Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Healthcare in America

12 Lead ECG EKG showing ST Elevation (STEMI), ...Image via Wikipedia

Healthcare in America is a convoluted and complex subject. There are many facets, factions and special interest groups representing many different points of view. Some would have you believe that any material change to our present system will result in the end of the republic. Others posit that radical change is the only socially conscious choice. Still others including the administration seek a middle ground that keeps the insurance companies honest and provides coverage options for all Americans.

With over forty-five million American citizens uninsured and many more under insured, it seems apparent to me that the system we have now is failing a large segment of the population. During the campaign both candidates postulated when asked that health care and education were fundamental rights. That said it seems apparent that they should both be within reach of every citizen regardless of their economic status.

One of the fallacies that negate the benefit of capitalism is the introduction of false moral choices brought about by greed and corruption. Typically, these choices are cloaked as conservative principals like deregulation, free and fair competition, ideology driven by PAC contributions and a greed is good mentality. The mantra is that all the profits generated by an unrestrained and unregulated capitalist system will trickle down to the less fortunate through the largesse of the conservative illuminati. Meaning that if we just wait the uninsured among us will eventually have medical insurance bestowed on them by some generous benefactor yet unknown to them.

As long as we have, a congress and senate filled with professional politicians meaningful change will be hard to come by. With long tenure comes an attitude that longevity in office and self-gain outweigh their fiduciary responsibility to their constituents. They will pander to the insurance companies and ignore the fact that their own medical coverage is a privilege obtained by virtue of the office to which their citizen constituents elected them.

Those who would see the advent of socialized medicine are just as wrong on the other side of the equation. Something for nothing never produces a high quality something. A system devoid of profit is a system devoid of incentive. Insurance companies, doctors, hospitals and other health care providers deserve a return on investment. There needs to be an incentive for research and development of new medicines and medical procedures. Our goal should be the highest possible quality at a fair and equitable cost, which produces a fair and incentivizing profit.

Zig Ziglar is known for saying “if you help enough other people get what they want, you will get what you want.” Zig is a well-known and respected salesperson, sales trainer and motivational speaker. That quote is usually related to the sales effort but it is just as apropos in this situation. If we as a nation solve the healthcare dilemma facing us before it becomes a budget-busting conundrum incapable of being solved, the benefit accrues to us all.

Knowing that a true change of heart in our political leadership that leads to a fundamental paradigm shift is unlikely, what we have left is a popular demand for thoughtful compromise. We should insist that some kind of basic and catastrophic medical coverage be available to all people, even the homeless indigent. We should expect and insist that preexisting conditions be covered by every insurance company without exception. We should demand that the patient in conjunction with the doctor make decisions about tests, treatments, medical procedures and medications, free from any constraint or review by the insurance company.

Additionally, all hospitals, urgent care facilities, labs, and medical providers should be mandated to produce itemized plain language bills for patients to sign off. There is far too much fraud institutionalized in the healthcare system. It is rampant in the billing practices of a majority of medical providers. Also, we should accept and expect some limited tort reform regarding malpractice lawsuits. In cases of egregious negligence, legal remedies are necessary and appropriate. In cases of honest or simple mistake, damages should be limited to the actual damage and punitive damages forgone.

Any country as capable, inventive, courageous and as intellectually gifted as the United States should be able to reform healthcare to the benefit of all the stakeholders. In the process, the life we save might be the one of the little girl who someday cures aids, or the little boy who grows up and cures cancer. It is not only our collective present but also our collective future that we are trying to improve. Someday we will all be judged by our contributions to humanity. Our net worth will not be a function of dollars and cents but rather kindness and consideration for others.

This is an issue of vital interest to every American. The healthcare of your children and other loved ones is at stake. You cannot afford to sit back and let the politicians and insurance companies decide this one. Time is limited, the special interest want some minor reforms quickly so they can get this issue off the table and out of the public eye. Make you opinion known. Call, email and write your state and national representatives and tell them what you want them to do about healthcare. It is your right and responsibility to direct your elected representatives in the performance of their duties. Remember the government you get is the government you deserve.
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Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Christmas Truck

The Christmas truckImage by -Mandie- via Flickr

It was cold in the cab. Too much heat would make him drowsy. Better to be a little cold and more alert. There was ice in the low spots and on the curves. Places where the afternoon sun had not been able to reach were slick and treacherous. Occasionally the trailer would swerve and slip on the ice patches threatening disaster but the need to get home was all-consuming, so he pressed on.

He had been gone six months and was driving the last five miles. She had moved while he was gone. For the first time she could stay home with the children rather then work two jobs just to make ends meet. Trucking was lonely and hard work. The hours were long and irregular but the pay was good and the work was steady.

The children, two boys and a girl missed their dad but not the neighborhood they had left. He talked to them everyday on the phone and was bringing a new computer among other presents so they could email each other. The sleeper was stuffed with presents and a young Cocker Spaniel rode shotgun. The puppy would be hard to part with but he looked forward to the children’s reaction to the long awaited pet.

During the last six months he had wanted to quit almost everyday. The driving was ok and the scenery was nice but he missed his family. It was a constant struggle to suppress his need for the companionship of his wife and the joy of being with his children. He consoled himself with the thought that real love is what you do for others and not what you want or need from them. He had a family to support and their safety, comfort and lifestyle were his responsibility.

