Thursday, July 30, 2015

Why I'll Never Hire You

It doesn't matter which political philosophy to which you subscribe, the hard, cold truth is that seven years after America's worst financial meltdown since the Great Depression, its economy might be off life support, but it's hardly thriving.  Government agencies tally up the data on a monthly basis, producing meaningless (and often baseless) statistics designed to measure just how well or poorly the economy is doing.  One of their favorite numbers is the unemployment rate.

I'm not here to justify one man's figures against another man's numbers. There are infinite ways to calculate the unemployment rate, producing a range of "reliable" results from 5% to 25%, depending on the extremist view to which you subscribe. I don't believe any of them. What I do believe is that the jobs lost in the Great Recession are never coming back. Not because there's no need for workers, but because beyond NAFTA and TPP, employment itself is a daunting, if not impossible, proposition.

Most people believe that businesses employ people in order to keep the business moving. The employees are the arms and legs that propel products and services through its pipelines for eventual consumption and profits.  Unfortunately, there are a lot more reasons not to hire employees, to which few people pay any heed.  I've put together a little list of those reasons, just in case you were wondering why nobody wants to hire you:

1.  I have to match your Social Security payments.  You know all those deductions taken out of your paycheck on a regular basis? Roughly 7% is what you pay into Social Security. Bet you didn't know that I, as your employer, have to match that with another 7% I pay out of my own pocket. That's makes you 7% more expensive than your salary would imply.

2. I have to pay you even when you're sick. If you're on salary and not working, I still have to pay you, which actually costs me twice as much, because I have to pay someone else your going rate to do the work you're not doing. That means my costs can double at any time, unpredictably, throwing the viability of my business into question.

3. I can't fire you, even if you do a bad job.  Even if I hire you on an "at will" basis, labor laws are such that if I fire you -- even for just cause -- you can sue me for back pay and punitive damages. Just the threat of a lawsuit will cost me time and money.

4. You can sue me if I provide a negative reference.   If you leave my company after a less than stellar performance and your next prospective employer calls me to verify what you put down on your resum√©, I can't make one negative comment, even if it's to dispel any blatant lie you may have composed. If I do, I can be sued for "costing you a potential job."

5. You might have a baby.  I can invest all kinds of time, training and money into you in hopes of retaining a long-term, productive employee for my business, only to have you get pregnant and either take leave or simply quit. There's no way I can recoup my costs from you. I just have to find someone new -- at my cost.

6.  I never know when you'll leave for another job.  It's a market economy, I get it. Which is why I can't ever be sure you're going to stay with the company or be lured away by a competitor. Since there's no real allegiance, I have to stand ready to replace you, usually in less than two weeks, because nobody wants an employee who's leaving in two weeks to spend those two weeks poisoning the rest of the crew.

7.  The government makes me pay health benefits if I have more than 25 employees. Same argument as Social Security, which chews into my business's profitability with no tangible benefit to me.  As a result, I may have to raise my prices and lose market share.

8. The government regulates the minimum hourly wage I have to pay you. No matter how unenforceable or ridiculous its programs are structured, the government dictates the minimum amount I can pay my employees, never taking into consideration how my business operates or whether it can afford it. Again, I may have to raise my prices and lose market share.

9. Any minority can sue me at any time.  No matter what you look like or where you come from, if you decide there aren't as many of your ilk in my company as you think there should be, you can sue me for discrimination -- even if your work product is inferior to those who occupy the positions you seek.  That costs me time and money -- and maybe even my business's work product quality, which ultimately can tank my entire enterprise.

Those are just nine quick reasons that give business owners pause to think before they hire. And when they do, they often arrive at two conclusions that don't involve employees:

1.  It's smarter to outsource with independent contractors.
2.  Software never calls in sick.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Political Brands 2016: Donald Trump

Every few presidential elections, the American public is treated to an event about as rare as a total eclipse: An independent candidate mounts a serious effort to claim the presidency.  Over the last century, nobody has done it successfully, but they have done effective jobs in determining who did win it.

