Sunday, October 30, 2005

Gambling on Trust

If it weren’t so pathetic, it would be amusing that the Texas Lottery is now considering guaranteeing its jackpots in an effort to win back the confidence of those who play the lottery.

It’s also oxymoronic that an organization dedicated to taking your money and not paying it back, sanctioned by the state as a defacto tax on the mathematically-challenged, would be trying to enhance it’s image as being “trustworthy.”
The lottery is a shell game.
It is designed to take more money than it pays out.

The Lottery panders to a segment of the population that is weak-minded enough to expect something for nothing—or nearly nothing: the wagering of dollars from those least able to afford them in the pursuit of instant riches. For the few who do win (and it's from pure dumb, blind luck) the result is a lifestyle that in most cases changes so abruptly they're ill-equipped to manage well their windfall.

Generally, the lives of lottery winners are changed forever, and not necessarily for the better.

Not surprisingly, the Lottery recently took some licks for portraying lottery jackpots to be larger than life, or at least larger than they were. Now, the wager mongers are trying to win back your trust.

A skunk by any other name still stinks.
And the Lottery, despite all promises of truthfulness, still takes from the gullible, and gives to the state which sanctions what would otherwise be labeled ill-gotten gains.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Fraidy Cats

Fear is a question: What are you afraid of, and why? Just as the seed of health is in illness, because illness contains information, your fears are a treasure house of self-knowledge if you explore them.
--Marilyn Ferguson

I’ve been spending a great deal of time researching my cancer, which is a terrifying experience—primarily because it’s all unknown territory to me. The more questions I ask, the more I realize how much more I need to know…and the cycle continues. Seeking and finding; questioning anew.

There are two ways you can handle fear: either seek out the answer, or cower under a rock somewhere. The reality of any situation will always remain, so why not face it eyes-open, brain stocked with data, and emotions bolstered with confidence that comes from understanding? Better than becoming paralyzed by unreasonable fear, fed by ignorance.

Find out what really scares the pants off you—and discover whether that fear is rational, or simply rooted in myth and misguidance. And then do something about it.

Prayer is a strong analgesic against Fear.

I have heard from more people in the past week, responding to my announcement last Friday that I have Prostate Cancer and what I am doing about it. Many men have said to me how much it made them realize they could be at risk, and that they were going to have the PSA test.

With any cancer, early detection is the key to survival. We’ve caught mine early…the prognosis is positive. Men—and the women who love them—in your mid-to late 40’s, and certainly any man over the half-century mark: Get tested. It’s a simple blood test for Prostate Specific Antigen, which at the least will establish a baseline against which you can compare next year’s test (subtle hint).

At best it will set your mind at ease. At worst, you find out sooner or later there’s a matter to be dealt with—and did I mention early-detection is the key to surviving Cancer?

What are you afraid of?
What is the key to unlock the answer to that fear?
Cancer is feared in our society, but it need not be the kiss of death.
And if that is your fear, don’t be a coward—let it be the seed that leads to answers to the unknowns within yourself.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Astro's Apex

Our congratulations to the 2005 Chicago White Sox in their hard-won assumption of the title of World Series Champions of Baseball. The Houston Astros made it to the World Series for the first time in the team franchise history. The White Sox won the series for only the second time in their’s.

When I was a school kid I was not very athletic at all. Geeky glasses and very poor hand-eye coordination did not endear me to my peers when choosing up teams, and I learned at a very early age that a career in sports would be a foolish thing to which to aspire. Kids like me were why the teachers would say things like, “it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.”

Yeah, right. They never saw me play~

Later in my checkered academic career, when competition for school office, selection for an academic honor, or vying for a part in the annual musical production were up for grabs, and there could be only one winner, the soul-salving phrase was, “well at least you were up for consideration for the part.” Which was a back-handed turn of the same phrase coaches used on teams who made it to the play-offs, but no further.

I have employed similar logic many times this week to assuage the agony of die-hard Astros fans, and to bolster my own feeble appreciation of the Club’s accomplishments this year—I am Baseball’s most dis-interested observer. Up until this season, I thought a bunt was a round cake with a hole in the middle and sugar icing dribbled all over the top. They come in two flavors, lemon and chocolate.

But there is a resounding truth that rings in acknowledging the Astros’ amazing accomplishments this season—a team that very nearly didn’t make the wild-card cut, and was not the first pick for getting through the play-offs. And they played in the World Series. You have to let that fact sink in.

That accomplishment is truly a high point in any club’s history, and even this ambivalent observer recognizes the importance, achievement, and honor that is due the Astros for playing in the World Series.

Phyllis Diller once quipped that if it weren’t for baseball, many kids wouldn’t know what a millionaire looks like. If it weren’t for the 2005 Houston Astros, many kids might not see what heroes look like…short of a Veteran’s Day parade.

There can only be one winner. And in the World Series, only one team occupies that pinnacle. But the Astros went to the mountain.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Wishin' and Fishin'

Wal-Mart's share price has hit the skids, its customer base losing enthusiam and cutting back spending on anything but the essentials--the main culprit appearing to be higher-priced gasoline.

This week Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott started fishing for Congress to increase the Minimum Wage... so that customers can spend more in his stores. However, he's not willing to make adjustments to what Wal-Mart pays its employee-associates. Careful what you wish for--you might get it.

Here are the numbers:

The Minimum Wage is $5.15 an hour.
The average annual income for a Wal-Mart family is $40,000.
Wal-Mart's full-time hourly employees make an average of $9.68 an hour.
The Labor Department reported that in July retail workers, on average, earned about $12.40 an hour.

