Talkers and Doers – an exposé on “The Washington Disease”

We will get out of these hard times – and, once out, we will recognize it was the Doers that made it happen.  The longer I live, work and travel in and around Washington DC the more I am convinced that it is a city of Talkers. Yes, there are hard-working, sturdy doers here by the thousands, and our republic depends on them. God bless ‘em! But it is the talkers in DC who have the limelight. Blinded by their own brilliance, they rumble about the town like tumbleweed. I bump into them often – thus my rant.

I remember, as a much younger man, spending some time with an elder in our church who was a farmer. He didn’t say much. But I have seldom been so impressed at how much one person could get done in life. And it was solid. I would float my lofty ideas by him, and his wise words were often: “We’ll see.” We did.

Here in DC it is not just The Administration, Congress and the Media that clobber us with lofty talkers. They are everywhere, at all levels and in most organizations. Oratory is in vogue.  It is so pervasive that I have named it The Washington Disease. You see it in business, with gusts of “my-idea-is-the-most-significant-idea”  blowing down corridors and swirling around meetings. You see it in schools with the teacher asking the class for their feedback and then cutting off the discussion because the teacher thought of something more important to say.  You see it in the frenetic pace from the beltway to the National Mall to the suburbs – as a friend of mine puts it:  “Everyone’s in a hurry even if they don’t know where they are going.”

Where does it come from? People feel the need to get something DONE – but they are trained here to TALK. It is easy to talk. Talk is cheap. Meetings are easy to schedule in Outlook. We get to talk a lot in meetings. Makes us feel better. Gets us through the day. Makes us look even better if we rush. It is easy to rush – hey, I am an adrenaline junkie too – it feels good.

How about really getting things done?  That costs us more. As my dad, who grew up on a farm,  would say: “Time to put your money where your mouth is.” (Note to Congress and the Administration – the proverb cites YOUR money – not someone else’s).  It boils own to DOING something. That usually involves more work than talking. A great deal more. Doing things makes you miss meetings.

A big part of the problem here in the DC area is that people are too tired out from the talking and the rushing to move down from the 10,000 foot level and get their hands in the dirt like a farmer and make something grow. Besides, there is not much social value here in being a farmer. Doers don’t get much credit. My theory – it is too provincial.  Seems too much like it comes from the heartland or a red state. I digress.

Now THAT gets me back to some of my recurring themes: Politics – Business – Spirituality – Life – What’s good for America – and stuff like that.

Here is the summary:

  • Politics: I think America is really tiring of DC talkers. Recent elections seem to bear that out.
  • Business: It is still about the small-businessperson, the small business family, and the American worker who likes the feeling of being captain of his or her own ship.
  • Spirituality: The Bible says it is not the hearer of the Word but the Doer of the Word that is blessed…  (I think that also goes for the talker-about-the-Word)
  • Life and What’s good for America: It finally boils down to the regular American people who go about doing and helping their neighbors and making their small communities work. It is about volunteers and parents and kids and teachers and preachers and singers and diggers. It is about farmers with hands in the dirt. I would MUCH rather listen to the few words they have time to say than the over-caffeinated cacophony I hear in and around our nation’s capital.

I am about over that.

Jobs Jobs Jobs and Reality Checks

Prelude: It is really pretty simple. In business, when a product doesn’t work, you have to fix it or drop it – FAST. And you have to fix it the way the marketplace wants it. No exceptions. Circular reasoning, like: “well it is the customers’ fault – they just don’t realize what this product can do for them,”  doesn’t work. If you try to change the conversation or tell the marketplace that it doesn’t understand, the marketplace rewards you with this: “Hey! Listen to us or we’ll go elsewhere with our business. You have 10 seconds!”  That is a forced reality check most business owners cut their teeth on. The ones that didn’t are no longer around.

  • I think some politicians are getting one of those reality checks but they don’t recognize it for what it is.

It looks like the president and politicians in Washington are ready to move the conversation to the economy and the job situation. I thought we already did that early in 2009 with the stimulus package. But somewhere in early summer the emphasis got moved over to the health care realignment project. (I wonder if that got the spotlight because the stimulus launch didn’t produce the bump in jobs many pols hoped for last spring).