He was starting to worry about finding the place. It was on a lonely rural route, a high centered country road with deep ditches on both sides. She said the house was a quarter mile off the road in the trees and hard to see. The only landmark was an old 1946 Ford pickup sitting in the field next to the driveway. In the dark, he was afraid he would be past it before he really saw it. There was no telling how easy it might be to back up or turn around this eighty-foot rig. She said she would put a sign up that he could not miss as long as he was looking. Slowing down he started peering intently into the dark in front of his lights anxious for proof that this trip was over and he was home.

Coming around a curve he first saw a huge red stain on the snow, then a car in the ditch with a deer lying across the hood. One headlight pointed brokenly high into the trees and the taillights gave warning to all who approached from the rear. Down shifting, he braked to a stop and turned on his flashers. Setting his brakes and climbing down from the cab he ran back to the vehicle, to see if anyone needed help. Sitting in the driver’s seat was an older man looking a little dazed and confused. He had a trickle of blood running from his brow that he wiped with a cloth as he said “it came jumping out of the woods right into my way!”

Are you OK? Can you get out and stand; he asked the man. Saying yes to both, the fellow got out of the vehicle and leaned on the side of his car. I was going to my sister’s house for the holidays; it’s just up the road a few miles. Do you think you could give me a lift? Of course, he replied. I am on my way home and if we pass my place first, we can stop to change vehicles and let you freshen up a bit.

As he helped the old fellow up into the cab, he explained that he had been away when his family moved out here and he was not sure he would recognize his new home. He said, “The wife said there is an old truck in the field next to the drive and that she would put a sign out.” Keep an eye out on your side and I’ll watch out over here, if you don’t mind. No, no not at all what kind of truck, he asked. She said an old 46 Ford but in the dark, any old truck will be worth checking out. So, what’s your story? That is if you don’t mind me asking, he inquired of the passenger.

Well my sister lives out here and her husband just left her alone with three children. I am not all that well off myself. That car is the only thing of value that I have besides my home. Anyhow, I was hoping she and the children would come home with me for the holidays. I thought maybe we could get a small tree out here somewhere and have a family Christmas at my place. I cannot afford presents and a big fancy meal but I love her and my nephews and niece very much and wanted to try to help the best I could. I guess with my car in the ditch and needing repair I’ll be spending Christmas with them instead.

Well I am sure that your just being there will cheer them up and make this Christmas special he said. Yes, I’m sure you’re right; I just hope the children aren’t too disappointed. Sometimes when you’re young, it’s a little difficult to see past Santa Clause, reindeer and presents. Driving slowly on in silence the driver thought about the man's niece and nephews and what a bleak Christmas they were going to have. It’s sad, he thought, but what are you going to do? You can’t change the world he thought, you just have to take care of your own and hope for the best, for the rest. Suddenly up ahead he saw a multi colored glow on the snow peaking out from the next curve. Slowing even more he down shifted around the curve.

Up ahead on the right was the sign he had been looking for! It was the 46 Ford decorated with Christmas lights shining brightly in the dark. The truck was a beautiful beacon of love and a promise of the peace, joy and security he would find in his home. Laughing aloud he swung left and prepared to turn into the drive as heard his passenger gasp. Looking over he saw the look of amazement on his face and some tears trickling down his cheeks.
He knew then that in a little while, after dropping the trailer, feeding his passenger and talking to his wife that most of these toys would still be in the tractor when he took the old fellow to his sisters. There would be extra food and he would take the family along too. As his heart swelled with love and joy, he knew that this was going to be the best Christmas ever.
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What can we do to rid the world of terrorism?

World ReligionsImage by nataliesap via Flickr

I originally wrote this in 2007. Though dated the gist of this article is still pertinent. While our own recent elections and the strife currently ongoing in Iran have marginalized the extremist; they have not provided any guarantee that a world wide catastrophe could not be precipitated by a fundamentalist faction from either side of this divisive geo-political issue.

This question has been posed by no less then the President of India, to the entire world via Yahoo. The simplistic answer was given by Rodney King when he asked “can’t we all just get along”? That simple question contains both the answer and a profound glimpse of the reason we will never get rid of not only terrorism but also war, genocide, rape, pedophilia, bullies, gang fights, internecine religious struggles, anger management classes and the people who need them. We cannot just get along.

Humans are competitive by nature and have an insatiable need to validate themselves by winning at everything. From games to conversation, we strive to come out on top. Parents playing with young children often would rather win time after time at their children’s expense, rather then let the little one experience winning. We harbor the hope if not the belief that we are smarter then everyone, even when we really know we are not. How often have you seen someone or have you yourself clung to a position you were not comfortable with because to agree with someone else is to lose.

All Christians, Jews, Muslims, and agnostics (when in extremis) believe that God is on their side. We have a plethora of religions and only one God, but we keep killing each other over whom he likes best. As a species we prefer to concentrate on which religion is the true religion instead of on how we might be of service to our fellow man and leaving the education of the unenlightened up to God. We are so convinced that we know the mind of God that we would rather force-feed it to the rest of the world then just love them for who they are.

Look at Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, president of Iran. He recently told the UN that and I quote “People driven by their divine nature, intrinsically seek good, virtue, perfection and beauty.” He then went on to say, “Relying on our people, we can take giant steps toward reform and pave the road for human perfection. Whether we like it or not, justice, peace, and virtue will sooner or later prevail in the world with the will of almighty God.”

Human perfection, whether we like it or not, imposed by a beneficent and omnipotent God, along with justice, peace and virtue, is not a new concept. It has been present in all three of the great monotheisms throughout history. It comes from the complete and utter certainty of those who say they have seen the face of God and use the books of all three faiths (the Koran, the Bible and the Torah) to justify their views.

