Are we seeing the start of a democratic revolution?

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I’ve been on assignment in the USA for the last year; and want it or not, I’ve been an innocent bystander to the American election. What a show! The interesting thing is, very few people actually believed Donald Trump would make it this far. He seems to have caught a lot of people by surprise; why is he so popular? Deepak Chopra offered an interesting perspective on this the other night in an interview. He believes that Trump represents the “collective shadow” of the American people. He went on to explain that we all have a dark side. That side of us may be bigoted, racist, misogynistic, ageist, or even angry; we generally suppress our shadow in our day-to-day interactions for we have learned that it is improper or not politically correct; and so we tend to hide it. What Trump does through his speeches and is appeal to our dark side, our shadow, and speak out the things many think but our uncomfortable advocating. It is an interesting thought and I’m sure there is some truth to it but I also believe there is more to this story.

Over the last 40 years, the incomes (in real terms) of the American middle class have been declining. Recent articles by the Pew research center support this. Politicians seem to be more interested in lining their own pockets than looking out for the good of their constituents, and once upon a time there was at least some level of bi-partisanship when it came to big issues. In fact a 2015 survey shows a broad distrust in government. Journalism used to be a noble profession, journalist kept politicians and big corporations in check. But with the downfall of newsprint, news organizations are too dependent on advertisers to be controversial. Besides, the election cycle is a bonanza for them; the closer the race the more money is spent on advertising. Last summer NPR predicted that the 2016 election campaign will see roughly 4.4 billion$ spent on advertising. People are just simply dissatisfied and fed up.

Europeans are not much better, they are witnessing wave after wave of immigrants settling in their countries but never really assimilating, and therefore feel threatened. The EU bureaucrats keep coming up with new rules that infringe on people’s traditions and way of living, farmers can’t slaughter their own animals even though it may be for private consumption. The small guys are being pushed out to ensure the big corporations can get a bigger share. In fact Europeans are even worst off because the people dreaming up all the new regulations are not even elected officials! The elected members of the European council don’t have much influence over what goes on in Brussels. That is left to the European commission who’s task, amongst others, is to manage the 23 000 European civil servants.

I believe we are entering an age where people are expressing their dissatisfaction through their votes, a democratic revolution. This is the movement that gave us the Brexit and will probably give us Donald Trump as the next president of the USA.

Do morals and values need calibrating?

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Picture, courtesy of desert moon rising dot com

I recently entered into a discussion in one of the forums on Linkedin. That got me thinking and recalibrating my views on morals & values. The thread’s topic started with the question “How much are you respected as a consultant?” Someone posted: “Respect has nothing to do with performance. It’s a meaningless babble word like “trust, ethics, values and morals” -all which have numerous meanings”. Although the statement is correct, I was irked by the comment, as I believed that: “defining and sharing values is what holds societies together, it provides a yardstick against which we can judge intentions and actions. If we did not have any values or morals we could not differentiate good from bad”. My colleague and I had a good exchange but I had to admit that smoking marijuana in Texas is considered bad (jail) whilst in Colorado it is good, or at least legal. Morals, values and ethics are “babble” words – not convinced about trust just yet- that have different meanings depending on where you live and where you’re from.

It is true that different moral standards apply to different religion and tribes. A good example is homosexuality, (or sexual freedom). It is measured or ranked on a morality scale very differently in Saudi Arabia (Mecca the heart of Islam) than in Europe (the home of the Christians). Regardless which religion, religions have held the monopoly on morality matters throughout history. Interestingly enough the Jews, Christians and Muslims all share the same root and thus the “old testament”, where the guidelines are very clear:

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Courtesy PreSchools4All.com

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, religions and God have little in common. Religions are all lead by men; all claiming to be speaking the message of God. Although I not contesting the original message or intent of sharing the “message” with others, religions develop a life of their own. Even the seven deadly sins, although noble in their nature, are a fabrication of the church. History has taught us that power is addictive. Today it’s the politicians that get addicted to it, “power” is the drive behind the men who are behind the religions. Regrettably history has also taught us that power corrupts, and the religion’s elders seldom retire as Pope Benedict did. The system just isn’t perfect.