Is Wal-Mart going to raise the wage rates it pays?
Not likely…Wal-Mart can’t afford it.
So why does Mssr. Scott believe anyone else can easily raise their wages?
Not clear--but he sure wants customers to be able to spend more at Wal-Mart and Sam's.

Here’s the rest of the argument:
The Minimum Wage was never intended to be a living wage.
The Minimum Wage is set for at burger flippers and grocery sackers—primarily wages earned by part time, teenaged workers.

The Minimum Wage is not pegged to be a comfort zone—rather, the low rate should be a motivation for an individual to move up and move on to more challenging tasks with higher pay incentives.

Just as Sears has a "softer side," a higher Minimum Wage would have some positive results...

  • Reducing low-paid, unfair, and exploitative work
  • Reducing--but not eliminating-- the dependency of the low-paid on welfare benefits for a greater savings of tax dollars
  • Stimulating economic growth through increased purchasing power of workers who might otherwise be paid a sub-standard wage

But, these minimal benefits (no pun intended) come with a price, however:

  • A higher Minimum Wage limits employment of low-wage earners, limits increasing employment at sub-minimum levels, thereby generally increasing unemployment
  • A higher Minimum Wage raises employment barriers for the inexperienced or less-educated who clear the higher bar: if a worker's labor is not worth the minimum, he may not find employment at all
  • A higher Minimum Wage hampers economic growth by increasing the cost of labor (which is why, hypocritical as it seems, Wal-Mart won't raise its pay, even if Congress does hike the minimum wage)
  • A higher Minimum Wage would increase the price of goods and services, since employers can pass on employment costs in the form of higher prices.

So what's a retailer-who-would-influence-Congress to do?

Some who oppose Minimum Wage hikes suggest a negative income tax as an alternative way to support lower-paid jobs. Well, guess where that money would come from? Not those who are paying for the products they buy with their mini-wages, but by those who pay taxes--vous et moi.

It’s been said that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and he can feed himself for the rest of his life.

There is a corollary: Pay a man a Minimum Wage, and you fill his pockets for a week; teach him how to better his lot through personal improvement and education, and he not only earns more, but is able to contribute more to society as a higher-compensated employee.

The Journal of Economic Perspectives' Winter 2005 edition reports two-thirds of academic economists at top universities agree (is that like the 9 out of 10 dentists who chew gum?) --a higher Minimum Wage increases unemployment among the young and unskilled.

The irony is that should Congress raise the Minimum Wage, fewer businesses would be able to afford entry-level workers, including Wal-Mart--which would also notice fewer customers to greet for the Holidays.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Pondering Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks is Dead at 92.

What if Rosa Parks hadn’t given up her seat on that bus in 1955? What if Martin Luther King hadn’t organized a year-long boycott of the Montgomery, Alabama bus system in response to Park’s imprisonment for the offense? What if people just rolled-over and allowed the status quo to continue?

The legacy of Rosa Parks is not just a Black legacy; it set into motion a correction of the notion that all men were not created equal, and proved to the nation that liberty and justice for all should be exactly what it says—for all.

I was thinking over the weekend, after attending church services at a predominately Black congregation in Beckley Heights, in South Dallas, remembering that song we were taught in Sunday school—“red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in His sight…”

I learned that song as a small child in 1958…1959…during the period in which Rosa Parks’ stand by refusing to stand on that bus was still reverberating. When I was able to read, while really too young to know any different, I was old enough to feel uncomfortable when I understood what a “whites only” sign meant in businesses in my neighborhood. If a six-year old could “get” that, why was it so hard for people of 36, 46, or 66?

Rosa Parks’ seat on that bus was the cradle of awakening for a nation of the true concept of liberty, and a better understanding of the proposition that all men are created equal. And while our society has been enriched for the tumultuous experiences that her defiance triggered, there have been stumbles and gaffes, too.

The awareness of race is no less despicable when it is used as leverage for special treatment than when engaged to deny rights. The notion of privilege based upon heritage or color is no different than the hateful notion of segregation that split communities, families, and skulls. And the idea of playing catch-up through a scheme of “reparations” no more ennobles those who would feign offense for personal gain, than it lessens the effects of prejudice so prevalent in the ‘50’s and 60’s…and in some small-minded communities, continues to exist today.

In fact, any philosophy that would single out any group by race or skin color in order to establish an advantage over another group, or the general public, is ironically as wrong-minded as the prejudicial offense that is being corrected. Call it the concept of “two Wrongs don’t make a Right.”

There is no doubt that being Black in America in the 21st century is still a very different experience than being red, yellow, white or purple…but thanks to Rosa Parks, being Black in 2005 is also quite different that being black in 1955.

For that matter, being White in America is quite different than than 50-years ago, a concept that is continuing to morph.

The nation is a better place for Mrs. Parks having been here…and we--red, yellow, black and white--are all blessed for having known her or known about her.

Friday, October 21, 2005

On Needles and Pen, part tres

I dropped the bombshell this morning in my final segment of The BizRadioNetwork Morning Show. Told both people who were listening of my cancer. One of the first guys to call me after the show was Jim Recer at CompassBank/Houston. One of the VP’s in his Region just went through a prostatectomy, and is doing well. The man is 3-years younger than I.

Jim’s a positive guy…and he’s also a religious man. He prayed for me on the spot, on his cell phone, right there in traffic somewhere in Houston.