  • They can’t be unhappy about us

Now that a Massachusetts upstart (a Republican at that) helped put a stopper to the increasingly unpopular healthcare realignment project (as it now stands and was recently manipulated) it looks like it is time to turn the conversation back to jobs, jobs, jobs. After all, the public has shown it is not happy and it must really be about the economy, right? Perhaps we can lay the blame at the feet of the banks for the jobs situation and get some traction. If they’re unhappy, let’s by all means speak into their unhappiness!

Here is a possible script – “Jobs, jobs, Bush, jobs, last 8 years – oops before ‘the change’ – jobs, jobs, banks, Cheney, the French (wait, how did the French get there?)” Certainly they cannot be unhappy about us (ruling incumbents), so it MUST be about jobs and some still-repressed subliminal vibes from George Bush, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.  What else could it be?  So let’s hit jobs another lick.

  • A clue – how jobs come about.

I don’t pretend to be a big businessman but I did start several small businesses and learned a lot about where jobs come from. In the private sector they come from people in businesses having confidence, feeling like the captains of their ships, and having the strength of heart to take on risks. Then they hire. Oh, and there is another element. Decent business leaders (and the ones I know are mostly very decent people) refuse to hire a person and take on responsibility for other people’s lives unless they feel that the ground is solid under their feet. It would be unfair to do differently. They must feel there is enthusiasm in the public marketplace.

  • Why people aren’t enthusiastic

Massachusetts, an extremely entrepreneurial state, proved that the enthusiasm quotient is low. People questioned overwhelmingly answered that the thing they were most upset about was the way that Capitol Hill was approaching the health care realignment project. That does not explain the entire lack of enthusiasm, but it does point the way. The idea is that the politicians are not listening to us – they are only listening to themselves. The government seems to want to control all the ships (they understand ships in Boston).

Most businesses will not hire when they feel not-in-control. Maybe in France they do,  not in the good ‘ole USA. Not in the tinkering, garage-band, backlot-project world of the American entrepreneur. And when those folks are not enthusiastic, most of the rest of the country is not either, because they are us – by the millions – from the Amway rep to the basement programmer to the realtor to the Jaycees greeter.

  • Time for  a reality check.

Go back and study how Ronald Reagan got confidence back to into the entrepreneur class and how the enthusiasm swelled back into the whole country in 1981 and 1982. That was right in the midst of the last really bad recession. That same army of American entrepreneurs and unorthodox, underfunded tinkerers helped create the digital revolution we are still riding today. Talk about jobs…

You have to get the nation’s enthusiasm up. You can’t push your product at us if we don’t want it. You have to listen.

Tales from the Socialism Side – Part 3 – crisis of capitalism?

I have been promising a joke the Russians used to tell, under their state-socialism (we called it Communism but they always reminded me they had not reached the Communistic ideal yet – it was just socialism).

An old man had been given the job of being a lookout posted atop Lenin Hills in Moscow, watching for the coming of the “Classless Society” (The communist ideal world). He was doing such a good job some Politburo people approached him with another job they thought was important, watching for the next crisis in the capitalist system.

“It sounds good, but no thanks,” he replied. “I don’t want to give up a permanent job for a temporary one.”

With over 50 years of experience in the experiment of state socialism (I heard this one in the seventies) the Russians of that era need to be credited at least with having learned something. To their great credit they could make poignant jokes about it.

But true.

Crisis has been a huge part of the strength of our economy, historically. Good business ideas thrive. Bad ones die. Life goes through cycles.

I was taught in economics that every ten years or so there would be a recession. That was part of the cycle. It has been pretty much true. I was born in 1950 and there have been 6 since then that I remember. This article lists nine.

Guess what? Every recession is a crisis in capitalism. People lose jobs. The value of stock shrinks. People’s retirements lose some of their paper value, if it is in stocks (advisors used to always say never put it all in stocks as you get older – what happened?).

But then what happens after this “crisis?” Businesses and the economy bounce back. People get smarter. Businesses get more innovative and more efficient. Some of the sludge has been burned out of the engine. It runs cleaner.

I know it is painful. Tell me about it. I lost a business in the early nineties partly die to the recession of 89-92. But guess what? I also started another one – one that is still successful. And I re-invented myself, and got ready for a new way of doing business. That is what got me primed for entering the Internet business world in 1995. If the crisis had not come, I would probably still be back there.

I was talking about this with a colleague and we were discussing the horrible years before Reagan was elected president in 1980 and the change that came after that. The economy was in shambles in the late 70’s. Inflation was near 15%. Unemployment meteoric. Business was stagnant. Energy crises were common. Worst of all, people were not starting small businesses.