It just seems that once upon a time, value was measured differently; or maybe we just measured more things than just money. Perhaps it’s because presidents of companies did not make a thousand times the salary of their lowest paid employee. Of course you may argue that today’s CEOs generate perhaps a thousand times more value as an employee than the man on the assembly line; and that it is only fair to compensate him accordingly. Good point, if we take shareholder value as the only measure of success. Unfortunately this is the same logic (along with a few other things of course) that has lead China to become the world’s manufacturer, making things where it’s cheapest. How can Europe be facing some of the highest “youth unemployment” ever measured whilst the baby boomers are entering retirement age? Quite simply, the jobs have moved elsewhere because it’s good business, good for the bottom line. In today’s global economy, not only are you competing against the neighbour’s business from across the street, you compete with a business from across the world, and your neighbours are all over the globe. So the decision to move jobs abroad is relatively easy to make; in many cases it may even be imperative to a company and it’s business model’s, survival. It’s just about money and shareholder returns. There is no room for morality. Time goes by and as employees are victims of the circumstance, the greed slowly siphon’s away the jobs and economic activity these jobs provide. This is the kind of actions and reasoning behind paying CEOs large salaries. The only value that count’s today is money. Never mind honesty or integrity, mastery or excellence, reliability and trust are all just words that look good on the vision statement but are hard to recognize in every day actions.

I happen to live in Croatia, a young democracy with an abundance of natural resources; since it’s inception in 1991, the vast majority of politicians have demonstrated with their actions; that they care more about their own pockets than the people, and state, they are meant to represent. Not only did they managed to squander the previously state owned companies, they have indebted the country to the point that fiscal discipline, mandated by the EU, is now very painful. The answer has been to raise taxes; at 25%, we have one of the highest “Value Added Tax” in Europe; and things are not only taxed once, but every time they are resold. These policies are snuffing out any kind of economic spark and this is reflected in the low investment figures. As we watch the evening news report about the corruption trial of the ex-prime minister, Ivo Sanader, the country is facing tough economic times and millions of people are paying for his greed, whilst the people that supported him are living it up immune by their fattened wallets to the hardship their irresponsibility have caused. What is sad; is that Croatia is certainly not the only example.

Many will argue that we have more choice today than ever before. Choice means competition and competition means a better product for consumers. Thereby stimulating innovation, which spews out new products and more choice. Those who don’t adapt to the ever-changing conditions quickly go out of business. Industries become extinct, just like species in nature; essentially a kind of “economic evolution”, where the only law is the law of the jungle: survival of the fittest. It’s only fair to say that in such an environment, it’s not surprising that people start worshiping money rather than god, wrongfully believing that money is the only thing that makes you happy. In fact if we dig a little deeper we find that there are many things that we value in life; we just tend to forget them. They get lost in the rat race that has become our lives, juggling deadlines and priorities whilst constantly distracted by everything and everyone who is seeking our attention.

So to refresh our memories about what is valuable to individuals, and give you the opportunity to recalibrate your own priorities; I thought of sharing this values map (found at with an open heart dot org).

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It’s not the guns, stupid!

The debate is on. Following the Newtown massacre the never-ending discussion about gun laws vs. the “right to bear arm” rages on.  The NRA predictably proclaimed that what is actually needed are arm guards in every school, because: “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”.

Whilst it is not too difficult to come to that conclusion, you may remember my first blog on the subject where I laid out the arguments for it, I’m afraid the establishment maybe completely missing the point. Of course there will always be a relationship between the number of guns and the number of fatalities from guns.  Nowhere on earth are there more guns per capita than in the USA. In fact other nations, with a relatively high number of guns per capita, say Finland, do not proportionally have the same number of gun related death (much lower).  So where can the difference came from?

I have been pondering that question for a while without really coming up with anything specific; there are just too many factors.  That is until this week.

Because I was a good boy last year, Santa brought me an ipod for Christmas. Lately I’ve been driving to Germany and from where I live it’s about a 1000km journey. It takes me about 10 hours to make the trip. Ten hours that are not very productive, that is until I found out about podcast. Wow! There is just so much to choose from, comedians, talk shows on just about every subject you can think of and interviews with world leaders and shapers; I even found French Canadian radio and must admit that I relish in listening to my mother tongue once in a while. Needless to say the 10-hour trip now goes by much faster, at least perceptively, when you are engaged and listening to in a good debate.  As you can imagine there is also a lot of crap on offer, so I have been trying different content.  One of the ones I like is called “what’s wrong with Kris and Steve”. It is a podcast from a radio station in Arizona that talks about mental diseases and conditions.  That is where I learned about the mental health care system in the USA, or perhaps it would better to say the lack of one. As Kris explained the story, dating back to the 50’s where people were simply locked up, or as she put it “Warehoused”; to the abuse and the scandals that triggered the dismantling of the entire system, it quickly became obvious that the real problem in the USA is not guns, but mentally ill people with guns!  Each time there is a massacre we learn that the killer was deranged or had mental conditions.