That’s pretty powerful medicine.
And the phone call was nice, too.

Here are the nuts and bolts of my situation. There are three areas of cancer in my prostate, between .7-mm and 10.7-mm in size…the largest still undetectable by a digital exam. On the Gleason scale of severity, all of these adenocarcinomas are rated the same at 3+3. That means it’s not aggressive…that my prospects for survival are excellent. Hence the optimism of my doctor, and my irritatingly positive attitude.

As I mentioned earlier this month when this personal saga began, Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer (excluding skin cancer) among American men. According to the American Cancer Society, men aged 50 and older, and those over the age of 45 who are in high-risk groups (such as African-American men and men with a family history of prostate cancer), should have a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test and digital rectal exam (DRE) once every year.

Here is why I am sharing this with you: The point of getting your PSA checked is early-detection. Without that test, I would not have known this early of my condition, and could not have begun my treatment. I’m not especially looking forward to the next 120-days, but at least I know that the chances of curing my condition and regaining an active life, for a guy at the half-century mark, is pretty good.

Hey, it’s not great news.
No one likes to be jerked up short by a doctor telling you cancer has invaded your body…but if that is to be, then this is the least-deadly version to have.

I have to be optimistic.
The numbers are in my favor.
Positive people live longer…and I can use all the advantages I can get!
And Jim, thanks for the call!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

On Needles and Pen, part deux

A few weeks ago I shared with you the details of a biopsy mission up my tailpipe. I promised you I'd report on the results. Here we go:


Today I was told I have cancer of the Prostate.
Calmly, clinically, they added, “but don’t worry—it’s treatable.” As if that makes it all better, like an emotional band aide to take away the sting.
Or the terror.
Only it doesn’t work, because cancer has always been the death sentence…sooner or later, treatable or not.

I don’t fear death, really.
My spirit is going to live on, and I know that my body will die, along with the assorted aches, pains, and nuisances I’ve acquired over the last half-century of life.

My mind runs at hyper-speed now, however. Revving to think thoughts I haven’t thought of thinking, so that I can get them all in before…you know.

Things I will not miss about being alive:
No more CPAP to breathe through the night
No more seasonal allergies
No more sore joints in the morning, with those first, painful steps from the bed to the bath
No more 3am wake-up calls for work
Winter (I hate Winter)
Insufferable bores and general Pretense
Brushing my teeth, a necessary chore that I detest
Shaving; ditto
Taxes, that other thing you can always depend on

Things I have thought about about the Afterlife:
Will Jesus take me home with Him?
Will I again see my grandparents and those childhood friends that were taken early?
Will I know when my grandchildren are born, and will I know when my children have finished their time on earth?

Questions I’d like to ask Those Who’ve Gone on Before:
Adam, what were you thinking?
Lot’s Wife, what were you thinking?
Esau, what were you thinking?
Amelia, what really happened?
Lee Oswald—come on, three shots in 17-seconds with that rifle?

People I hope I don’t run into in The Hereafter:
Lee Oswald
John Wilkes Boothe
Anyone from Sodom and Gomorrah
That snake man

It’s curious how your perspectives and priorities change when you are jerked short with the realization you’re not immortal. Oh, I’ll still have the yard mowed regularly, and will continue to wash the car (as long as I am able.)

But I’m not going to win the Nobel Prize for inventing a money-making use for recycled CD singles, and I probably won’t ever fit into those pants again, so clearing out a lot of unnecessary clutter is going to be a little easier.

Shelf-life longer than mine? It’s outta here.

The pain I am feeling (just a dull ache—enough to remind me something is down there) is not so much physical as it is a certain heartsickness.

I don’t want my wife to be sad and alone (I don’t particularly want to know if she throws a party, either!)

I’m not thrilled about leaving my children this soon—I really wanted to meet their mates, and no promising candidates have appeared. I am confident that they will be successful in life, however.

I am particularly saddened to think that my parents might have to see me buried. That’s just not fair. My siblings, I know, will look out for my family—I am the oldest, and that I should go first should not be surprising. It’s just the timing that sucks a little…and I’m really not even sure of that.

That’s the way life is.
You’re never really sure, because there are no promises.
Except one: Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
All else is Vanity.
And that’s how you keep your sanity.

I am going to continue to post my progress into this new phase of my life. Check back here in a few days for more details.

Holy Cow!

The Houston Astros are going to the World Series for the first time in their franchise history.

You didn’t surf by this site for my take on what is THE sports story of the year, but please indulge me for a few paragraphs.

Lots of adjectives were thrown around like 75-cent words to describe the 2005 Astros last night…all of them well- deserved.

All of them apply.
And like the city the team has so wonderfully represented—Classy.

Did you notice--no riots in the streets of Houston last night…no overturned cars set on fire, no raping or pillaging of the public. Just exuberant celebration from Uptown to Downtown and all around the town. Our morning news and traffic anchor, Tim Wolfe, who lives in a posh, upscale downtown Houston highrise, says the horns and sirens and whistles and whoppin’ and hollerin’ went on until well after 2am.

It is a sweet coda for the 2005 baseball season to bring the World Series to Texas for the first time. While this is a Houston story, it is also a win for the state of Texas, once again being thrust into the national spotlight…first for the opening of hearts, arms, and wallets for hurricane survivors, and now for opening the gates at MinuteMaid Park to the World Series.

If what goes around comes around, this is karma of the sweetest variety.