In 1980, John Anderson launched a bid that nobody saw coming, especially that stupidest president of them all, Jimmy Carter.  Back then, Carter was an inept incumbent who'd basically tripped his way into office by essentially not being Richard Nixon. The American people were sick and tired of Watergate and "the establishment's" dishonesty and promotion of corporate interests.  Sound familiar?  

Jimmy Carter was the "people's president" in 1976, but by 1980, he'd left America in shambles and himself as a worldwide laughing stock.  Ronald Reagan stepped up to run against Carter, with Reagan's main theme being the restoration of America's greatness, lifting its economy, stronger defense and getting America back to basics. Okay, does that sound familiar?

John Anderson entered the race as an independent, whereupon Carter refused to take the national stage when it came time to debate both Reagan and Anderson -- a high profile Democrat refusing to discuss issues.  Well, that should definitely sound familiar.  Eventually, Reagan crushed Carter, but Anderson finished with 7% of the national vote -- after securing Carter's reputation as a sissy during the election.

It happened again in 1992, when businessman Ross Perot -- maybe the shortest man to run for the office -- stood on the stage and twanged about "getting back to basics" while Bill Clinton and George H. W. Bush battled it out on the usual waffle-worthy issues.  Perot's arguments were, to be honest, pretty lame. They were simplistic, but they were different enough for him to claim 19% of the national vote -- enough to steal support from Bush and allow Clinton to steal the victory with only 42% of the vote.

So independents don't have to win elections to make a difference.  They just have to influence them. Enter Donald Trump.

While media and leftists love to hate him, everyone needs to pay close attention to him, because he's the perfect fed up candidate.  Like Perot and Anderson, Trump has struck a chord with a broad cross-section of the American public who are tired of dealing with problems not of their making.  They're not gay.  They're not transgender. They're not immigrants. In fact, they're not anything other than simple, basic, hard-working Americans who feel forgotten except when it comes time to pay for somebody else's bill.

Are they justified?  Maybe. But the fact is that they feel justified and nobody is taking up their cause.  Nobody is vocalizing their thoughts or speaking on their behalf -- except for Donald Trump.  Sure, some people submit Bernie Sanders is doing that, but they're wrong: Sanders tells them what he wants; Trump tells them what they feel

Think his hair looks funny?  Happy his business partners terminate relationships?  The media is totally being played by Trump, completely misunderstanding that every time a sponsor drops him, ten more line up to do business with him because they know he speaks for millions of likewise fed up voters. They claim his "brand" is destroyed, but that only proves their ignorance about what branding is and how it works.  

Laugh it up, kids. You may not like him, but Trump is the catalyst that's getting everyone talking about issues nobody really wants to discuss, in very specific terms they'd prefer to avoid. 

At this point, Democrats fear him because he's a force that could send shock waves through the Republican platform.  Republicans fear him because they don't want another Independent handing the election to Hillary Clinton.  So don't kid yourself.  Trump is more effective than you think.

Of course Donald Trump will never make it to the finish line, but at this very moment, millions of marginalized voters are actually beginning to pay attention. And if he's the guy that mobilizes interest, how bad of a thing can that be?

Monday, June 22, 2015

It's not National. It's Local.

I was at lunch the other day, where a friend tied up a waiter while perusing the menu for life-threatening entrees. Does this one have gluten? Are there any artificial colors in that one? How much MSG is in that one? Does this have red dye? What about sugar? High-fructose corn syrup?  It went on and on until the waiter wisely determined his order wasn't going to be worth the tip.

I looked at my pal. He was a wreck. Totally consumed with issues that didn't really concern him, but were destroying his life anyway.  This is a well-educated guy who's a total media victim.  Completely helpless when it comes to discerning which news he should listen to and which he should ignore.  The stress of dealing with all the valueless news is making him ill.  He's not alone.

Take note of today's date, because years from now -- maybe even weeks from now -- much of what you read here will be forgotten, nudged out of the headlines by other stories. I, on the other hand, will likely be remembered for being insensitive, out of touch or just plain ruthless.

I don't care. This is too important to simply ignore. 

This is more important than the stories currently consuming the United States of America.  It's more dangerous and more harmful to you, your families and your physical and emotional welfare.