Contrast that with ten years later – the late eighties. Entrepreneur-ism was everywhere. Businesses were exploding. The stock market had gone from under 1000 to almost 3000, a whole new revolution in Information and Communications was underway, led largely by entrepreneurs. Something clearly was going on.

It DID seem to be related to the Reagan years – the opening up of business opportunities, tax cuts, deregulation, just the “can-do spirit!” The whole world was led into an amazing new economy by the US – that is still going on! And the Democrats and liberals were shouting “Voo-doo economics” all the way!

In our discussion we wondered if, had things kept going under the more state-controlled systems of “The Great Society” years (started by Lyndon Johnson and carried through the Carter years), maybe Bill Gates would have been working for IBM, Steve Jobs have been an insurance salesman and Michael Dell, well, a college drop-out!

Take a look at the chart below and the web site that it links to.

Slice of stock market history

Slice of stock market history

What, exactly, did the approach to socialism that lasted from the mid sixties through the end of the seventies do for the economy? Look at the charts again.

Flat.

Do you see now why some are worried about a turn back towards socialism, of any kind? We can’t be scared by crisis! We also cannot be scared off by the fear mongers who try to push us back under the ‘comforting’ umbrella of state control.

Take a look at these words from the London Daily Telegraph – sober words:

“This is what socialist economics brings. The intervention, or rather interference, of the state in financial and economic matters can only lead to sclerosis, the suppression of enterprise, the raising of taxes, starvation of investment, lack of innovation, technological retardation and the rise of the power of organised labour…If you doubt this analysis, recall what happened in this country between 1945 and 1979, when such an ethos as we are now returning to existed unchallenged, even by Tory governments. The more the state intervened, the more it had to intervene: the appetite grew with eating….”

Then look what the Brits had to say about the truth of America’s example:

…We condemn America as the nation that used capitalism as a weapon against so-called “ordinary people”, but think back and compare America in the 1970s to Britain at the same time: no American had to wait three months for a telephone to be put in, or had only three television channels to choose from, or had to watch rubbish piling up in the streets, the dead going unburied or factories open just three days a week because of industrial action and the failure of the command economy….”

(This is, by the way, the best article I have read that explains what is really going on).

The lesson we need to draw? Take a look at history! learn from it. Do not give in to fear and foolishness.

Ben Franklin used to say:

Experience is a dear teacher; but fools will have none other.

There is another way. Choose it, America!

Tales from the Socialism side – Part 1

Since the political campaign season has finally gotten down to some real issues approaching underlying philosophies of candidates (and parties), the time has come for me to speak out on Socialism. There is a good chance our government and society might take an abrupt turn to the left in the next couple of years and we need to get ready.

Having spent a number of years living abroad and traveling in Communist and Socialist countries, I have seen a lot and heard a lot from those who already tried ‘the experiment’.

There is no better answer in a debate than real experience, is there?

You might argue that no one in this campaign has really come out and claimed to push socialist philosophy, but any student of history or philosophy will readily admit that one side is more prone, shall we say, to socialist leanings than the other. That this might be called ‘progressive socialism’ or socialism ‘light’ is not the issue. The real issue underpinning it is the underlying philosophy that leads to a socialist understanding of government, business, and cultural life.

Add to that the huge risk we just took as a nation by nationalizing a good part of our business infrastructure and the risk is suddenly enormous. It must be handled exactly right, or our children will inherit a government with huge control over business and economic life – hence – Socialism.

There is a lot to say here and this is just the first installment. Call it part 1.

One of my favorite succinct quotes is from Viktor Belenko (Виктор Иванович Беленко), the famous MIG pilot who piloted the Soviet MIG 25 from Siberia to Japan in a bold  (and successful) attempt to give the west an intimate look at the new super-fighter the Soviets had produced to challenge our air superiority at the height of the cold war (1976).

Belenko, like all top level Russian military at the time, had been raised and cultivated with the ideals of the “New Soviet Man,” nurtured in the values of state socialism and impressed with the rigorous studies of Dialectical Materialism, Hegelianism, and numerous other social and historical philosophies clung to by traditional communists and socialists (and most philosophical leftists of our day as well).

The conclusion it all drove him to, however, was that it simply DID NOT WORK.  Something was missing. In the process he decided to flee to the West and take a plane with him.