What a contrast to the story of the National Basketball Association imposing a dress code for its players when the regular season commences. Players will be required to wear business-casual attire when involved in team or league business. They can't wear visible chains, pendants or medallions over their clothes.

Call it the Bling Bling Ban…some of the players are calling it racism.

Stephen Jackson, a guard for the Indiana Pacers, says the new rule targets young black males because chains are associated with hip-hop culture. Johnson believes the league is afraid of becoming "too hip-hop." Perhaps…but when you see Hip Hopsters gunning one another down in the streets, and making millions on records that glorify violence, murder and general mayhem, can you blame the NBA for not wanting to promote that image, much less be associated with that culture…or the lack of culture?

Effective marketing is all about packaging and sending the right message, whether you're selling cars or season tickets to athletic events…which is a concept some coaches and players still don’t get. In Michigan, a little league hockey coach is under suspension for drilling his players in the finer points of brawling on the ice. The coach at a practice session of teenage hockey players ordered the kids to drop their gloves and helmets, and fight each other, one on one--leaving several kids bloodied.

Parents are upset but remaining silent.
The players on the team don’t want to be shunned by their teammates for challenging one of the traditional elements of the game.

There’s a mixed message being sent when you place kids in team sports to build character and an understanding of the concept of functioning as part of a group, and along the way, teach them to knock the stuffing out of one another because that’s how the game is played.

Maybe not.

You can change the culture of an organization…you can change the culture of an activity. It just takes a little discipline. Baseball has had its shares of knocks the past few years with a culture of indulgence of illegal “performance enhancing supplements.” The gambling thing didn't help, either. I think the corner was turned, however, when baseball wisely concluded Pete Rose does not belong alongside the greats of the game.

The NBA was tainted by the antics of players like Stephen Jackson in last year’s arena brawl. He was invited to sit out the next 30-games. At some point it doesn't matter how many points you score on the court, if team image is losing points off the court.

There must be something to the notion of dressing for the occasion. Dress like a hip hopster, most likely that behavior will follow. Substitute the bling bling for Armani or even Chaps, and it’s amazing how people respond—inside and out.

The business world has understood the concept for some time. They call it “dressing for success,” which the NBA now gets, even if some of the players don’t.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Not the Wright Solution

NOTE: Because there was no posting yesterday, you get two-for-the-price-of-one today!

Remember the song by The Clash a few years ago—“Should I Stay or Should I Go?” If the response to a Dallas Morning News poll are any indication, Southwest Airlines is likely to move their tents to a new encampment…65% say it just makes sense.

Dallas’ 5th largest taxpayer is making noises about relocating The Home Office someplace else if legislation choking Southwest’s operations at Love Field is not rescinded… a possible tactic to up the ante on the airline's drive to repeal the Wright Ammendment.

You can’t ignore a veiled threat in the comments of Southwest’s President, Colleen Barrett, who said it’s a little odd to have the airline’s center of operations at it’s smallest post in the Southwest system.

Southwest Chief Executive Gary Kelly said earlier this Summer that if Southwest were choosing a headquarters location from scratch, Dallas wouldn’t even make the first cut…


And you cannot ignore Chairman Herb Kelleher’s comments in The New York Times that the airline might oughtta start “casting about for a place that's more efficient to operate."

“You are clear for departure.”

This is the equivalent of the handwriting on the wall of Belshazzar’s palace in ancient Babylon, “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin.” Only the common-day translation might be more like “eenie, mene, miney, mo—where might Southwest’s headquarters go--away from Dallas?

This continues to be an interesting debate…and everyone is weighing in.

Southwest has already amassed a list of signatures from 250,000 pro-repeal Texans...and then there are those trying to sit on the fence (or the tarmac?)

Dallas Mayor Laura Miller has gone so far as to propose a middle-ground solution that would phase out some of the restrictions of the Wright amendment, giving American Airlines and D/FW airport time to adjust to the idea… Guess when the government has subsidized your operations by restricting the competition for years, it’s a bit of a shock when the playing field is leveled.

Mayor Miller’s heart may be in the right place, but her solution is from the Wright playbook, still prohibiting international routes, and imposing a curfew to eliminate the potential for overnight flights.

A curfew? What—are the pilots all teenagers??
…maybe we need to send chaperones along for the flights, too??

As usual, Texas’ senators are remaining safely circumspect on this issue: Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison wants the Senate to take “a thoughtful look at the Wright amendment," which was surely a gust of wind beneath the wings of both antagonists and protagonists on the issue. Senator John Cornyn’s office noted that they’re “always…happy to hear from constituents."

Bet they are.

The Dallas Morning News notes Southwest generated $15 million in tax revenues last year. It provides 5,000 jobs, and its activities at Love Field create $2 billion to $3 billion in annual economic activity.

Translation: Votes.

There are some very practical logistical issues to be considered…
Imagine trying to hold a meeting of your key people at The Home Office--for which your staff has to make two flight connections to attend, and carve out three days for a one day meeting, because of the restrictions imposed by the government?

Would it not be more efficient to move HQ to a place more easily reached by air?

Here’s another one: You want to do business in Dallas—you fly into Love Field, and you’re 20-minutes or less from your appointment by car. Why fly into D/FW for that meeting in Dallas, which is at least 30-minutes away, and then scurry to where you're wanting to go?

I’ve driven it…it’s ridiculous.

Wright is just wrong.