At this writing, the country is focused on the bizarre shooting and murders of nine church members in Charleston, South Carolina.  A sick, twisted kid stormed into a church and blasted away.  Around Dannemora, New York, two brutal murderers are still on the run after escaping from one of New York's most heavily secured prisons. After almost two weeks on the run, nobody knows where they are. And throughout the country, every single media outlet is updating and over-analyzing these stories as if they're vital to the country's -- and your own -- survival.

But they're not vital to your survival, because these are local stories happening in places where you don't live.  Without detracting from their sadness, danger and tragedy, the fact is that the shootings in Charleston affect a very tiny community and touch a few hundred lives at most.  It's their tragedy, but it's being treated as if it's a national issue. It's not.  And don't start with the old, "it's part of a larger issue" argument.  Just because a local story is reported by national media doesn't make it a national story.  It's simply a local story promoted for its sensationalism.  Every day, unfortunate people fall into threshers or off building ledges. Banks are robbed and cars are stolen. People get murdered as a matter of course, but we don't hear or read much about those because they happen in places to people we don't know.  They're local stories. 

National stories are issues that genuinely affect an entire nation. Who's running for president? What country is threatening us? Should we put a man on Mars? How should we change the Federal tax system? What's the solution to American poverty? Is the bird flu a real epidemic?  Should the internet be regulated?  Those are national issues, because they affect everyone, everywhere.

Back in the Neolithic Age, journalism reported the news by classification. Television, radio and print divided their stories into International, National, Regional, Local and Human Interest. No matter how sensational the item, it was placed in the proper context for more accurate reporting.  Today, that's no longer the case.  Like AYSO soccer, where every kid gets a trophy simply for showing up, every local story is now thrust into national prominence regardless of its relevance to the rest of the country.  The result is that people misconstrue local events as national in scope. They worry about it.  They stress over it, for no rational reason at all.

A crazed killer in one small city is not justification for unleashing fear and stress on an entire country.  Race-based police conflicts, hand-picked and broadcast 24/7 does not equate to an all out, national police-driven race war.  Two escaped convicts in New York won't be holding the country hostage any time soon.  But when reported as national news, these local stories might seem to do all that and more.

They're not national stories. They're local. And because they're local, each comes with its own causes and effects specific to its local community, so it would be a huge mistake to assume that simply applying the lessons of one local story to an entire nation would be helpful, let alone appropriate.  Yet that's exactly what's happening today.  Right at this moment, pundits and politicians and legions of Facebook quarterbacks are deciding their futures -- and possibly yours -- based on isolated events that have no bearing on where you or the rest of the country lives.

That's what happens when the media confuses nationally-reported local stories with legitimate national news.  Cancer doesn't happen to everyone. All cops aren't out to kill you. Live a little more. Fear a little less.

Screw the cholesterol. Order the steak.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Political Brands 2016: Bernie Sanders, Rainmaker

Take a look at this photo. Do you recognize it? Don't worry, these aren't people you'd know. Then again, if you know your American history, you'd know who these people are.  Not who they are, but maybe what they are.  If you don't recognize them, they're Dust Bowl farmers. And if you don't know what the Dust Bowl was, allow me to explain:

 In the 1930s, the American Midwest was ravaged by drought and winds that blew away thousands of square miles of topsoil from America's farmlands. The country was still reeling from the Great Depression and what came to be known as the Dust Bowl pretty much eliminated any hope of farmers making a living. Banks foreclosed on family-owned farms, rendering good, hard-working people homeless.

You may have read about the Dust Bowl in John Stenbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. It's a depressing story based on even more depressing facts. It was during this time that a peculiar character appeared throughout the drought-stricken region: The Rainmaker.  Roaming from town to town, the Rainmaker gathered up the down-trodden Dust Bowl farmers and convinced them that for a fee, he could make it rain. The rain would tease their crops out of the ground and all would be well.

While this may sound fantastic to you and me, to a group of gullible, desperate, trusting men and women, the Rainmaker seemed like their one last hope. So they paid the fee with the very last money they had and looked toward the skies.  The Rainmaker proceeded to do whatever he did and rode out of town, promising rain within a few days.  Of course, the rain never came and the farmers lost their farms.