In today’s unnerving, globalizing, sometimes terrifying world, such religious certainty is more in demand then ever. Muslims are not the only faithful who teach submission to divinely inspired authority. The new Pope, despite his criticism of extremist religion and religious violence, represents a return to a more authoritarian form of Catholicism. In the Catholic, triad of how we discern truth- a dialogue between papal authority, scriptural guidance and the experience of the faithful- Benedict XVI has tilted the balance back towards his own unanswerable truth.

In his recent remarks on Islam, he made it clear that if your conscience tells you something different from his teaching it is not only a false conscience but also sinful thought. A conscience that reaches different conclusions is not a sign of personal integrity but rather a wayward soul lost in confusion.

Protestant Christianity, especially in the U.S. is becoming more and more certain and uncompromising in its views. The churches, which teach absolute adherence to inerrant scripture, are becoming megalithic congregations and other more moderate views are in decline. This sense of certainty is nowhere more obvious and dangerous then in democratic politics. We have a proudly born again, President who is more certain then most about what God expects from him. His mistakes in Iraq cannot be disentangled, from his religious views. He has written, “My faith frees me, frees me to make decisions others might not like. Frees me to do the right thing even though it might not poll well. Frees me to enjoy life and not worry about what comes next.” He is certain beyond any doubt that he knows the mind of God and is led in all his actions by Gods counsel.

So here, we are in a world of thermonuclear weapons with fundamentalist zealots on both sides returning to the rhetoric of the sixteenth century when Muslims and Christians neither asked for nor granted any quarter to each other. See the problem.

Religious absolutism by definition belittles and demeans God in my opinion. By virtue of the fact that he is God there is something unknowable about Him that surpasses our ability to understand. Not entirely, we have scripture, we have revelation, we have religious authority and finally we have our own spiritual experience of the divine, but there is also that which we cannot grasp. There is that part of God beyond our human understanding that makes God, God, and that without it He would not be God.

To get rid of terrorism, strife and inter-human struggles like war we all have to give up the notion that we know the only truth. We have to give up the notion that in knowing it we are endowed with a moral authority over our fellow humans. We have to learn to ignore the minutia of religious belief that entitles us to feel superior to others and concentrate on the wider application of brotherly love taught by all religions. We will have to suppress our egos and surrender our prejudices so that we might be able to ask first how may I be of service to my fellow man, not how may I convert him.

If we ever get to the point where we are willing to try to ease the burden of our neighbors regardless of the weight of our own burden we might just learn to get along with each other. We would do better to follow the examples of people like Mother Theresa, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Jesus Christ, all of whom rejected violence and put service to others first. I hope that we find a way.
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The Old Guard

Tomb of the Unknown SoldierImage by K. Sawyer via Flickr

This is a letter to one of my sisters about the Old Guard unit from the Army’s 3rd Infantry Brigade stationed at Fort Meyer in Arlington, Virginia. The Old Guard is charged and privileged with the ceremonial duties at Arlington National Cemetery. They also provide security at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The letter speaks for its self.


The Old Guard is indeed steeped in tradition and honor. As a child and young teenager, there were times when I almost lived in Arlington Cemetery.

There are some inaccuracies in this email. There is no barracks under the Tomb, only a ready room. There is no lifetime Prohibition against drinking and swearing. Behavior that reflects poorly on the unit is punished.

I have stood and watched these men walk their post at all hours of the day and night. I have seen them march in the pouring rain and bitter cold. It is amazing to see them continue to march in heavy snowfall or during an ice storm.

I have also partied with some of them and am struck, by the fact that they are ordinary men doing an extraordinary thing. It brings honor to them and to those they guard who are the real hero's.

I often used to wonder if the relatives of any of the unknown had ever stood in front of the Tomb absorbing the pageantry and ethos of the place, missing their loved ones and wondering where they were laid to rest. Of course, they have.

Their final resting place is not in the tomb or in some foreign field. It is in the hearts and minds of those they loved and died for. It is in the hearts and minds of anyone whoever had the privilege of standing in front of the Tomb of the Unknowns and reflecting on the sacrifice of those interred there and throughout the grounds.

There is another Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington that most people never see. It looks remarkably like the one that is guarded around the clock. A little southwest of the Mansion's front door, it was the first grave in the cemetery placed there to prevent the Lee family from re-inhabiting the house after the Civil War.

If memory serves and it does, there are just over two thousand men interred in this vault a little smaller then the one well known. They were recovered from the battles of Bull Run after the war. I was always amazed that in this grave were both Union and Confederate troops. Likely, some were related even if on different sides of the conflict.

They all thought God was on their side and died for what were no doubt, deeply held beliefs. Or maybe some were just swept up in the events of the day and died just trying to survive without really understanding the issues that brought them to war. Unwilling hero's led to untimely deaths by the failure of their leaders to resolve their differences short of a war they could have avoided.

I do not get war. Living so close to Arlington and spending so much time there really played a huge part in my feelings about a lot of things. It was a wonderful place to watch people. The tourists going through Arlington House or Lee's Mansion were always somber and respectful. The mourners in their grief were soulful, sad and despondent. The soldier's at their duty and even the grounds people digging and filling graves and beautifying the grounds added to the majesty and mystery of a place that epitomizes the futility of war.

To them a nine-year-old boy on a bike was invisible. To me it was a place of incredible pageantry and a kaleidoscope of human interaction and emotion. It was a place to escape to and spend a soft summer day or night reading or just observing nature, human and natural.

