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Notes: Disagree/Not Disagreeable; Adult Climate Change; Journalism Ethics

20 May
by John, posted in business   |  No Comments

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Disagree/Not Disagreeable

This week I had a difficult meeting.  Going into it I knew that what I had to say would make others uncomfortable and they would disagree on some of my points.  If there is one lesson I learned in the C-Suite from the two larger than life CEOs in my past, you must force these meetings. Without them problems fester and become existential threats over time.

But, you have to follow some basic rules:

  1. Over prepare and pre-meeting question all your facts and opinions;
  2. Assume the best about your colleagues;
  3. Do not expect to win an argument, rather expect to solve a problem;
  4. Breath and listen. Do not hold your breath and talk;
  5. Read body language and listen for areas of agreement.

It was a great meeting. At times very difficult, but my colleagues and I agreed on a path forward.  Pretty confident we are on the way to identifying the root cause of the issues and solving them.

Climate Change for Adults

I find discussions of climate change as frustrating as gun control. People immediately go into their corners, then come out swinging.  But in the last Parks and Wildlife Commission Meeting and at the Colorado State University Short Course on Wildlife Management, I saw people across all political divides and geographies in agreement.  Things on the ground are changing and we have limited resources to spend on mitigation and adaption.

Conservatives who ranch or have outfitting operations or liberals using trails in urban settings notice the change in flora and fauna.  In both meetings the science focused not on temperature ranges, man versus natural change, and other science related to causation.  Rather the science focused on where to deploy assets.

So, where are animals moving, where are plants regenerating?  Using White Bark Pine mapping as an example, where are the trees naturally regenerating from pine beetle infestation?  Focus management resources on those areas to help nature and log in the hopeless areas.

Journalism Ethics

Ever since my high school reporting days for the Highland Park Bagpipe media bias from all sides has bothered me.  Once I was a lawyer regulated and constantly studying the ethics code, journalism ethics in one area has bothered me in particular.

Pause for readers to make lawyers and ethics jokes.

Lawyers are required to disclose to their clients and often the court their conflicts.  This usually means, investments, opinions, other clients, and anything else affecting their independent representation of their client or their obligations to the court.  Journalists instead pronounce themselves objective.

That has always struck me as silly.  Journalists are humans too.  Perhaps even more so than lawyers. So, why not have journalists declare their beliefs somewhere in their publications?  Particularly with digital journalism, you could simply have a section where each reporter provides a brief description.

“Jane Smith is an economics and business reporter who personally favors government intervention in the free market to curb the excesses of capitalism, higher taxes to fund such intervention and social programs to support those displaced by capitalism.”

Then readers would consider that bias as they read the “objective” reporting.  No longer would partisans pick apart articles over supposed bias, the reader could deal with the actual bias.  Personally, I think this would improve journalism’s declining trust with large segments of the population.

I mean really are Dan Rather or Megyn Kelly objective? Of course not, but they are still good reporters most of the time.

The Trumpinator – Why Trump Is Winning

09 May
by John, posted in author   |  No Comments

When Governor Schwarzenegger ran for governor in 2003 California was disgusted with mainstream politicians.  Schwarzenegger was able to use the circus of the Governor Gray Davis recall election to vault from celebrity to governor. The Terminator divided and suppressed the vote of traditional Democratic constituencies with lines like “girlie men”. And The Donald is now using the same combination of disgust at politicians and an unpredictable circus of slick media manipulation and celebrity as the catalyst to a winning campaign.

How does he do it?

One answer is the obvious one the media has identified. He has the conventional media completely under his control.  Like meth addicts they admit publicly they are addicted, but they continue using daily.  This allows Trump to focus the media on his outrageous statements day after day until they are normal and dominant.

The second is less obvious to the media and the political elite.  They have spent the last fifteen years telling the American electorate that Washington, DC is awful, partisan, and ineffective.  And to their surprise the American people have absorbed that message, agreed, and decided to flirt with an outsider.  He may be awful, crude, and prejudiced, but he also might be effective.

And the secret to Trump’s claim to effectiveness is that within his positions is always a kernel of truth that Americans agree with broadly.  Foreign policy is low on the list of American partisanship, so let us use it as an example.  Below is a chart of NATO defense spending:

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Chart from Defense One’s Nato Members Defense Spending, in Two Charts.