It would seem that in the USA, if you have mental health issues or conditions, and you are not employed, and therefore don’t have any health care (which for this category of people is the vast majority) then you have nowhere to turn to.  That is to say, there are millions of mentally ill people freely roaming the streets. The ones that get too violent with inevitably end up in jail, the others well they’re on their own; or in the case of the Newtown killer live with someone who has guns.

I bet you the Finns don’t let their mentally ill people run around freely!

Well of course they don’t they are Scandinavians, home to some of the most moderns socialist democracies on the planet!  They have a good healthcare system. In fact during the last European survey in 2000, the healthcare system in Finland was rated as good. ([1]Finland had the highest number of people satisfied with their hospital care system in the EU: 88% of Finnish respondents were satisfied compared with the EU average of 41.3%). It is true that the Finns pay a lot more taxes  – max rate of 30% on earned income+ 2.12% social security insurance + 18.3% Pension + 3.2% unemployment insurance; capital gains and dividends are taxed at max 32% – Ouch, I guess peace of mind has it’s price! Nevertheless you will be surprised to learn that Finland is ranked higher than USA when it comes to GDP per capita! That’s right, the average Finn is richer than the average American.

The USA has some of the most brilliant medical minds in the world, some of the best medical hospitals and research facilities and yet it fails to provide basic access to health care to millions of Americans. Nearly 50% of Americans voted for Romney, the guy that promised to repeal president Obama’s health care plan.  I’m sorry but if universal Healthcare can prevent just one more massacre, call me crazy, but I think it’s worth it.

Too expensive you say! Maybe not, take for example the Cuban Health Care system.  Being isolated from Western interest and other Healthcare oriented companies, the average Cuban boast a higher life expectancy than the average American. According to the World Health organization 2012 Statistical report, the USA spends 7 960$ per capita on Healthcare whilst Cuba spends 672$ per Capita, yet in the USA not everyone is covered. For the lack of resources, that has plague the Cuban system since the beginning, they have done remarkably well. Their focus on preventive measures and basic hygiene may seem obvious and antiquated but it has helped them achieve a higher life expectancy at a fraction of the cost. I am sure there are things to learn & practices to copy; which together could save trillions of $ over the next generation.

I’m not saying the US should go social democrat like the Finns, or emulate the healthcare system in Cuba, that would be pushing this a bit too far. But keeping an open mind I’m sure there are things to learn. And besides, you can’t argue against the logic of looking after mentally ill people; if the Cubans can look after their own mentally ill, then why not the Americans. No matter what the cost, if we can minimize the risk of another tragedy, by helping sick people, it’s got to be worth it; not to speak of the moral issue surrounding the discrimination of the mentally ill.

The next hurdle is this misconception about Government. Many Americans see government as a bad thing. Government just gets in the way, the less intervention the better. Americans don’t seem to realize that government is the only thing that seeks to protect the good of the many as it is in fact the representation of its citizens. Government should protect the interest of its citizens. Here is a simple example. Mayor Bloomberg of New York past a law banning the sales of soft drinks in large containers. The logic being that people drink too much soft drinks and it has become a health issue, so to protect it’s citizens the government of New York city has passed this law.   Whether you agree with the law, or not, is not the point.  It is the intent that is important.   Outsourcing government services may look good on the books, but people often overlook one thing, purpose. The problem with privatization and reducing government is that they don’t share the same interest and objectives. Companies are driven by profits and government strives to protect and serve their citizens. One of the major problems in US and its politics is that companies, as legal entities, enjoy similar rights as citizens. Yet companies wield much more influence (through lobbying and money) on elected officials than the average citizen can.  Some of the lobbying is so entrenched in politics that it is the often the victim sarcastic humor and sporadic scandals, like the sugar lobby. It’s hard to avoid “conflicts of interest” when your “friends” finance your campaign and essentially keeps you in office.  So yes there certainly are some services the government can outsource to private companies, but let’s stay true to our objectives when we decide to do so.  We cannot expect bankers to regulate themselves nor should we let Pharmaceutical companies and health insurance companies run the healthcare system.  Did you know that some health insurance companies spend more money on personnel to process, examine, and fine ways to deny you your claim than they do on actual healthcare? Talk about a waste of money!

Clearly, changing the focus of the debate from gun ownership, to the root cause of the problem, treating the mentally ill, would seem like the right course of action.