It is a place where any leader contemplating war as a solution should spend enough time to soak up some understanding of the consequences. It a place of not only peace and tranquility but shattered lives and dreams. It is a place of orphans and widows, of futility and despair. It is a place of courage and grace, of heroics and hero's. It is a place of questions and if one listens carefully, of answers in the heart.

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Saturday, June 20, 2009

Christian One Liners

Mary Magdalene, in a dramatic 19th-century pop...Image via Wikipedia

Do not let your worries get the best of you, remember, Moses started out as a basket case.

Some people are kind, polite, and sweet-spirited until you try to sit in their pews.

Many folks want to serve God, but only as advisors.

It is easier to preach ten sermons than it is to live one.

The good Lord did not create anything without a purpose, but mosquitoes come close.

When you get to your wit's end, you will find God lives there.

People are funny; they want the front of the bus, the middle of the road, and the back of the church.

Opportunity may knock once, but temptation bangs on your front door forever.

Quit griping about your church, if it was perfect, you could not belong.

If the church wants a better pastor, it only needs to pray for the one it has.

God Himself does not proposeto judge a man until he is dead. So why should you?

Some minds are like concrete thoroughly mixed up and permanently set.

Peace, starts with a smile.

I do not know why some people change churches; what difference does it make which one you stay home from?

Many church members who are singing "Standing on the Promises" are just sitting on the premises.

We were called to be witnesses, not lawyers or judges.

Be ye fishers of men. You catch them - He will clean them.

Coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous.

Do not put a question mark where God put a period.

Do not wait for six strong men to take you to church.

Forbidden fruits create many jams.

God does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called.

God grades on the cross, not the curve.

God loves everyone, but probably prefers"fruits of the spirit" over "religious nuts!"

God promises a safe landing, not a calm passage.

He, who angers you, controls you!

If God is your Co-pilot - swap seats!

Prayer: Do not give God instructions -- just report for duty!

The task ahead of us is never as great as the Power behind us

The Will of God never takes you to where the Grace of God will not protect you.

We do not change the message the message changes us.

You can tell how big a person is by what it takes to..........discourage him.

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G M Bankruptcy

WASHINGTON - JUNE 06:  General Motors CEO Rick...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Well, General Motors has achieved another milestone on its way back to the future. The black hole of arrogance, greed and cowardice has pulled the once iconic American company into the bankruptcy abyss. As a former Chevrolet dealership general and executive manager, I have some insight based on that experience. The future of GM is hard to prognosticate. However, if history is any indicator, this company has little chance at long-term viability if they do not seize this opportunity and start over with a clean sheet of paper.

During WW II, a gentleman named W Edward Deming Ph. D., helped American manufactures transition from peacetime production of their products to a wartime footing. Production of the material and equipment needed to fight the war was critical and Dr Deming’s contribution helped the transition. It is a well-known and documented story that prominently features Rosie the Riveter but not Dr. Deming. In fact, though he was instrumental in transforming the industrial production capability during the war and instituted quality control concepts that ensured the armed services got high quality material with which to wage the war, he was little known in the US.

After the war, the demand for American products increased dramatically. Efforts at quality control were sacrificed on the alter of higher volume and profit. Managerial focus drifted toward short term results as opposed to long-term viability. With the stock price driving everything, poor quality control and management was inevitable. Then Dr Deming was called to Japan.

He went over in 1947 to assist in preparing for the Japanese census that was to take place in 1951. The Japanese Union of Scientist and Engineers invited him to teach them statistical process control and concepts of quality. He willingly complied and in the summer of 1950 lectured extensively on these subjects. His message was simple. Constant quality improvement will reduce cost, improve productivity and market share. The Japanese took his message to heart and commenced to create a huge demand for their products over the following decades. American manufacturers were not listening, including the big three automakers.

There are two stories that exemplify our refusal to embrace quality. One is about a picture I saw in a book about Deming in the early seventies when I first started selling vehicles. The title and author escape me but the picture is indelibly imprinted in my memory. In the picture, Deming is holding the piston of a Mitsubishi truck in one hand and the piston of an American truck in the other. The caption quotes his saying that one is a finely crafted piece of precision steel and the other looks like the jawbone of an ass.

The other story is about Ford Motor Company’s solicitation of Dr Deming’s help. Finally, in 1981 while their sales were falling precipitously they turned to him for assistance. The company lost some three billion dollars between 1979 and 1982. By 1986, their profits had exceeded General Motors and the change in the management culture and new emphasis on quality was attributed to Dr Deming.
He stressed that better management techniques along with quality improvement were necessary to restore long-term viability. His philosophy and teachings are widely available if not widely accepted in this country. I recommend them to GM’s new board of directors, the auto advisory council appointed by President Obama and the management of GM.

This final restructuring of all the restructurings GM has been through will be extremely painful for a myriad of people. The terminated employees of both GM and its affected vendors and their family’s will pay a heavy price. Stockholders and bondholders stand to lose their investments. Dealers and their employees, vendors and the communities they serve will suffer as much as anyone will. Those needing assistance through this transition will be turning to state and local agencies that are struggling with increased demand for their services and reduced revenues.

Government intervention is a seemingly two-edged sword. If it works all the naysayers will be denying they ever thought it would fail. If it does not work, the current recession will look like a kindergarten tea party compared to the catastrophic financial consequences to follow. As it is, interest rates are likely to increase at least for the short term based on investor caution created by the way the bondholders were placed behind the unions in this case. Changing the rules midstream does nothing for investor confidence and until the results are in, they will be cautious.