The current NATO treaty obligates the United States to bring on Armageddon if Russia or some other aggressor attacks any of these countries. And all of them are likewise obligated to spend 2% of their GDP (gross domestic product) on defense spending. American presidents and politicians have complained for decades that the Europeans are largely not meeting their treaty obligations.  And yet those same politicians are unprepared to threaten to leave the alliance.

So along comes The Donald.

The billionaire businessman told a campaign rally in Racine, Wisconsin that allies in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization “are not paying their fair share” and called the 28-nation alliance “obsolete…Either they pay up, including for past deficiencies, or they have to get out. And if it breaks up NATO, it breaks up NATO,” Trump said.

It is right out of his book the Art of the Deal. If you are not willing to walk away, then you lose. And instinctively the American electorate understands this. They buy cars.  And suckers overpay if they telegraph that no matter what they say, they will not get up and leave the manager’s table.

Conventional wisdom since Trump locked up the nomination is that the polling shows Secretary Clinton winning in a blowout, particularly among women.  So, what does Trump do?  The absolutely wrong thing according to the media and the DC political elite. He launches an all out down and dirty attack on Mrs. Clinton as an enabler of President Clinton’s serial affairs.

And it does not matter that it is largely distorted.  It has a kernel of truth in it. While she has artfully parried his attacks, she has also abandoned her economic message which is the central issue in the campaign.  Like every opponent before her, Trump has knocked her off message.

He is the outsider as was Schwarzenegger.  She is the insider as Gray Davis was in 2003.   The Trumpinator has turned her into a “girlie man”.

Recently a young female Sanders supporter told me, “I just don’t trust her.”  Trump does not need her vote.  He just needs her to stay home.  He does not need to win the women’s vote or the Hispanic vote.  He just needs to suppress them, while turning out his supporters.

Secretary Clinton risks swirling in the Trumpinator circus, reactively talking about the past, women’s issues versus President Clinton’s dalliances, defined as the insider.  In an outsider year where both candidates have high unfavorables the outsider with the dominant message is dangerous.

Democrats need to wake up fast or the polls are going to tighten amongst likely voters.

Keys to Successful Boards

20 Apr
by John, posted in business, Uncategorized   |  No Comments

board

Respect is the key to successful board relations in public and private companies, government boards, and non-profits.  And respect requires active communication, careful listening, effective committees, and detailed preparation for all meetings. But with all the focus on process in Sarbanes-Oxley, Dodd-Frank, public sunshine laws, most reform efforts miss these key mechanics of successful boards.

This is not a legal commentary.  Any competent law firm with an active corporate, government, or NGO (non-governmental organization) practice can advise on fiduciary duties of boards.  This is a commentary on the human elements of successful boards.

Expectations of a Rubber Stamp

Regardless of whether a board is corporate, governmental, or an NGO, if you want an effective board the organization will recruit strong, intelligent, vocal women and men. Experience in the organization’s field is often mentioned as important, but this is often a trap.  A board composed solely of industry, agency, or charitable experts is often imprisoned in conventional wisdom.

A board of strong, intelligent, and vocal members will not tolerate being  a rubber stamp.  They are on the board to advise the CEO or Executive Director and to push them and their staffs to overperform on operations, finance, and strategy.  Management has to expect that the board will reject or modify ideas.

And management cannot be defensive about rejection or modification.  More often than not a board is saving management from tunnel vision and conventional thinking.  Sometimes the board is raising profound ethical and strategic questions.  This is its greatest virtue.

Committees too Big for Their Britches

Committees of the board are an effective tool for preparing issues for the entire board to consider in a board meeting.  They are not substitutes for the entire board.  Committees report to the board.  Ideally, they present a range of possible actions based on facts and analysis with a recommendation about the best course of action.  They never, ever, present a fait accompli.  

Counting Votes

The most common mistake I witness in board preparation is management or the chairperson circulating an agenda and supporting documents last minute without board input.  Then the board arrives at the meeting expected to vote for a particular outcome.  Typically, board members have big egos.  It is part of their success.

At a minimum this is a recipe for hard feelings and board members believing they are disrespected or taken for granted. A worse outcome is a non-unanimous vote or an outright defeat.