Planning Ahead

There's always somebody who is paid too much, and taxed too little - and it's always somebody else.
--Cullen Hightower

John Lennon wrote a song that proposed a "world with no countries…nothing to kill or die for…"

President George Bush's tax panel is imagining a drastically simplified income tax system that would eliminate most deductions, credits, savings incentives and other tax breaks, replacing them with a few simpler benefits. Oh, we’d pay about the same amount of tax under the kinder, gentler system as we do now, sans most of the confusing tax paperwork, and complex equations that could give even Einstein a headache would be simplified.

This is huge.

The marching orders for the panel were to make recommendations for different tax methods that make income taxes a fairer, simpler and more economically productive system. The final report is due Nov. 1.

Here’s my recommendation: Eliminate the “income” in the formulas.

What are on the table are savings accounts for retirement and major family, and a shrinking of the number of income tax rates from six to four. This would place 75% of individuals and families in the bottom 15% tax bracket. Gone would be the AMT—the alternative minimum tax, and you would not pay tax on roughly three-quarters of the capital gains on corporate stock.

These wonderful developments come with a price: also gone would be the federal tax deduction for state and local taxes, and all those personal and family tax breaks would be replaced with one family credit. Ditto for benefits and savings accounts for retirement, health and education, which would be slimmed to just three savings accounts, funded with after-tax income, but grown and withdrawn tax free.

And what of that most sacred of cows, the tax deduction for mortgage interest? It would become a tax credit, and the size of eligible mortgages would be subject to limits set by the Federal Housing Administration. That’s a clever slight of hand. Get out last year’s 1040 and reverse your mortgage deduction, add it as a credit, and see how your taxes would have changed…

From the “What’s Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander” Dept, health benefits provided by your employer would be the same as what’s provided to members of Congress: tax free up to $11,500 for families and $5,000 for individuals.

The new plan does retain the earned income tax credit, but will offer you the option of letting the IRS make that complicated calculation.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Social Bankruptcy

The new bankruptcy law goes in effect today, ushering in a whole new world--of what? Problems, I believe, for the financial realm, and society, too will likely suffer for lack of risk-taking by businesses because of the tougher rules. For individuals, it’s going to be a fiasco…but out of this two positives are going to emerge:

Knowing that the “B” word is a harder option, I believe we will likely gravitate towards a cash-basis of buying many things. This is good because it will reinforce the value of what we pay for things…and with that realization will come a degree of restraint in spending. It is proven that consumers buy more when "using plastic" than when shelling out paper with dead presidents’ likenesses…so there’s going to be a lessening tendency to spend beyond means on a cash basis.

Secondly, by going to a cash basis, there will be more personal responsibility—and personal choice—in play in making purchases. This is a key point to remember: When personal responsibility factors enters into any transaction—whether financial or social—there is a greater degree of care and concern that’s injected into the process. There are definite benefits to this, some of which have not yet been fully realized.

I was alarmed to learn this morning from the President of the Tax Foundation, Scott Hodge, that in 2004, one-third of all filers filed a tax return but had no tax liability after taking advantage of their credits and deductions. That 32% of Non-tax payers is nearly a 50% increase since 2000, and a 160% increase in the number of non-payers since 1985.

For lower-income wage earners, such an arrangement is a fiscal boom…for the upper wager earners, it’s an unfair additional burden. Remember—one man’s tax break is another’s burden increased.

The shocking part of this conversation: the Tax Foundation reckons that in New Orleans the ratio of non-taxpaying citizens exceeds 40%. Are we witnessing the fruition of a society that coddled the lazy, encouraged slothfulness while discouraging personal growth and risk-taking through tax and debt rule legislation?

Hearing these statistics, it is not surprising that those who were left behind by their government (City of New Orleans, State of Louisiana) had such a profound sense of helplessness; an entire generation raise on a welfare mentality the reinforces the concept of the world owing them a living.

Think of paying taxes as making an investment in government. I do—and sometimes that’s the only way I keep my sanity each April 15. I am a stock holder in America. The best way to impose my will on how that money is used is by participating in the process—including voting.

But if a segment of society isn’t paying its freight in taxes—whether through legitimate tax breaks, or legislated “exceptions,’ there is no investment in government, no buy-in to the system, and certainly no ownership incentive to participate in the process--only a taking away in benefits and payments on the government dole.

Certainly, if one is dependant upon an entity for all sustenance, there is no incentive to change that—until the very essence of that subsidy is threatened.

That’s what’s happened at GM, where the company dole cannot possibly meet obligations. That’s what happened in New Orleans, although there are deeper, more sinister problems that contributed to that failure…but the root cause was a failure of personal accountability on government and individuals. Think of it as "social bankruptcy."

There is a profound mindset change that must take place for our entire society to survive, not just the survival of corporate America. It will require companies jettisoning the responsibility for providing healthcare (and other benefits of a personal nature), forcing us as individuals to secure medical and health attention ourselves. When that happens—when we make the buying decisions for healthcare and physician and hospital services, a remarkable change in spending habits will take place. Prices will approach something more realistic. And wouldn’t it be refreshing to run a company un-encumbered from the expense of providing health care for employees?

You see, the government should not be in the business of taking us to raise, from the cradle to the grave, as it were. And corporations do not exist to fund healthcare and insurance plans, contrary to the thinking of the UAW. If you disagree, take a look at where that line of reasoning has gotten General Motors…where over $1,500 of the price of each vehicle it makes goes to defray GM employees' benefits.