I hope that the management will take advantage of this opportunity to completely reinvent GM in a progressive and well thought out manner. There are numerous product strategies, distribution-channeling strategies, marketing strategies and long-term opportunities created by the negation of unbearable legacy cost. If they come out of this with the same old mindset, they are doomed to failure.

The old GM failed because it was poorly managed for a long time. The new GM needs to learn from that history and embrace a management style that values long-term gain over short-term stock performance. They need to make partners of their employees, vendors and potential customers. They need to embrace quality as never before. They can do it. We want them to do it. No one in his or her right mind wants this chance to recreate GM to fail. We will be watching and hoping that the management team just does it.

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Term Limits Would Give the Government Back To the People

Philadelphia - Old City: Second Bank Portrait ...Image by wallyg via Flickr

First, let me say that I am in favor of term limits for all elected officials, particularly our senators and congressional representatives. Term Limits are the only way to prevent the creation of a class of professional politician more interested in reelection then public service. Over time, professional politicians feel entitled to the prestige and power that accumulates to them. They forget that they are in office to serve the people. They pander to the special interest, political action committee’s and power brokers who can best serve their personal interest; forgetting that they are supposed to be citizen servants of the republic, not tenured for life politicians.

The potential for ever achieving a constitutional amendment limiting the terms of the house and senate is not good. In the republican contract with America from 1994 term limits were one of the promises made to the electorate. It was a promise they did not even come close to keeping. No incumbent from either side of the aisle, or either house, is ever going to vote for term limits, if they think there is any chance of passage. It would take a ground swell of public opinion and a deafening clamor from the citizenry to bring them about. Even then, the money that would be spent, on a public relations campaign, to defeat them would stagger the imagination.

Too many special interest, corporate entities and lobbyist would be adversely affected and they would all circle the wagons to prevent such legislation from ever getting out of committee much less coming to a vote. If they had to deal with a politician who knew, he or she was limited to six years; their leverage would be severely curtailed. The politician who has to plan a return to private life is not likely to care as much about securing the benefits of tenure. As it is now though most politicians seem to worry more about the trappings of wealth and power they accumulate over a long political career, then they do about their constituents.

The arguments against term limits are old and well known. One of the most prevalent is that if the founding fathers thought it wise or necessary they would have done so. In fact, they were discussed extensively, prior to the final draft of the constitution. Thomas Jefferson was for them. In June of 1776 as a member of a committee of thirteen, appointed by the continental congress to examine different forms of government for the new nation he urged that tenure be limited. In part, he wrote, "to prevent every danger which might arise to American freedom by continuing too long in office the members of the Continental Congress.” As a result, the fifth article of confederation stated as follows, "no person shall be capable of being a delegate [to the continental congress] for more than three years in any term of six years." Rotation out of office was legislated, at the state level, as a matter of course and most if not all politicians of the day intended to return to private life, once their terms of service were over.

The founding fathers, widely considered giants of intellect and education, even divinely inspired by many, were still after all just men. Men of great courage and accomplishment as they were, they were still fallible like all other men. Their achievements far outweigh their mistakes. Not including term limits in the constitution was one of the very few mistakes. Not abolishing slavery was another. Inspired or not at the end of the day they were just men.

Those favoring term limits included George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason and Richard Henry Lee. Lee once wrote that the lack of term limits was akin to a “most highly and dangerously oligarchic." Mason said, "nothing is so essential to the preservation of a Republican government as a periodic rotation." It is clear from the historical record that some of the best and brightest among the founding fathers thought term limits important to the country and their lack inimical to the voter.

One of the other arguments is that it takes too long to become a good legislator and that term limits would infuse the government with amateur politicians not as capable as the more tenured variety we have today. I have more faith then that in the electorate. I also have more faith in someone who would interrupt their private life for a short and defined amount of time to serve their country. Additionally, one has to consider how the two houses of congress work. Few if any politicians ever read a bill. Their staffs do all the heavy lifting. It is the bright young men and woman, fresh out of school, who write the position papers, bills and campaign literature. I would rather have in office a person who wants to serve their country at the cost of some personal sacrifice then one who sees it as a professional career accruing wealth, power and prestige unto themselves.

The constitution was designed as a living document. The founders put in the process of amending it so that when necessary and appropriate in the view of the citizenry, it could be changed to accommodate new circumstances. Over the years since the founding and particularly since WWII, we have seen elective office become a life long situation. Politicians are subjected to every temptation relating to financial impropriety. Some are caught and some are not. Even when there are no laws broken the quality of decisions made are often more beneficial to the politician and some benefactor then to the people. Enormous time, money and effort are spent on campaigns and accumulating power and influence. It is time and well past time for such a change.

The final argument I would like to answer opposing term limits is the most obtuse and arrogant of them all. Some have postulated that term limits would deprive the voter of choice. The assumption being that more often then not, the voter would prefer to retain the incumbent. In fact, almost eighty-five percent of the time that is just what happens. Were it not for death, disease and retirement it would likely be over ninety percent. It is not necessarily a matter of preference though. Typically, the incumbent has the financial advantage by a large margin. Backed by special interest to whom they are obligated, their party and the power brokers from their home districts they are a virtual juggernaut. Outspending the challengers by a wide margin, they are usually retained unless some peccadillo has tarnished their shield. It is not voter choice that returns ineffective legislators to office repeatedly, it is a lack of choice.

With short defined terms of office, elections would be more of a contest. Challengers who might not now even try because of the futility and expenses would be more inclined to run. The electorate would have more choice, not less. The public would undoubtedly be more engaged, because of the diversity of candidates and importance of elections.