In the best run public company board I served as general counsel and several boards where I was a board member we followed a simple process. A draft agenda and important committee reports were circulated two weeks in advance.  The CEO called personally each and every board member for advice and input.  The General Counsel, Secretary, or Chief of Staff called a few days later to follow-up in case there was an uncomfortable topic where an alternative listener was an advantage. Issues were resolved and although no decisions were made outside the meeting, we knew the vote count before the meeting.

Surprises

This is very simple.  There should never, ever be a surprise in a board meeting.  At every level from travel arrangements to CEO hirings make the board feel special.  Surprises are not special.

Fundraising

If you use the board just to fundraise, then make sure that you pick distracted, disinterested, rich people  to serve on your board.   At least be honest when you take people’s money and explain they are wallpaper in board meetings.

Picking the CEO

The most important issue boards face is the selection of the CEO.  Often a committee working with a recruiter is charged with producing a slate of candidates.  Again, the committee’s job is to do the grinding day to day work of producing a qualified slate.

It is never to present a single candidate.  Imagine a board member arriving at a meeting expecting a slate or a committee report faced with a vote on a single candidate.  They may vote “no” costing you a candidate who worries about lack of board support. Worse, you may create a perpetually disgruntled director.

Performance Reviews

The best run boards in my experience conduct annual reviews of board members performance.  Are they attending a minimum number of meetings? Are they prepared?  Are they providing ideas or offering network opportunites? Are committees providing effective work?  Are board members passive or active in pushing management and strategy?

It is an uncomfortable process that requires great listening and tact.  But it removes deadwood and opens up opportunity.

Respect at every interaction is the key.

Supreme Court Vacancy: Let’s Be Real

04 Apr
by John, posted in author, conservation   |  No Comments

shutterstock_164500820

President Obama has nominated Judge Merrick Garland to the US Supreme Court.  By all accounts he is a fine person and a good jurist.  But the math is simple.  In 2014 the Democrats in charge  of the Senate changed the confirmation rules  to allow a simple majority vote to confirm judges and other appointments.  Except, they left the filibuster requiring 60 votes for a Supreme Court nomination. Then we Democrats lost the 2014 election including a huge loss in the Senate. There are now 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and 2 independents (who vote with Democrats).

Fourteen Republicans would have to vote with the Democrats and independents to get the required 60 votes.  There is no chance of fourteen Republicans abandoning their political base and campaign funding sources.

Now you can argue tradition and decorum, but the bottom line is the Senate is not required constitutionally to hold hearings and a vote.  It is simply required to give its “advice and consent”, which it has now done via the Majority Leader exercising his rights under the Senate rules with the full support of the Republican caucus.

44 + 2 = 46, not 60.

So what is the argument really about?  The real issues politicians often fight about are not what they say, but  something else a layer below the outrage.  This is an election year and  politicians perceive the need for issues to raise money from their bases.  This is not about the constitution, Judge Garland, or election results.  It is about money.

But on the merits is Judge Garland a wise pick?

The entire sitting Supreme Court came from four law schools:  Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Columbia.  One could argue just three, as although Justice Ginsburg graduated from Columbia, she spent the bulk of her law school tenure at Harvard. Judge Garland graduated from Harvard.

At times modern political discourse devolves into “diversity” arguments. There are 207 accredited law schools currently in the United States.  How is it diverse to have the highest court in the land made up of graduates of 1.4% of law schools?

Reading the Justice’s biographies after law school a similar geographic concentration leaps out:

  1.  Justices Breyer and Kennedy are originally from California, but have spent much of the last thirty years in Washington, DC.
  2. Justice Thomas originally practiced primarily government law in Missouri, but has now been in Washington, DC for thirty-five years.
  3. All the other Justices have spent the vast bulk of their careers in Boston, the New York City area, or Washington, DC.

Not a single “flyover” Justice.  Not a single politician familiar with the rough and tumble of winning elections and governing.  Very little trial or judicial experience outside the elite federal appellate courts and any such experience decades old.  Judge Garland is more of the same – a government career, a federal appellate judge, Washington, D.C. as his lodestone.

We hear endlessly from President Obama that he is looking for judges with diverse backgrounds who can bring their experiences to the court.  Why not a Westerner or a Southerner?  Why not a real trial lawyer or trial judge out of the state courts?  Why not a Native American?

