Monthly Archives: May 2018

The Tipping Point


May 29, 2018.

Mark this date on your calendar.  It is the day on which three totally unrelated events (there’s that synchronicity thing again) signaled the first major crack in the tribal totem pole which has characterized the Trump era.

Event #1

Someone much smarter than I am (my daughter) once said to me, stop telling me what you see or hear on MSNBC or CNN.  It’s not news.  Tell me when Fox starts to push back on Donald Trump.  Well, yesterday was the day.  Not once, but THREE times.

During Shepard Smith Reporting, the host debunked Trump’s latest conspiracy theories that Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation is a politically motivated, illegitimate and unlawful witch hunt.

Fox News knows of no evidence to support the president’s claim that lawmakers from both parties say using an informant to investigate suspected ties to Russia is not spying.  It’s part of a normal investigative process.

Congressman Trey Gowdy (R-SC), in an interview with Fox News’ Martha MacCallum echoed Smith’s reporting.

It was President Trump himself who said… ‘I didn’t collude with Russia but if anyone connected with my campaign did, I want the FBI to find that out.’ It looks to me like the FBI was doing what President Trump said, ‘I want you to do, find it out.’…I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got.

And finally, Fox News judicial analyst and a strident Trump supporter Andrew Napolitano, also appearing with MacCallum, added:

The allegations from Mayor Giuliani over the weekend, which would lead us to believe that the Trump people think the FBI had an undercover agent who finagled his way into Trump’s campaign and was there as a spy on the campaign seem to be baseless — there is no evidence for that whatsoever.

Event #2

ABC cancels the #1 rated television show following Roseanne Barr’s blatant racist attack on Twitter referring to  President Barack Obama’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett as an offspring of “the Muslim Brotherhood & Planet of the Apes.”  In ABC’s official announcement, Channing Dungey, president of ABC entertainment, stated:

Roseanne’s Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show. There was only one thing to do here, and that was the right thing.

Even though the current occupant of the oval office has consistently put politics and party before values, it was refreshing to see corporate America say values trump (pun intended) profits.  Ironically, ABC’s decision fell on the same day Starbucks shuttered its 8,000+ U.S. stores for half a day to conduct racial sensitivity training for all its employees.

FOOTNOTE:  Channing Dungey (ABC) and Rosalind Brewer, COO at Starbucks, are both African-American, suggesting the discussions in corporate boardrooms are less likely to be “business as usual” when some of the chairs are occupied by other than white males.

Event #3

Image result for gassamaYesterday, French president Emmanuel Macron promised to bestow citizenship on Mali immigrant Mamoudou Gassama.  Gassama, now nicknamed “Spiderman,” became a social media sensation when he climbed the outside of an apartment building to save a four year-old child who was dangling from a fourth floor balcony.  Additionally, Gassama was offered a job with the Paris fire department.

In contrast, Trump geared up for the 2018 mid-term elections at a Nashville rally for Republican Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn by focusing on immigrants he claims are not human beings, “but use glaring loopholes in our immigration laws to infiltrate our country to rape, murder and cut people into little pieces.”  He also blamed the administration’s policy that separates children from parents seeking asylum in the United States on congressional Democrats despite the “zero tolerance” approach announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  “If you are smuggling a child then we will prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you as required by law.”

So why should we view May 29 as a tipping point.  Because the choice we face is NOT whether we support Donald Trump or not.  It is whether we support values which no longer tolerate dishonesty and bigotry.  Yesterday, we witnessed three instances where Americans and one world leader made the right choice.  And I’m willing to bet these journalists, corporate leaders and political figures slept better last night for having made that decision.  From their respective positions of power and influence, each suggested a new rallying cry, “Mr. Trump, as they say south of the border, BASTA,  BASTA!”

For what it’s worth.


In the Publix Interest


Demonstrators lie on the floor at a Publix Supermarket in Coral Springs, Fla., Friday, May 25, 2018.Friday evening, in a last-ditch effort to save its Memorial Day weekend profits, Publix, “one of the 10 largest-volume supermarket chains in the country,”  announced it would no longer make contributions to the campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam.  The news came minutes before a scheduled “die-in” organized by David Hogg, a survivor of last February’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.  Publix’s alliance with Putnam was targeted based on his bragging about being a proud “NRA sellout” (his words).  Congratulations to the Parkland students and their peers around the country who have kept their word they will not go away.

But that’s not what I came here to talk with you about.  The media coverage associated with the student protest uncovered just one more glaring example of a much larger issue in our body politic.  Publix is not supporting Adam Putnam for Florida governor because he is a Second Amendment zealot even though the chain allows employees and customers with concealed carry permits to bring firearms into their stores.  (That’s why one should never take the last artichoke in the produce section.) The real reason?  Since 2010, Putnam has been the state’s elected Agriculture Commissioner.  Among its constitutional duties, the office of the Agriculture Commission is in charge of (drum roll) regulating grocery outlets.