It's a sad story.  You'd think people would learn from it. But the temptation of easy, simple solutions is almost impossible to resist when you tell desperate people what they want to hear. And thus we have Bernie Sanders, running for President of the United States.

Read any social media platform and you're sure to find someone, somewhere posting a meme about Bernie Sanders, the self-avowed Socialist from Vermont. Usually, it has something to do with taking the money spent on a foreign war and spending it on jobs here in America. Or cutting military spending in favor of giving everyone a free college education.   I'm pretty sure his most ardent fans like his proposal of raising taxes on the wealthy and simply giving the proceeds to everyone else.

Like the Rainmaker, Sanders' pitch sounds pretty cool, especially to young people who have nothing to show for themselves yet: free stuff for everyone at no cost to anyone.  But when you look a bit closer, it becomes apparent that Sander's proposals hold just as much water as the Rainmaker's.

To the desperately poor and unemployed, anything is better than nothing -- and they live with plenty of nothing. No doubt, it's very difficult for many people to live, even with the so-called "economic recovery" that nobody seems to be enjoying.  So Sanders tosses out remedies that have no basis in reality.  Take cutting military spending, for example.  To the uninitiated, it sounds great.  After all, who's really going to miss one or two stealth fighters? 

I'll tell you who: the people who want employment.  Here's how it works:

Every jet fighter is composed of hundreds of thousands of parts. Each of those parts has to be designed, created, manufactured, inspected, tested, shipped, billed, accounted, assembled, tested again and delivered.  And that's just for a stealth fighter.  That's not even a complete list.  Every step of the way, people are paid to do those jobs. You cut delivery of those jets, tanks, missiles, aircraft, launchers, guns, bullets, drones, avionics and everything else, you're actually going to create more unemployment, not less.

Free college educations? To whom? For what? America is already flooded with college graduates whining about their student loans which they can't pay back because their college degrees didn't deliver the jobs they assumed they would.

Starting to get the picture? It doesn't matter what the Rainmaker promises. All he cares about is getting his fee so that he can move on to the next group of suckers. Sanders is branding himself as the patron saint of the working man.  And they're desperate enough to believe him.

Unfortunately, this Rainmaker will leave them high and dry, too.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Does the President Need A College Degree?

At the time of this writing, you and I may be the only people in the United States who aren't running for president in 2016. Just about anyone is jumping in, regardless of his "electability," offering agenda and opinions that pass more easily for smoke screens than legitimate issues. One wants to bomb ISIS, the other wants to prevent gay marriage. This one promotes the economy, that one wants to protect the environment. And somehow, this is all supposed to make America a happier, fully-employed nation.

Although he hasn't officially announced as yet, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker brings yet another issue to the fore: Is a college education required of a United States president? It's not as simple a question as you might think, especially with the winds of public opinion blowing gale force against the notion of over-priced, misdirected colleges leaving their graduates in massive debt and structurally unemployed. After all, there hasn't been a bidding war for art history PhD's in quite some time and the local air conditioning repair company has little use for philosophy majors. The country certainly needs practical skills to maintain its infrastructure and innovate its future. But when we're talking about the leader of the free world here. Do the same rules apply?

You and I and the rest of the country probably don't calculate quadratic equations in the course of our daily lives. In fact, there's probably plenty of education we left behind after high school, not to mention the esoteric pursuits of our college educations. The president has real, practical problems to solve. War, trade, education, labor, employment -- you know the list. So how many of those issues really require four of five years of higher education? Isn't real life experience enough -- or even an advantage? I suppose the answer depends on how you'd define a "college education."

If, as most of America thinks, college is nothing more than a high-end trade school designed to "get you a better paying job," I doubt a college education is going to add very much at all. Unfortunately, our education system -- and our expectations of it -- have mutated into a plug-and-chug process that hasn't been effective since the 1970s. Fulfilling requirements, rubber-stamping through courses in name brand institutions is no guarantee of any career, let alone a high-paying one. And while four years of lab work might teach you all about rats and their biology, it hardly prepares you for all the other socio-economics batterings the outside world is saving for you.