Politics in this country has become the purview of the rich and powerful. Once a nation of citizens serving citizens we have become something else entirely. When one looks at the financial crises, the failure of so many banks, the number of business’s in bankruptcy and all the other domestic problems, one wonders how the quality of government could be any worse. Our health care and education are not working, as they should. Our foreign relations and trade policy’s need work. Immigration, particularly as concerns Mexico is a mess and our borders are not secure. What, just what, I ask, have all those professionals in Washington been doing. Term limits will focus our politicians on our problems instead of their future. It is time to take back our government; it is time for term limits.

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The Cairo Speech


After only one reading, I am amazed at the difference in this president and most others. He really gets it. He understands that the globe on which we live will not sustain institutional hatred or bigotry. The distance from the front of this boat, we are all passengers in, to the rear is too short. What effects one ultimately affects all of us. Everybody needs to be bailing or paddling. What cannot be tolerated is a few trying to disadvantage the many. There is no room for thieves, murders or bullies, except in the water.

Obama reminds me of Teddy Roosevelt when he was governor of New York. He had participated in some infighting with some party bosses. Mr. Thomas Platt in particular, was trying to obstruct a political appointment. He threatened to ruin Roosevelt if he did not acquiesce. Roosevelt held his ground and prevailed. Later when recounting the incident to a friend in a letter he wrote “I have always been fond of the West African proverb: "Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” It seems that President Obama has mastered speaking softly and I hope he can follow through with the big stick when it is required.
It strikes me that the President is an inherently honest man. He speaks from the heart and is not afraid to utter hard truths. Unlike most politicians, he seems to value the ability of truth to promote his agenda and beliefs. I detect no dissembling or attempts to manipulate the truth. He calls it like it is. That in and of itself is a refreshing change from the historical norm.
I am impressed that he really understands better then most the nobility of the American dream. That dream is first about liberty and equality for all. It is about a place where many can stand together to implement those ideas for all. Then secondly, it is about the opportunity to achieve the level of prosperity your effort entitles you too. Without the first part, the second part is merely a function of repression.
He also espouses something that I have always believed. Decent people all over the world want the same things for themselves and their families. They want peace and prosperity, some say as to how they are governed, health care for themselves and their children, education and the chance to improve the future and the ability to worship according to their own conscience. They abhor war and human depravity just as all right thinking people do. They would rather live in peace with their neighbors then lose everything in meaningless conflict where there are no winners.
I think he reached a good balance between the olive branch and the sword. He did not apologize for Afghanistan or our intention to protect our allies or ourselves. He called the Islamic countries to task for ignoring their duty to their own peoples prosperity. He reached out an open hand in peace and friendship and called for all to cooperate in making this a better world. It was a magnificent gesture and I believe he meant every word.
There will be many who disagree. The right wing talking heads will accuse him of pandering and socialism again. There will be conjecture as to which Washington area mosque he is sneaking out to in the middle of the night. On the other hand, there will be Islamic extremist who will say he does not mean it or as long as he supports Israel, it is meaningless. Some people are not happy unless the glass is half-empty. They would rather fight over what is left of their hate then join hands and search for more water. Those people will eventually destroy themselves or force us to do it for them. Unfortunately, they will make many others miserable in the process.
Life is often a series of self-fulfilling prophecies. We fashion our existence either purposefully or through lack of purpose. Generally, the more we do for others the more we accomplish for ourselves. The more we reach out our hands in peace, to give a hand up to those less fortunate, the better the future for us all. If we wander aimlessly without purpose, we endanger ourselves and threaten others. We come to feel entitled to those things we neglect to earn on our own. You are only entitled to freedom if you are willing to die for it. You are only entitled to food and shelter if you are willing to work for it.
Those unable to work or contribute due to physical or mental defect are the rightful responsibility of us all and we should accord them more sustenance and dignity then we do. Those unwilling to work or contribute should be thrown out of the boat and have no claim on the rest of us. The difficulty of course is in knowing the difference between the two to a moral certainty. Well, I dissemble and am getting way off track.
In closing, I am proud of this President. He strikes me as a good and moral man worthy of the great office he holds. I do not by any means think him perfect but still a much better man for the job then what we could have had. He gets it.

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The Art and Science of Creating a Sale

Lance Armstrong finishing 3rd in Sète, taking ...Image via Wikipedia

Selling is both art and science. Having mastery of both these aspects will make you a formidable salesperson and lots of money. As most of us are not savants when it comes to selling we must obtain the necessary skills and abilities the old fashion way. That means studying theory, technique, and then practicing what we learn. The practicing is what makes the skills and abilities come to fruition.

Most everyone can learn to ride a bike. Not everyone can ride like Lance Armstrong. Most everyone can learn to sell. Not every one will equal Joe Girard. The point is that if you are willing to make the commitment to fail until you succeed you can achieve some level of proficiency in sales. Since sales is one of the better paying occupations becoming a proficient sales person can be both fun and hugely rewarding.

Picking a product is very important. Since enthusiasm is critical to sales success, it is smart to pick a product that gets you excited. Finance, flying, yachting and sports all offer lucrative sales opportunities. Real Estate, automobiles, insurance and hard goods also can create wealth. Some products like insurance create streams of passive wealth through residual income. The important thing though is to sell what you believe in and enjoy. If you are enthusiastic and excited by your product, your career will be infinitely more rewarding personally and financially.