So long as we-the-people refuse to take personal responsibility for all aspects of our lives, not just our healthcare, the nation can never truly prosper, never truly compete on the global stage. We didn’t get to this point overnight, and it’s not going to change in a year or even a decade. It’s a generational, philosophical evolution that will require much time, patience, and wisdom. But change it must.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Finding Fault with Faith

This is a momentous weekend in the Middle East, as Iraqi’s cast their ballots for the first draft of a constitution as that infant nation takes its first few baby steps in creating a democracy in the region. If past experience is any indication, voter turn-out will be heavy. What is truly remarkable is that these people are literally risking their lives to participate in the polling, in danger of shootings, bombings, and beheadings.

How sad that the country sacrificing money, materiel, and manpower to the efforts to bring democracy to the Middle East, is at home plagued by low voter turnout, political apathy, and a general distrust and dislike of the very government we’re trying to re-create in Iraq.

Texas is less than a month away from a November election that will include referendums on various issues, including amendments to the state constitution. It is estimated that as many as 750,000 eligible voters will actually participate.

Is someone shooting at us?

This morning’s radio show included a visit from Sam Harris, who’s book, “The End of Faith,” promotes his rationale that the world would be a better place without the faith that sustains the religious zeal of believers. He cites the radical fundamentalism of Islamic Jihadists and Southern Baptists as equally culpable for levels of unswavering faith that leads them to commit homicide bombings on one extreme, and relentlessly infiltrate the US political process on the other.

Harris’ argument that there should be a little more Reason and a lot less Religion, however, fails to answer to my satisfaction the question of what replaces faith when excised from the human and social equation. Without Faith, or Trust, or a reasonable expectation of an outcome, how can man function on anything but a basic level?

I so badly wanted to shout out to him the line from the Book of Hebrews, which so elegantly describes the commodity of Faith as that which enables “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb. 11:1) But how do you use that logic with an individual who doubts the existence of its author?

Harris’ justification for his position is varied, but includes data from the United Nations illustrating the relative economic strength of countries who do not employ some vestiges of faith in governing their nation. Why, then, are people not clamoring to move to places like Sweden, and instead literally willing to risk their lives to come to America...or vote to imitate our form of government?

That logic you can’t refute, regardless of your faith…or lack of it.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Know What I Mean?

When was the last time you really understood the boiler-plate verbiage on the back of a billing statement, at the bottom of a rental agreement, or even on a receipt from a retailer?

Gobblety-gook, for the most part, right?

Ever read the fine print disclaimers on those e-mails you sometimes get? Another fine example of pomposity run amok with the encouragement of the local bar association.

I have a parody of this on my personal e-mail:

This e-mail is intended for the use of the individual addressee(s) named above and may contain information confidential, privileged, or unsuitable for overly sensitive persons with low self-esteem, no sense of humor, or irrational religious beliefs. If you are not the intended recipient, any dissemination, distribution, or copying of this e-mail is not authorized (either explicitly or implicitly) and constitutes an irritating social faux pas. Unless the word absquatulation has been used in its correct context somewhere other than in this warning, it does not have any legal or grammatical use and may be ignored. No animals were either intentionally or accidentally harmed in the transmission of this e-mail. Those of you with an overwhelming fear of the unknown will be gratified to learn that there is no hidden message revealed by reading this warning backwards, so just ignore that ALERT NOTICE from Microsoft (or from Apple if you truly are a creative person). However, by pouring a complete circle of salt around yourself and your computer you can ensure that no harm befalls you and your pets. If you have received this e-mail in error, please add some nutmeg and egg whites, whisk and place in a warm oven for 40 minutes.

Simplicity is the nectar of the gods when it comes to agreements...The Fixx had a hit song in the 90’s called “One Thing Leads to Another,” in which a line of lyric implored, “say what you mean, mean what you say; one thing leads to another…”

Would not our lives be a little less cluttered, a little more productive, if we would take that lesson to heart: clarity of thought leads to clarity of expression, which leads to clearer understanding.

I get that.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Politics of Compassion

Are you as weary as I that compassion has become politicized?

As news of the Pakistan earthquakes broke, nations around the world offered their assistance in the form of cash and crews. It is a scenario with which we’ve become all too familiar, lately: In the face of unimaginable disaster, strangers and nations-estranged overcoming the usual barriers to lend a helping hand.

Almost utopian, no?

According to The Independent, a British publication, Western governments are now stepping up their pledges for earthquake relief effort because their initial response to the disaster was condemned as insufficient by Pakistan.

“We need help," they said.
“We will help you,” we said.
“Is that all you can do?”

The United States, under pressure to increase a pledge of $500,000 —considered almost derisory by many Pakistanis when it was made over the weekend—said we really meant to send $50-million. Pesky little decimal points!

Although we’re going to spend billions to clean up and rebuild our Gulf Coast states, our initial offerings were labeled as "peanuts" by Qazi Hussain, the leader of the Pakistani opposition party Jamat Islami.

‘Scuse me?

Turns out we Yanks weren’t the only ones getting yanked by the intended recipients of our charity. The Brits also increased their initial pledge to £1m for the effort, and have promised to send more soon.

Shame is sometimes a good thing.

But what does it say about nations when the generosity of private businesses and individuals is raising eyebrows when compared to initial government pledges which were arguably low.

The Independent notes a $500,000 donation by Li Ka-shing, Hong Kong's richest business tycoon. That's half of the British Government's increased pledge, and five times the amount the UK originally planned to give.

It is interesting to note and compare who’s contributing what to the earthquake relief efforts.
According to The Independent:

The European Union has deployed aid workers to stricken parts of Pakistan and allocated €3.6m (£2.47m) in initial aid.