Enough on the background – here is THE QUOTE: – I love this one –

Belenko met President Ronald Reagan and told him :

“You should start an exchange program where you send 1 million American High School students to the Soviet Union for a year in exchange for 1 million Soviet High School students coming to the US for a year.  The Russian students will return to the Soviet Union incredibly impressed with the country, which will be a good thing. The 1 million American kids will return home as Republicans.”

(I could not find this online but I remember reading it in Guidepost magazine around 2001)

More coming tomorrow – stay tuned. Listen to one of the greatest jokes the Russians used to tell about the Capitalist system and the Socialist system – and so true!!

Obama Dream ticket – YES WE CAN!

OK we all know the famous Barak O’Bama video that all the stars made and put on YouTube back when the campaign was really interesting (gosh – it seems like a year ago already!). 

Well, I came across something really good. I rarely delve into the front-end of political campaigns, preferring to go after foundational stuff and basic principles rather than criticize sound bites and grimaces on some tired stumper’s face.

However, if it is really funny, I am sorely tempted; and if it showed how HUMAN (silly) politicos are, I can no longer resist.

This one is a RIOT.

The other day my two-year-old came walking into the room chanting “YES-WE-CAN!” with an enthusiasm and coherence that startled us (mostly the coherence thing). Our jaws dropped and we both stared at each other. Was he an Obama fan? Had he been watching political speeches? Incredible! This was too much; we had to get to the source.

Upon interrogation (difficult with a 2-year-old) he pointed to his little DVD player. He started it up and we heard a crowd chanting “Yes we can!” On HIS DVD player! Peering more closely, it was a crowd of 2-10 year-old’s in an audience at a Bob the Builder live stage show.

Here’s a good video of a Brit talent show where a bunch of people (looks like a school group) does their own rendition – has the stage group chanting “Can we fix it?” and the crowd shouting back “Yes We Can!”  (I’ll tell you, even in this group, especially in this group – I see hope for the human race. If I were a presidential candidate, I would consider stealing this momentum as well!)

This was too much! I had gotten him the DVD but never listened to it. Could it be, after all the plagiarism ‘non-scandals‘ of the past 6 months, that Obama had ripped off a kids’ show for his famous phrase?  I couldn’t believe it. What even pales beyond that is that the press mostly missed it!

It seems the part of the video where Obama says “three words that will ring from coast to coast and from sea to shining sea – ‘Yes We Can'” are a little presumptuous. Those words were ALREADY ringing from coast to coast – thousands upon thousands of kids 2-10, responding to Bob the Builders chant: “Can We Fix it? YES WE CAN! Can we build it? YES! WE CAN!

Searching my memory, I recalled the thing about O’bama admitting some borrowing from other people, but never heard of him borrowing from Bob.

Think about it: If Obama could preface another use of a catchy phrase with  I’m stealing this line from my buddy Deval Patrick, why on earth could he not have also said “I’m borrowing this infectious chant from my buddy Bob the Builder – Yes we can fix it!” or something like that?

And since the media was in such a frenzy after the so called plagiarists (they attacked all three front-runners) why did they largely miss this one? Not to mention all the celebrities who helped make the Obama YouTube video which freely used the phrase – the very same celebrities who are so picky when anyone ‘borrows’ any of their words from their shows or songs – how could they so blithely ride on poor Bob’s powerful words with not one iota of credit given?

It just shows what the world has come to. Why not fix the basics? The KIDS HAVE IT RIGHT! Give them credit! (Honestly, I have HOPE that kids could fix Washington! – sorta like the kid who cried out “That emperor has no clothes on!” Did not the ancients say – “a little child shall lead them.”)

Well, it seems I was not the first person to catch the unheralded plagiarism. Some really creative souls even did some YouTube work. Here is a brief overview:

Someone did a remix here that put the Bob the Builder footage into the superstars clip and ended up the whole thing with what looks like a 4-year-old who says “Yes We Can America! Obama 2008” This one is already spinning the possible scandal towards a pro-Obama twist! Hire that guy for campaign PR!

Here’s another one more satirical and more artistic! You have to go all the way to the subtitles with this one!

This one is a real hoot! It starts with the Bob The Builder theme and has Obama driving a backhoe over the political roadbloacks (people) in Washington to FIX IT! Actually my favorite.

You know, the more I think about this, the more I ask: Why steal it? Why not just attach it? Obama is still searching for the perfect VP – running mate. It seems clear – the real momentum is with Bob the Builder!

What a dream ticket!