Once you have decided on a product the next most important thing you need to do is learn everything there is to know about it. You need to be a product knowledge maven. You also need to familiarize yourself with your competitions product just as thoroughly. Your command of product knowledge should be so complete that everyone comes to you with questions. The study of your and your competitors’ product never ends; as the products evolve, you must be up on all the latest innovations and specifications. The old saying that knowledge is power is true. It is also one of the fundamental sources of enthusiasm and confidence.

Your pursuit of sales training should be just as vociferous and compelling as your pursuit of product knowledge. Most sales organizations have industry specific sales training. There is a plethora of good books on the subject. If you know of someone who is, particularly adept you should ask him or her to mentor you.

The best teacher though is experience. Like any other skill-set selling skills must be used in real life situations repeatedly until honed to a razors edge. There are many clichés like fake it until you make it and fail until you succeed. They have a kernel of truth in them. Even the so-called natural born salesperson is not as skillful when he first starts as he eventually becomes through practice and repetition.

There are many different selling systems. Some are industry specific and some more general. Early in your career, it is important to learn whichever system your employer embraces and teaches. As you progress through the steps to a sale, you can mentally review each step and ask yourself how you are doing. If you have skipped a step or not done it well the self-audit will remind you to return to that step and complete it before asking for the order. The selling process that follows is one I like to use. It is brief enough that it is easy to remember and complete enough that it covers the essential steps in the sales process. I hope you find it helpful.

Create Interest: Your opening statement must create interest and give you command of the conversation. Can I help you, is inviting a no I am just looking response. A better greeting in the appropriate circumstance would be, it is just great to see you today, and I have some exciting things to share with you!
Revitalize the Mind: Your sales presentation should open the customers mind to all the alternatives you can offer before asking them to make a buying decision. It might sound like this; we have new (your product) ready for immediate delivery but let me ask, if I could show you a pre-owned (your product) that represented a great value for you, would you consider the savings.
Evince Logic: People consider a purchase out of curiosity or emotion; they justify a purchase with logic and rationalization. Logic chains are built with a logical advantage and an emotional trigger followed by a trial close. It might sound like this. John, you say you agree that the (your product) meets and even exceeds all of your wants and needs and you told me successfully buying and installing this would help you get that promotion, why don’t we finish this up so you can go home and celebrate.
Arouse Desire: You arouse desire by showing the benefits, conveniences and pleasure of ownership. Arousing desire is a product of getting to know your customer. Through a colloquial process where you ask open-ended questions and listen, really listen to the answers. If you take a sincere interest in the customers wants and needs, as well as them as a person it will be obvious to them. Think of it as making a friend because done well that is exactly what happens. With the information you glean you can perform a feature benefit presentation based on the customers’ wants, needs and dominant buying motive.
Trial Close: A trial close is any question the answer to which confirms the customers’ intent to buy now. One of the trial closes I have used often and with good success goes like this, during my qualifying interview I will pause, get eye contact, smile and ask “John how am I doing so far, are we headed in the right direction. The right time to ask this is determined with your empathetic skills; just like in a courtroom, you never ask a closing question you do not know the answer to.
Effect Closure: Closing is confirming agreement on terms and conditions and handling details like paperwork. If the ground work is done well, by that I mean you have made a friend, determined wants and needs, aroused desire with a enthusiastic product presentation based on those wants and needs and asked for the business in a professional and friendly manner, closing happens naturally.

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Chrysler, GM and the Dealer Fiasco

WASHINGTON - MARCH 26:  U.S. President George ...Image by Getty Images via Daylife

Chrysler and GM needed to pair their dealer count. Some of the dealers they got rid of needed to go. They were under performing in sales, service and customer satisfaction. Some were in markets that had too many dealers. Some did not fit the channeling guidelines of all models under one roof. Others were just not politically astute and had made the wrong person angry. Still others and perhaps the majority had done nothing wrong.

Family owned and operated stores serve most of the smaller markets. Many are second, third or even fourth generation operations. They provide some of the best paying jobs in their respective markets. They pay a higher amount of taxes then most other businesses. They pay sales tax on high-ticket items, inventory taxes on high value inventories, real estate taxes on large pieces of valuable property and so on ad infinitum.

They are among the pillars of their communities. They fund charities, community sports and other things that will now go begging. The loss of these classic small town enterprises will have devastating ripple effects across their communities. They were generally the largest advertiser in town. They bought oil, gasoline, tires and auto parts in large quantities. Many were large contributors to local churches, schools and hospitals. Their loss will be felt in many ways and by many people across their communities.

The big three have been trying to pare their dealer counts for years. The competition has been selling more vehicles out of fewer stores for some time. That has more to do with the quality of the product though then the quality of the dealer. That and the fact that the import manufactures have not diluted their sales per store by over dealering in the first place. State franchise laws have prevented, and rightly so, much of what Ford, Chrysler and GM have wanted to do. The bankruptcies’ made those laws mute though.

The Supreme Court refused to hear argument on behalf of the dismissed dealers. That is to be expected because federal bankruptcy law trumps state franchise law. There is a movement in congress to pass legislation to either slow or reverse the terminations. It is too early to tell what effect if any that will have, but it looks like too little too late for most of the Chrysler dealers. GM’s dealers do have an appeal process available to them and time will tell how that plays out.

Better management of Chrysler and GM., could have avoided this whole scenario. The management teams at all of the big three tend to have a short-term point of view driven primarily by the stock price. That has a lot to do, maybe everything to do, with the way top executives are compensated. Little good it has done them in recent years as the stock price slipped ever lower.