Using the West as an example.  The biggest issues in most Western states are:  rapid population growth and development; water; D.C. based management of more than fifty percent of Western geography;  and Native American tribes and their rights plus relationships to land, water, and wildlife. Is it too much to ask that one justice of the U.S. Supreme Court have actual knowledge and experience of these issues?

Justice O’Connor, now the favorite conservative of Democrats, had much of this background.  Raised on a dry cattle ranch in Southern Arizona she had first hand experience with water rights and federal land management altering and even destroying ranching.  In Arizona she was a state attorney general, a state trial lawyer and judge, a state appellate judge, and an elected politician.  And even though she was a graduate of Stanford law, she brought a knowledge of the West and politics to critical cases before the Supreme Court.

We have enough Merrick Garlands on the Court.  Let us hope the next president will find enough wisdom to give the “flyovers” one seat on the nation’s highest court.

Notes: History & Middle East; Sanders In The Long Term

16 Mar
by John, posted in author   |  No Comments

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History and the Middle East

I just finished The Fall of the Ottomans by Eugene Rogan, which chronicles the destruction of the Ottoman Turkish Empire in World War I at the hands of the British, French, and Arab forces.  In the context of growing US involvement in the Middle East since 1973, it takes its place in my mind with Tom Segev’s One Palestine Complete (Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate), James Reston, Jr.’s Warriors of God (Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade), The Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, and the New Testament.

It is the same old lesson – Arabs, Kurds, and Persians want to rule themselves.  The current disaster is not a war of “Radical Islam”, but Radical Arab Nationalism and civil war.  From  the Romans, the Crusaders, the Ottoman Turks, the Imperial Powers of Western Europe, to the United States foreign powers have attempted to control Arab, Persian, and Kurdish lands.  And often they mistook the resistance as religious, whether it was Jews in Pilate’s time or Muslims from the 8th century onward.

And those outsiders could hold power with brute force for significant times.  But the inescapable conclusion is that Arabs, Kurds, and Persians do not want foreign rule.  Religion is the easy veneer that allows foreign powers to believe they are fighting against a backward theocracy.  But, in the end foreign intervention fails not because of religion, but the strong desire for self-rule outlasting foreign national occupations.

We do not understand the fight in the Middle East and we are falling into the same multi-millennial mistake of our forefathers. And we just need to stop doing it.  It really is that simple.

shutterstock_164500820Sanders In The Long Term

“The Democratic Party is ideologically bankrupt, they have no ideology.  Their ideology is opportunism.”

“Why should we work within the Democratic Party if we don’t agree with anything the Democratic Party says?”

“It would be hypocritical of me to run as a Democrat because of the things I have said about the party.”  Source.

Sanders has also praised the Castro regime and the Ortega regime in Nicaragua.  Sanders has sought to portray that support as anti-imperialism or discreet support for parts of the communists’ social agenda such as health care.  Source.

But that support has given credibility to regimes that kill and jail political opponents and made Daniel Ortega one of the richest man in Central America.  You cannot praise the Soviet Union for social equality, while overlooking the sixty million dead Soviet citizens killed to create it.

“We can disagree in a democracy, and that is what a democracy is all about, but I hope that we can all agree that we are not going to let billionaires and their super PACs destroy American democracy.”  Source.

Substitute your favorite racial epithet for “billionaires” and you see the same lazy stereotyping that socialists and fascists always use to begin their long march to tyranny.   We know where Sander’s policies lead.  Best case is Great Britain in 1975, a creaking socialist state with three day work weeks, uncompetitive internationally, failing public services, and an empty treasury. Worst case is the country of my birth, Venezuela, in total failure as the result of socialist envy and scapegoating.

If you care about the Democratic Party and a future for your children, you cannot vote for this fraud.  And spare me the talk about Denmark and Sweden. I have had a chance to work in both countries and I have never heard a Swede or a Dane praise Castro, Ortega, or stereotype classes of people.  Danes even under Nazi occupation rejected such stereotyping. They risked their survival to smuggle their Jewish neighbors to safety in Sweden.

Sanders supporters are by and large good and honest people seeking change in a frustrating time in history.  In that way they are similar to Trump supporters.  But a demagogue who stereotypes and preaches hate of groups of his fellow Americans is never the answer. Every person is an individual and they deserve a President who sees them through that lens.