Zabok, HR – 3rd February 2013


[1] Wikipedia

The working class vs. the investment class

The recent divulging of Mitt Romney’s tax returns has put the 99% vs. 1% discussion into perspective. Although it is astonishing to see a guy talk about people who “don’t work” when he himself does not really work, I have come to expect anything coming from the republicans. If we set aside the elderlies and the veterans, whom everyone can agree have already done their fair share of work, we are left with the people that taxes through their payroll (people holding jobs) and the people the people that pay taxes on the revenues from their wealth (investments class) and by definition the don’t hold jobs and don’t work, at least not 9:00 to 5:00. Well I guess to say that they don’t work is not really fair, they work at maximizing the returns on their investments as to accumulate more wealth and, theoretically at least, create new jobs. The only difference here is that this kind of work is taxed at a lower rate.

This reminded me of something, in his book “Rich dad, poor dad’ Robert T.Kiyosaki talks about his experience as a young boy who grew up with two father figures. When discussing as a boy what to do with one’s life, each one had a different message for him. His highly educated, but poor, dad would say: “go to school get good grades, and then find a safe secure job”; whilst his rich, but uneducated, dad would say ”go to school, graduate, build businesses and become a successful investor”.  Two different mind sets that lead to two different results; one where you work for your money and the other where your money works for you.

At the heart of this dilemma lies risk & responsibilities, how they are perceived, how they are weighed and managed. Never mind the fact that job security is a thing of the past, risk averse people will then to look for a jobs a it will provide a sense of security, they do their work within an agreed timeframe and they get a paycheck, they don’t have to worry about anything else. The business owner or self-employed person needs to constantly be thinking about, at least maintaining if not growing their business or practice and revenues. Along with that comes all the administration work and looking after employees. So as you can see the rewards are potentially higher but there are a lot of other things to manage and be responsible for, in other words, a lot of work. Obviously if you have enough money working for you, then you hire people to take care of all that work for you.  Which brings us back to the original point that the investment class does not work for a living. Would they work then they would have pay taxes like the rest of us.

Then there is this “taxofobia”.  As is paying taxes should be a thing to avoid most. Ok, I agree no one wants to give their hard earned money, whether it is through years of patience and careful investments or a 40-hour week of brute force and sweat.  On the other hand we enjoy living in a society and communities where: we feel safe;  if we should fall ill, we can be certain someone will take care of us; we don’t have to miles to the nearest well to get glass of water; etc. So you can see there are lots of benefits to organizing ourselves and creating structures and organizations that can provide theses services to the community and population. That is what government does.

It is interesting to observe the evolution of the role of government in the Republican speech over the last 50 years. They appear to have swung completely off the chart. Under Nixon, government still had a role, some may even argue that his vision of government is what help bring him down, today the rhetoric has moved the masses to believe that government equals socialism. Any redistribution of income is bad. During the past Busch presidency, what was once considered a “holy cow” of government functions, the military has begun to get outsourced, with companies like Blackwater and Haliburton, to name a few, raking in huge profits in the process. Here is another example; this week kids in Kansas grab the media attention with a YouTube video parody of the song -we are young- titled “we are hungry”. The action was a protest against the new school lunch initiative that promotes a healthier diet, fruits and vegetables. This was picked up by the “rightist” media and blown into a debate about how the government is trying to tell kids what to eat! Considering that the USA has the highest child obesity rate in the world, that is actually a good idea.  Sadly this the number news channel in the US.  By exploiting sound bits, twisting or hiding facts or just plain lying, they constantly generate a kind of fog around the real issues and brainwash their viewers with their message, keeping everyone ignorant in the process. Ironically, I must say, it was refreshing to see Bill Clinton, at 66 years old, try to make a case with facts and numbers in his speech at the Democratic conventions a few weeks ago. Unfortunately he only represents one side of the divide.

When the pie is growing the 1% vs. 99% discussion is not so sensitive. The 99% get the 99% of the growth, each a tiny bit, and are satisfied with having the opportunity to dream about making the 1% on day. When the pie is shrinking the 99% have a lot more to lose and suffer a lot more. If growth is not restored to keep it in equilibrium, the pain builds up like pressure and can lead to explosions and revolutions.

Instead of hiding his income, Mitt Romney would have been better off showing his tax returns early on and explaining this difference in tax rate and tax class, creating a reason to celebrate his success. Encouraging more people to aspiring to belong to the investment class is not a bad thing; it’s the American dream!

Zabok, HR – 3rd October 2012