In a 2016 report by WFTS-TV in Tampa,  the station identified seven Publix facilities which had failed health inspections.   The day after Channel 28 aired the story, Putnam had the information deleted from the department’s website.  According to an article in yesterday’s Miami Herald, this was not the end of the Commission’s Publix-friendly actions.

Months later, a friendlier new system was put in action. Now, thanks to Putnam, if a storage room at a Publix is found freckled with rat droppings, the worst rating the store can receive is “re-inspection required.”   (Source:  “Putnam keeps his deep-pocketed friends happy,”  Miami Herald, May 25, 2018)

In the past three years, Publix has contributed in access of $670,000 directly to Putnam’s campaigns as well as an untold sum to business organizations which are Putnam’s financial backers.  I point this out as only one example to show why these unholy alliances should have been used as evidence to pinpoint the major flaw when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizens United, the single most significant event which un-leveled the political playing field.   In the most “liberal” spin of Constitutional language by so-called conservative, strict constructionists, the 5-4 majority claimed corporations have the same rights as individuals when it comes to influencing political discourse.  To do otherwise, would be a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of expression.

But here’s the difference.  Suppose I, as an individual, donate not just thousands, but millions of dollars to every candidate who supports net neutrality because, as a blogger, I want to ensure readers have equal access to my “profound wisdom.”  And all the candidates I support win and, on day one of the next Congress, overturn the recent FCC regulations related to this issue.  Yes, I benefit.  But so does every other blogger and, more importantly, EVERY other company regardless of industry which is dependent of reaching its customers via the Internet.  In classic economics, this is what we used to call a public good.  Those who chose not to financially support the cause get the same benefit as those who did.

In contrast, a private, for-profit corporation making an equally large donation to candidates who promise to protect the FCC ruling do so in anticipation of a private benefit.  Internet service providers (ISP), such as Comcast and Verizon, if successful have surely calculated the return on investment if their campaign donations produce the desired outcome.

Furthermore, when I donate to a political campaign it comes out of my personal funds.  And the opportunity cost likewise is personal.  I may forego a vacation or a new smart phone.  Equally important, my choice is tempered by my ability to convince other stakeholders.  Imagine the following conversation.

ME: Honey, instead of that cruise we were going to take for our anniversary, what would you think if I gave the money to support candidates who favor reinstating net neutrality?

SPOUSE:  What would you think about sleeping on the living room couch?

In contrast, private corporations will argue they are making a similar choice.  Corporate donations are usually handled through a political action committee (PAC) which raises money from what is known as a “restricted class.”  For PACs associated with for-profit business, this designation is generally limited to mangers and stockholders.  The extent to which these individuals contribute to a given PAC often depends on the size of one’s salary or the share value of the company’s stock, both dependent on (drum roll) customers.  Customers who have no say or are unaware their purchases are supporting not only the business’ bottom line, but indirectly underwriting a political agenda which may be contrary to their self-interests (e.g. in the case of Publix and Adam Putnam, food safety).

But we are not helpless as proven again by the Parkland students.  If the Supreme Court, by its actions, is more interested in the Publix interest than the public’s interest, all it takes is an industrious high school student to remind us the preamble of the U.S. Constitution begins with the words, “WE THE PEOPLE.”  Now that’s something to “die-in” for.

For what it’s worth.


There’s No Business…


Image result for whartonI have never spent a day in a classroom in the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, but based on the behavior of one of its undergraduates, there is only one of two possibilities.  The faculty of this prestigious institution does not understand the foundations of successful enterprises (which I doubt) or this alumnus did not pay attention to his professors or the course content.

During my nine years as a professor in the Richard T. Farmer School of Business at Miami University, I would continuously tell my students, “You can forget everything I have every said in class except this.  Business is about relationships, not transactions.”  And the example I would use was one not from my own experience, but one shared by a former associate of Ewing Kauffman when he worked for Mr. K at Marion Laboratories.

Upon returning from a sales trip to England, this Marion representative boasted how he had cut a more profitable deal with a new British customer than that available to other clientele.  Mr. K was outraged.  He asked the sales representative whether he thought the new customer would eventually find out they were treated differently than other retailers of Marion products.  And when that happened, would you expect them to place additional orders.  Mr. K told the associate to get back on the plane, meet with the client, apologize for trying to take advantage of them and renegotiate the deal.  Mr. K’s message?  You may have made a sale, but you did not make a customer.