Kuwait has donated $100m and Yemen has said it will send two aid planes. South Korea, for its part, announced it would provide $3m in aid, while a 46-member search and rescue team including 18 medical officers from Malaysia was due to leave yesterday for Pakistan. Malaysia has also pledged $1m in aid. Australia lifted its contribution from $380,000 to $4.2m, with the possibility of more if it was needed.

Pakistan said Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Spain had sent sniffer dogs to help with the rescue efforts, while specialist rescue teams were sent over the weekend by Britain, France, China and Turkey. Germany, Japan and the Netherlands have also sent help.

Washington's upwards revision of our initial $100,000 pledge is getting some mileage in placating the Pakistani’s, who had tagged it as inadequate...a point that’s hard to refute when you learn that Sri Lanka, one of the most serious victims of the tsunami, which is still struggling to rebuild itself, has also pledged $100,000.

You might think every US dollar would count in Pakistan, where nothing America does escapes being judged on political grounds. This was a rare opportunity for the us to show that we're a true friend of the Moslem country…and we stubbed our toe badly.

Our response to the earthquake disaster could improve perceptions of America in Pakistan, a Muslim nation, where deep resentment still exists over the United States' invasion of Afghanistan and the Iraq war. Do you recall the warm reception we received in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, when US aid was offered?

So how much goodwill can we afford?
Don’t you hate it that it has to be put in those terms before sufficient aid can be rendered?

As of October 11, The Independant lists these aid donors:

Britain: £1m
United States: £50m plus helicopters
European Union: €3.6m plus aid workers on the ground
United Nations: $100,000
Kuwait: $100m
South Korea: $3m
Malaysia: $1m
Australia: $4.2m
Sri Lanka: $100,000

Monday, October 10, 2005

Happy Stinking Holiday!

Texas beat OU this weekend in Dallas…Tech beat Nebraska…and Dallas beat Philadelphia…we’re not going to mention the Texans’ performance this weekend, but the capper was the Astros’ 18-inning torture, with a final home run score by rookie Chris Burke, to send Atlanta packing with a 7-6 decision…Houston’s going to the Playoffs, baby!

Today is a Federal Holiday observance of Columbus Day, banks and the Bond markets are closed…but you may be able to cash a check at a bank branch in a grocery store...but don't look for that check from the Publisher's Clearinghouse today. No mail delivery, either.

Remember national holidays when we were kids?

Columbus Day was always October 12…Lincoln’s birthday was always February 12, and Washington’s Birthday was the 22nd. Those were back in the days when you started school after Labor Day, and got out in time to enjoy Memorial Day without the specter of finals hanging over your head.

What’s the best way to eliminate a holiday?

Let the Federal Government get a hold of it. Move everything to Monday’s-off, regardless of the date, and after a while, when the meaning and significance of the date has been lost, so will its importance. You will have just another run-of-the-mill day on the calendar on which your mail won’t come, downtown banks will close, and everyone else will have 50%-off Sales.

So happy Columbus Day.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Tuning in to Reality

Clear Channel Communications wants Congress to allow more outlets it can own in a market so it can better compete and boost profits. Clear Channel Chief Executive Mark Mays is worried about competition from satellite-delivered subscription radio Clear Channel's solution: broadcast radio operators can own 10 stations instead of eight, in markets where there are at least 60 stations, and up to 12 stations in markets where at least 75 radio outlets operate.

Mays delivered a presentation to the Profress and Freedom Foundation a few days ago, in which we was quoted as saying, "Free radio is struggling. The cost of competing with new technologies and increased listener choice is staggering and profits are radio needs Congress to relax outdated restrictions on our operations. Free radio is not asking for much more room."

That's because there's not much more left for CC:

Despite the fact that Clear Channel owns about 1,200 radio stations, earnings were off 13 percent in the second quarter because of weak advertising revenues.

Wonder why that is?

Clear Channel is the outfit that has been championing :30-second commercials instead of the traditional one-minute unit. Could it be that earnings are down because Clear Channel’s effectiveness is diminished because they’re selling their clients half as much time to get their message across?

Remember, Clear Channel was one of the leaders a few years back in seeing just how many commercials they could cram into a break. When your message was eighth or ninth in a cluster of 8 or 9, how effective was that?

That minor point didn't seem to matter to the radio operating companies at the time—they were raking in the cash, hand over fist. The mantra was "reach and frequency:" you’d reach more people with more frequency of repeats of your message—which to a certain degree remains true. But that methodology was corrupted and abused when stations started imposing ten-minute commercial breaks…

So in an effort to save the number of units in their inventory, and shorten the commercial breaks, Clear Channel’s Eureka! Solution was to sell 30-second commercials instead of :60’s. Now, listeners could sit through ten messages in half the time…and unfortunately for most advertisers, with half as good a result.

Didn’t take long for advertisers to figure out that some Radio buys just weren’t working, and cash allotments for radio broadcasting began to taper off for the big boys, and Clear Channel saw a 13% decline in the last quarter as a result.

So now Clear Channel wants congress to allow Radio owners an even bigger piece of the market pie to better compete against subscription radio like XM and Sirius.

Did it ever occur to Clear Channel and Cox and Infinity to simply become more aggressive, leaner, meaner in their presentation approach?

Did it ever occur to the bean counters who took over the radio business in the 80’s that there were some elements of programming that needed to be heeded, instead of just working the numbers and calculating how many minutes of airtime could be split between content and commercial?