On the other hand, if you define it as four years of liberal arts, you might find a college education to be an indispensable requirement for the presidency. Knowing other nations' histories, values and cultures would enable him to better understand and negotiate in foreign matters. Appreciating various kinds of art and music would expose him to different mind sets and perspectives. Analyzing literature might prompt him to ponder various moral and ethical questions not previously considered. He might discover different aspects of beauty, romance and ethics that are the end goals not only of Americans, but most human beings on the planet.

In short, a liberal arts education has the capacity to inject wisdom into a presidential candidate, a quality in short supply and urgently needed by America and the world. Simplistic posers pander their facades in hopes the public won't peer behind them. Real leaders possess wisdom borne of education as applied to their experiences.

We've dumbed down the country enough. I doubt we need to extend that trend to the presidency.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Political Brands 2016: Hillary Clinton

Maybe it's because I can't do much about it or perhaps America's death spiral into hopeless mediocrity is so damn entertaining, but I love watching presidential politics. I love the pointless arguing. The ridiculous posturing. But most of all, I love the way the American public will buy just about anything the media feeds it. As the Nazis used to say, "Tell a lie often enough and pretty soon people believe it."

If you're a reader of this blog, you may recall my analyses of Political Brands for the last few elections. Bear in mind, I have no skin in this game. While I personally am somewhat centrist with a conservative twist, I'm by no means a dyed in the wool Republican. I tend to vote the issue and have never voted the straight party line. I'm just a brand strategist, and to that end, I humbly submit my critiques of each candidate's strategic errors, blunders and comedies.

This time out, I'd like to call your attention to Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first major contender out of the gate, aptly referred to as The Great Democrat Hope. Many liberals and Democrats see Mrs. Clinton as a national shoo-in, convinced that the Republican party is all but dead, having been decimated by its Congressional intractability and its Tea Party faction.

I submit to you that Mrs. Clinton is going to need much more than that in order to become President of the United States. And the reason is simple: At this writing, there are all kinds of reasons why people may want to vote against Republicans, but there are almost no reasons why they'd want to vote for Mrs. Clinton. In fact, there's a certifiable mountain of doubts facing Mrs. Clinton's campaign, which at this point seems daunting, if not downright unsurmountable. If you doubt that, I've prepared a list of reasons for you to consider:

1. There's a distinct possibility that many voters will see Hillary as Obama's third term in the same way voters saw McCain as Bush's third term in 2008 -- and vote against her.
2. She might be great in person. But Nixon was incredibly warm and charming in person, too.
3. She's old news. Speaking from my own corner, she has no brand strategy. There's no reason to vote for her; lots of reasons to vote against her.
4. She's sexist -- and bear with me here -- because she's campaigning on a "Wouldn't you like to see a female president" platform. A genuine feminist wouldn't make gender an issue, because gender shouldn't be an issue.
5. She's got the e-mail thing.
6. She's got the Benghazi thing.
7. She's got the Rose Law firm thing.
8. She's got the Vince Foster thing.
9. She's got the failed national health care thing (1992).
10. She's hampered by Bill Clinton: One on hand, he's popular. On the other, she can't be seen in his shadow.
11. Nobody can name any of her accomplishments. Everyone can name at least three of her failures.
12. In the coming months, questions of Clinton finances will begin to pummel the candidate as inquiries dig up exactly how much Mrs. Clinton is worth -- and how she managed to accrue that wealth.
13. If you haven't read The Invisible Political Issue of 2016, I suggest you add it to your list, because the issue has nothing to do with Mrs. Clinton herself, but it has everything to do with the people she expects to vote for her.

If the above isn't enough, there's one more aspect to Mrs. Clinton's candidacy that nobody seems to care about: a Black Swan event. A wise man once warned never to put all one's eggs in one basket, yet this seems to be exactly what Democrats are doing. By placing all their money on a Clinton candidacy, the Democrats run the risk of their opponents saving up some really powerful scandal(s) to be dropped three weeks before the convention or the general election, irreparably damaging Mrs. Clinton's chances of getting either the nomination or the election. That kind of bomb would leave the Democrats scrambling for a candidate with the clock running out.

Think it can't happen? Try Googling "McGovern Eagleton" and see for yourself how a candidate that had been backed "one thousand percent" on a Friday found himself on the national trash heap by the next Monday morning -- literally.

