is not like a typical stay-at-home mom who may have left an executive career to raise her kids and is now trying to re-enter the workforce?

That should do it. Just two questions.

Which news organization is going to take me up on this?

.

Why Mitt Romney should not be president

I don’t think Mitt Romney should be the President of the United States and not for the reasons you may think a left-leaning, socialist mutt would cite. Let’s take away the politics and look at the man running for president.

When I see Mitt, I think of the quote from Zed in Men In Black

Gentlemen, congratulations. You’re everything we’ve come to expect from years of government training. Now please step this way, as we provide you with our final test: an eye exam…

Substitute the word “government” for “upper class society” and you nailed Mitt.

The presidency is just the next step in a to-do list of things a good upper-crust American is expected to do. This is the formula for a legacy. It’s like he is fulfilling a high school résumé to get into a good college. It becomes problematic when we are watching the formula play out.

  • Private school: check
  • Missionary work abroad: check
  • Marry pretty girl: check
  • BYU degree: check
  • Create perfect family: check
  • Harvard MBA/Law Degree: check
  • CEO of a wealth-creating company: check
  • Community service (Olympics): check
  • Elected position (Gov of Mass): check
  • President of the United States: Working on it

And the list goes on to include things like become the elder patriarch, establish a Romney Foundation, etc, etc. It is the perfect data-driven life. Do that, get that result.

I think it was the late Mary-Ellis Bunim, the creator of MTV’s The Real World who once said (and I am paraphrasing because I’m not sure it was her but I’m pretty sure it was MTV) “If the audience ever sees our marketing, the show is dead.” The whole premise of the show — and why it worked the first season — is inscribed in the show’s opening narrative:

This is the true story… of seven strangers… picked to live in a house…work together and have their lives taped… to find out what happens… when people stop being polite… and start getting real…The Real World.

MTV knew they could fake real to teens only if they were successful in hiding the “man behind the curtain.” Once the curtain was pulled back, the gig was up, the magic was gone. The legacy of the 1992 The Real World is a swath of “reality” shows that don’t even pretend to be reality anymore, but rather modern day Gladiator fights.

I don’t often find myself agreeing with Rupert Murdoch*, but I agree with him when he says Mitt “lacks stomach and heart.” Americans like their president to have heart, passion and a depth of soul. Even when we disagree with them, think they are the worst thing to happen to our country in generations, feel they are illegitimate, know they are shady and shifty, we want — we need — them to have passion, fight and guts. We need them to look the world in the eye and say, “tear down this wall” or stand on a pile of rubble with a bullhorn in one hand or stand proud in the face of a plummeting economy on a cold Winter’s day and reassure us all that the only thing we ever need to overcome the deafening wail of economic darkness on the horizon is the tiniest bit of hope that can be fanned into a roaring flame of change.

Even when he attempts to stand up and connect on a visceral level with voters, Mitt falls flat. In his latest reaction to the jobs report this month, he called it a “kick in the gut.” A kick in the gut is losing your job today and your husband losing his tomorrow. A kick in the gut is surviving a spinal cord injury for several years and your wife/caregiver dies of lung cancer less than a year after you. A kick in the gut is surviving three tours abroad and getting into a car accident on your way home from the airport. A kick in the gut is not a crappy jobs report in the middle of a crappy economy. It may be a disappointment. It could be a bit of angst. It could also be a bit of an anxious moment, but it is not a kick in the gut.

Mitt Romney may have the brains; he may have the background and the connections to get things done, but he doesn’t have the heart and guts for what lies ahead.

*I agreed with Murdoch here.