Which brings me back to that Wharton graduate who promised us he would run government like a business.  This morning, Richard Haass, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, used similar language when asked about the cancelled June 12 summit between the the heads of state of the United States and North Korea.  Donald Trump’s off-the-cuff invitation to meet with Kim Jung Un was not about building a relationship with the North Korean leader.  It was a transaction designed to get an affair with a porn star off the front page.  But Haass went on to say, even if the original purpose, to change the media narrative, was questionable, it was an opportunity if done right.  And a real businessman would have seized the moment to lay the foundation for a win/win situation for both parties.

What we learned yesterday is Trump’s promise to run government like a business is one of his few honest statements uttered during the 2016 campaign.  With one very important exception.  His business model is not a traditional one which has served many entrepreneurs and corporate executives well, but his own unique brand of business where maximizing personal profits from each transaction takes precedence over the long-term benefits which might accrue when both sides agree it is in their mutual interests to continue working together.

Here are just two examples.  The Trump Organization is notorious for stiffing sub-contractors.  Which is more likely to increase the company’s bottom line over time?  The savings from non-payment of a single contract?  Or a relationship in which the subcontractor discounts EVERY contract because the Trump Organization is a reliable source of future revenues?

The second example, of course,  is Trump University.  Do you think anyone in the Trump Organization expected repeat customers or referrals from those who had laid out as much as $35,000 for a slipshod curriculum from unqualified instructors  and a photograph with a cardboard mannequin of Trump?  The entire scam was based on the premise, “Get their money and move on to the next sucker.”

In the case of North Korea, the now Public Trump Organization (which ironically appears to generate more profits than it private sector incarnation) made no pretense of repeating their pre-inaugural behavior.  It dispatched National Security Advisor John Bolton and Vice President Mike Pence to suggest a good outcome in North Korea would be based on “the Libyan model.”  If true, unlike Trump business transactions where subcontractors got stiffed by being shortchanged, Kim too would eventually be stiffed, as in rigor mortis.  In the spirit of recent analogies of the Trump Organization to a mafia family, this was an offer Kim COULD refuse.

We should not be surprised.  To paraphrase Ethel Merman, there’s no business like Trump business.  So, let’s go on with the show.

For what it’s worth.


I Hate When I’m Wrong


In 2014, I was watching the University of Virginia (my alma mater) win its first NCAA tournament game under current coach Tony Bennett.  In the post game interview Bennett opened by thanking “his lord and savior Jesus Christ” after which I wrote to UVA president Teresa Sullivan and suggested the institution’s founder and author of the Virginia statutes on religious freedom Thomas Jefferson might be appalled a representative of his university would use this occasion to publicly profess his spiritual preference.  After all, Jefferson often wrote, no individual regardless of position or spiritual inclination should ever use a public platform to openly profess their devoutness.  That is why we have churches, synagogues and mosques.

At a more practical level, I found it hard to believe, if there is a God, he or she really cares about sports and who wins or loses a game (Notre Dame football aside).  That is, until Sunday night when the Las Vegas Golden Knights, a first year expansion ice hockey franchise, defeated the Winnipeg Jets to advance to the Stanley Cup finals.

Image result for las vegas golden knightsJust days before Sin City’s first ever professional sports contest on October 6, 2017, Vegas was shocked by the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest music festival which resulted in 58 deaths and over 850 injured.  If ever a city needed a rallying point, this was that case.  And it began five days later when the Golden Knights opened the season with a win over the Dallas Stars before a sellout crowd of 18,542.  A fluke?  Hardly, as the team went on to capture its next two games.  After every win, sports pundits opined, “Are the Golden Knights for real?  Surely, this can’t go on much longer.”  But as we witnessed Sunday night, the story continues.

Now, I’m not prepared to completely reverse my view on divine providence based on a sample of one, but there was a similar situation in 2009.  Four years earlier, the City of New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, sustaining over $100 billion in damages.  Among the impacted facilities was the New Orleans Super Dome, home to the NFL Saints, forcing the team to play it’s 2005 home games at LSU and the San Antonio Alamo Dome.  Many thought the Saints would not return to New Orleans due to cost of refitting the Super Dome.  With an uncertain future, the 2007 and 2008 seasons were lackluster with an overall record of 15-16 and no post season appearances.  There was no reason to believe the 2009 season would be any different.  Except the Saints players thought it was time to give the citizens of The Big Easy something to cheer about.  Dedicating their season to all those affected by Katrina, the Saints won their first Super Bowl championship by defeating the Indianapolis Colts 31-17.

So maybe there is occasional divine intervention in the world of sports.  That’s why I am a devout agnostic and not a confirmed atheist.  Who knows?  But if this is the case, let me make one final observation.  The Jacksonville area had not been subjected to a truly damaging hurricane since Dora in 1964.  In 2016 and 2017, the region had two close calls (Matthew and Irma).  And coincidentally(?), in 2017 the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars had their first winning season in ten years and made it to the AFC championship game.  Not a Super Bowl winning year, but close.  So, if it takes a direct hit from a category 5 hurricane for the Jaguars to win the NFL title, I’m okay waiting a few more years to see Jaguars wearing a Super Bowl ring.