Sure, the media will feed you all kinds of images and soundbytes. You'll see Hillary laughing and Bill waving and Chelsea cuddling her little baby, too. But that won't change the reality that exists in voters' minds. Recall that Mrs. Clinton had the Democrats' nod in early 2008, as well, but never made it to the finish line.

And that was when her logo that wasn't a disaster.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

The Invisible Political Issue of 2016

If you read this blog, you know that every few years, I like to place bets not only on who is running for President of the United States, but why they're going to win or lose. This year is no different. The names might change, but the dynamics will pretty much remain the same.

But before we get into the personalities, it's worth taking some time to understand the structure of the game.

In every national election, there may be a few major, well-publicized political issues (gay marriage, immigration, climate change, the national economy, jobs, etc.) but there is always at least one invisible issue that never really gets discussed in the media. In 2008, for example, while everyone argued the standard topics in debates, the invisible issue of 2008 was far more powerful but never articulated:

America was fed up with Bush and Cheney and just about anyone who was white, male and older than their first cell phone. This is why the Democrats produced two of the most non-Bush characters they could find: Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. This is also why John McCain was never really in contention: America viewed him as Bush's third term (Sarah Palin was simply the final nail in the coffin). In 2008, the invisible issue that nobody ever articulated was Anyone But Bush.

That was then. This is now. The same invisible issue theory applies, only this time out, it's not personal. It's philosophical. No matter how you may feel about them, the Obama policy of politically correct inclusiveness, while perhaps noble in spirit, is the main issue which will influence how Americans vote.

Hear me out. It's not what you think.

It's not that Americans are against issues like gay marriage, immigration or multi-racial representation -- nobody had a problem electing a black president twice. By the same token, Americans have not only tolerated illegal immigration, they've come to rely on it. And when the military openly accepted gays in service, there wasn't much protest. Most people accepted it as the natural conclusion to what Harry Truman started when he desegregated the armed forces in the early 1950s.

The real issue bothering Americans is that they see themselves constantly and consistently being imposed upon to accept others' beliefs and practices rather than expecting those with foreign beliefs and practices to conform to our own. They don't oppose those beliefs and practices, they just expect those with foreign beliefs and practices to be less resolute and more willing to adapt them as part of their embrace of America. Case in point would be muslim women refusing to remove their veils on state identification cards requiring facial photos. Or filing suit because one can't wear religious gear while on the job. It's not that Americans object to yarmulkes or burqas; it's more that most Americans can recall an ancestor who had to adapt his own language, customs and practices so that they fit squarely into America's traditional philosophy of acceptance.

Many Americans now feel like a welcoming host whose house guests have overstayed their welcome. Laws, codes, lawsuits and the media skew viewers' perceptions by featuring "those who are different" acting selfishly, as if entitled to impose their foreign beliefs on good-hearted, hard working citizens. Regardless of how true that may or may not be, it's reinforced every day on talk radio and every night on the national news -- and Americans are tired of it. They're angry. They feel that while they're accommodating everyone else, nobody is accommodating them.

Don't let this confuse you into thinking voters want an old, white man back in the White House (although I can easily see someone dumbing it down to that level). Americans are plenty sick of the 535 members of Congress, the majority of whom fit that description. But until and unless a candidate can and does articulate this issue, the American electorate is going to make two huge mistakes:

1. Conservatives are going to present someone who looks like their values as someone who shares those values. This means conservatives will come out swinging their bibles and ranting against anyone whose philosophies and values can be framed as "non-American." They'll misread the Constitution and leverage Americans' frustrations in an effort to avoid the real issue.

2. Liberals are going to make the same mistake on the other side: They'll bring out someone to attack the Conservatives as racist and depend on shallow knee-jerk reactions in order to scare the population into thinking that Adolf Hitler is is about to invade their neighborhoods.

The candidate who can clearly articulate the real invisible issue is the one most likely to take the prize. That means it has to be someone who knows how to convey the American balance of freedom against the perception of non-traditional/foreigners' entitlements. That's not an easy trick. Then again, nobody's ever really tried it.

It's so much easier to incite fear than it is to build trust.