In their management, quality takes a back seat to artificial cost control. Union negotiations were handled like there was no tomorrow. Tough decisions were put off until it was too late to matter. Too much time and effort were put into incredibly complex customer satisfaction efforts; designed to make all customer issues, the dealers fault. Finally, way too much effort has gone into trying to change the distribution system. High quality products sell themselves regardless of the perceived problems in the distribution system. The horrifically poor management of these two American behemoths made the slaughter of their dealers a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Many of the dealers have questioned why, if they are profitable and have good customer satisfaction scores are they being terminated. They point out that their existence does not cost the manufacture anything. This is true. They pay for their vehicles, parts, co-op advertising and point of sale material. The dealers get nothing free. The manufacture has a holdback account on each dealer in case of default that they can apply to any delinquent amounts owed to them. To be terminated by letter or hearing it on the news like some did is unconscionable on the part of Chrysler and GM. These dealers deserve an answer to their questions if not full reinstatement.

When someone has to drive over a hundred miles to get a Chrysler or GM car serviced, or worse yet to buy one, you wonder. How long will it be before somebody’s nephew or friend gets an add point store in that market. Neither GM nor Chrysler will abandon all of these markets permanently. Some dealers in peripheral markets, closely adjacent to bigger stores in large markets, will be gone for good. Other markets though will be redealered at some point. It will be interesting to watch how long that will take and who will get the stores.

The real problem though is that all this pain and suffering is likely just delaying the inevitable. Regardless of any restructuring, debt elimination or infusions of taxpayer dollars the same management is in charge. Without an honest look at how they got where they are they are doomed to repeat the same mistakes. If they charge into the future, thinking the past was somebody else’s fault it will lead back to the past. If quality is not a priority and innovation a mandate then nothing changes. For the sake of the country and all the remaining stakeholders, I hope they get it right.
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Iranian Elections 2009

June 12, 2009 will go down as a historical day in the history of Iran. It will be marked as a day when the Iranian people demanded a free and fair election from their government. Not since the national referendum on April 1, 1979 when the people of Iran had one choice (an Islamic Republic, yes or no) have they been so insistent that their vote mean something. Putting fear aside, they have refused to accept an election tainted by obvious perfidy. Massing in the streets some two hundred thousand strong and ignoring the presence of the police and security forces they are raising their voices and demanding their votes count.

In a culture, that predates the birth of Christ by some 2500 years this event is potentially more momentous then any other. If the Iranian people are successful in backing down the mullahs, Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader, especially without massive strife and loss of life, it will be a singularly remarkable achievement. In their long, long history, they have always been subjected to a government retaining all power unto itself and repressive to one degree or another. Granted that sometimes they have had beneficent rulers and even a constitutional monarchy at one time, they have never had control of their own destiny.

Freedom is not something you can give to or bestow on a nation. Freedom can only be had when a people are determined to be free. To paraphrase John Fitzgerald Kennedy, they must be willing to pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend and oppose any foe to assure the survival and success of their liberty. In other words, they must be willing to die for it. It seems the Iranian people have reached a point in their history, where they will not easily be denied their freedom.

For the sake of regional stability and peace in addition to our belief in self-government, we should all hope they succeed. The invalidation of the results announced before they could have even been tabulated, would send a number of strong messages around the world. It would of course remind the extremist fundamentalist clerics in Iran and elsewhere that most Muslims want to live in peace with the rest of the world. It would send the same message to Al Qaida, Hamas and Hezbollah. It would remind Israel and the hard line Christen fundamentalist that not every Muslim wants Armageddon. It would tell President Obama and the rest of the world that the Iranian people were listening when he spoke in Cairo.

It is hard to know what if any impact that speech had on this election. Undoubtedly, the President’s ratcheting down of the dialogue between America and Islam has had some positive effect on world opinion. Hardliners will say he is an apologist and weak, a radical in sheep’s clothing, even a secret Muslim. These people are different from radical political criminals only in their behavior. Their motivation and thinking are the same, based on fear and hate.

It is a particularly horrific part of human nature, which makes some people search for reasons to hate other people. Discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, greed, hate or sex are especially abhorrent. There is undoubtedly evil lurking in the hearts and minds of some men. Frequently it manifests itself as a thirst for power, a desire for revenge over some ancient or perceived insult, a feeling of racial superiority or religious intolerance. The manifestations of such evil are horribly terrifying to those not so afflicted or should be.

Even today, there is still slavery and genocide happening in the world. There are drug cartels, regional warlords, terrorist groups and criminal enterprises of every ilk plying their trades and spreading their evil. These kinds of people are a vociferous and dangerous element of society.

Like any criminals, they deserve to be hunted down, given a fair trial and incarcerated for their crimes. It is a grievous mistake though to assume that all of their co religionist, fellow citizens, family members or people of the same ethnicity are alike unto them.

Not all Christens are faithful followers of Christ or fundamentalist Christen zealots. Not all Muslims are faithful followers of Islam or fundamentalist Islamic extremist. Notwithstanding the example of Indonesia, the people of Iran, regardless of the eventual outcome, have proven that. Their thirst and desire for freedom are evident and worthy of approbation and support.

Now if only the people of Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan will take a page out of the Iranian people’s playbook maybe the Israeli Palestinian situation can be resolved quickly and peacefully. The resources of the world’s countries would serve humanity better if turned to eradicating hunger, disease, poverty, ignorance and crime. Maybe then, we could concentrate on alternative fuels, physics, philosophy, the arts and humanities. A utopian vision, yes, but one worth pursuing. If more of the worlds people had the vision and courage the Iranians have displayed since this election anything would be possible.

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