FOOTNOTE:  After the University of Virginia became the first #1 seed in NCAA tournament history to lose in the first round to #16 seed UMBC, I don’t remember coach Bennett thanking his lord and savior for that outcome.  I guess fair-weather fans exist not only in stadiums, arenas and ballparks.

For what it’s worth.


Let My People Go



I have a friend Chuck Fluharty who founded the Rural Policy Research Institute at the University of Missouri.  Among his many insightful observations was the reason for the lack of political support for programs which would support the viability of rural communities.  Simple!  Politicians follow the Willie Sutton rule .  Except, instead of going where the money is, you go where the voters are.  And as rural populations declined, the needs of those left behind received less and less attention.

Chuck also had a solution, a coalition between primarily white rural residents and their mostly minority counterparts in urban centers.  As Tevye would say, “Sounds crazy?  No?”  To sell this concept, Chuck pointed out these two diverse segments of American society had a lot in common.  Residents paid more for goods and services than suburbanites because big box and discount stores preferred to locate in proximity to dense, affluent neighborhoods.  The landscapes in rural and urban America were both littered with abandoned, shuttered and deteriorating residential and commercial structures.  Less health care and higher mortality rates.  Increased drug use.  An exodus of younger residents.

I thought about Chuck this morning on the occasion of the relocation of the United States Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.  Donald Trump has employed Fluharty-like logic to sell today’s transfer of the seat of U.S. diplomacy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Surely, Trump’s Jewish donors such as gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson and Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus believe they made a good investment.  But so have televangelists such as Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas.

Related imageWant proof?  I guess there were no available rabbis in Israel to give the opening prayer at the dedication of the embassy; so Trump turned to his friend and supporter Pastor Jeffress, who in 2012 declared that the only litmus test for voting was whether the candidate was “a Christian.”  (I do wish Jeffress would spend as much time reading the Constitution as he does the Bible.)  Even if you believe Trump when he says taking the issue of the embassy off the table will help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is hard to imagine Jeffress’ teachings can promote reconciliation.  Take his own words, PLEASE.

Not only do religions like Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism–not only do they lead people away from God, they lead people to an eternity of separation from God in Hell. (2010 lecture series)

Much of what you see in the Catholic Church today doesn’t come from God’s word. It comes from that cult-like, pagan religion. (Rally in Houston, Texas, October 2011)

And here is the deep, dark, dirty secret of Islam: It is a religion that promotes pedophilia – sex with children. (Ask the Pastor, September 2010)

As if that was not enough of a slap in the face, the benediction will be given by Pastor John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel.  Yes, the same John Hagee, who suggested in a 1990 sermon, Hitler was only fulfilling the biblical prophecy by facilitating the return of Jews to Israel, a precursor to the Second Coming.

God says in Jeremiah 16: ‘Behold, I will bring them the Jewish people again unto their land that I gave to their fathers. … Behold, I will send for many fishers, and after will I send for many hunters.  And they the hunters shall hunt them.’ That would be the Jews. … Then God sent a hunter. A hunter is someone who comes with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter.

The selection of Jeffress and Hagee sends a clear message.  Relocation of the embassy is less about solidifying Jewish support for his 2020 re-election bid and more about Trump’s willingness to cater to evangelical hopes for the end of times and the rapture.  Remember what I said about politicians being like bank robbers.  In 2016, white evangelical Protestants who make up 20 percent of the voting population supported Trump by a margin of 66-17 percent.  In contrast, Jewish voters favored Hillary Clinton 69-27 and total less than six percent of all voters.  You do the math.

To be fair, Trump and his evangelical followers are not the only ones raising eyebrows.  Is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu so weak or so beholden to Trump he could not have said, “You know, maybe we should have a rabbi give the opening prayer at the dedication of a new embassy for the JEWISH state?” Where is the voice of reason?  Maybe, the Mormons are right.  On this day, we turn to Salt Lake City for a truly inspirational moment.

Robert Jeffress says “you can’t be saved by being a Jew,“ and “Mormonism is a heresy from the pit of hell.” He’s said the same about Islam. Such a religious bigot should not be giving the prayer that opens the United States Embassy in Jerusalem.  (Tweet, @MittRomney, May 14, 2018)

Thanks, Mitt.  Hopefully, you will keep this in mind if and when you become the junior senator from Utah.

POSTSCRIPT:  Just in case you’re wondering exactly when to expect the apocalypse, I’m betting on June 8, 2018, the release date for the sixth entry in the Jurassic Park franchise.  Fore, as it is told in the prophecies, on that date we shall all bear witness to the VelociRapture.

For what it’s worth.