Why do you watch pay per view TV? To avoid the commercial interruptions.
Why do you subscribe to services like Sirius and XM? Because you want what terrestrial radio cannot or will not give you, and that’s quality programming without commercial interruption.

Isn’t it amazing that the industry that perfected the fine art of focus group research has ignored this major, glaring trend??

But that's apparently what's happening, because most major radio operators continue to offer the same, tired M.O., with little regard for audience retention, and now they want more stations to add to their cookie cutter formulas.

The Federal Communications Commission in 2003 refused to adjust ownership restrictions on the radio industry amid fears of losing multiple viewpoints in a market. The agency kept limits that prevent a company from owning more than eight stations in markets with at least 45 outlets.

Mays' argument to win over Congress: satellite radio services offer more than 150 channels in every market, while he can only own a handful of stations in a city.

Perhaps if those stations were allowed to become more creative “channels” to offer audiences, instead of the bland, homogeneity that radio has become, Mays’ ROI would be a little better.

Another factor that's making competition tough for Clear Channel is that the two satellite services, XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc. and Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. which together have over 7 million customers, offer many of their channels without commercials. 7-million people can’t be that wrong.

Oh, but Clear Channel has reduced advertising to retain listeners, according to Mr. Mays. Unfortunately, it's not just about the spot load. It's all about stewardship.

Consumer advocates and some lawmakers have pressed for tight ownership limits, including Sen. Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat who has been particularly concerned that Clear Channel was not serving local interests.

"How much bigger does one need to get?" he said in a telephone interview. "We already have too much concentration in ownership."

In the past, Dorgan has pointed to an accident in which a train spilled a dangerous chemical and the local station, owned by Clear Channel, wasn't adequately staffed to warn listeners.

With the recent Rita emergency in Houston being one glaring exception, when was the last time you were able to tune to a local station for live information? I come to work at 4am most mornings. Sometimes in thunderstorms. There is not one channel on the radio dial in my home town where I can turn for current, live, intelligent weather information.

That's shameful.

Radio in general has created its own problems by abdicating local involvement and local programming for the cheaper, slicker way of doing things. Voice tracking overnight…one announcer providing the voicing for multiple stations, all digitally synchronized and orchestrated…and as long as the status quo remains so, no one’s the wiser… until a tornado warning is issued…a train carrying hazardous chemical derails… you get the idea.

Ironically, Mssr. Mays blames the proliferation of content on the Internet from competitors as hurting his business…Again, Radio has lost sight of its fundamental product—to inform and entertain. Radio has only hurt itself by losing sight of that responsibility.

Interestingly, a national radio survey was recently released dealing with the growing of audiences using tight integration of their web sites. The study of nearly 35,000 radio listeners across all formats in major U.S. markets showed that local radio could grow its relationship with audiences if they tie their on-air and online programming and promotions together.
11% of all respondents currently download podcasts.
13% said they would download podcasts from the stations they like if available.
40% confirmed that they are weekly listeners of music from radio stations via streaming.

Instead of embracing and maximizing this shift in public consumption of entertainment, Radio operators would rather whine to congress to change the rules. That would only address the symptoms and not the root cause of the problem: Content.

Real estate is about location location location. Broadcasting is about content…which is why the company I now work for broke from the norm, split from the mainstream, and launched our network.

That may play as a bit self-serving, but it's not mean to.
It's just the way it is...and we're not waiting on Congress to tilt the playing field, either.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

On Needles and Pen

I feel like I’ve been attacked by a rabid Singer sewing machine. My friendly urologist performed a slightly invasive procedure known as a needle biopsy on one of those uniquely male parts of my anatomy, the prostate.

He thanked me profusely for not kicking him during the process, which resulted in a total of 24 precise needle punctures in my backside’s insides.

The prostate is often confused and mis-identified as the “prostrate” gland. That’s an understandable mistake to make, when you must prostrate yourself on a cold, butcher-paper covered table for access to your prostate. On reflection, maybe it should be called the prostrate gland.

The Doc told me the next few days would be colorful experiences for me. I could be an extra in a porno horror film. He also told me no sexual activity for the next few days. No worries there…hard to feel amorous when you really feel like a human pin-cushion.

Guess I shouldn’t whine too long or loudly about one blessedly short session with Dr. Jellyfingers…women endure similar indignities on a more regular basis, I am told.

Here’s the point of all this (no pun intended): Guys—get the check-up. Regularly. Especially if you’re at or beyond the half-century point in your life. Prostate cancer is the most common type of cancer (excluding skin cancer) among American men. According to the American Cancer Society, men aged 50 and older, and those over the age of 45 who are in high-risk groups, such as African-American men and men with a family history of prostate cancer, should have a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test and digital rectal exam (DRE) once every year.

For me, my punctuality (again, no pun intended) for yesterday’s exam was simply to eliminate the possibilities of the cause of a recently discovered anomaly in my anatomy. Watch this blog for updates, soon.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Ronnie Earle Doth Protest Too Much

Like an observer along the back row of the theatre in a magic show, I cannot help but wonder, while Democratic prosecutor Ronnie Earle is performing his legal slight of hand against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, what is going on in the other hand while we’re watching the performance? What other, potentially more-important ball, is our eye being drawn away from while this next media circus unfolds?

With $200-billion up for grabs in restoring the Gulf Coast to pre-hurricane conditions, it seems our time and attention might be better spent overseeing how that federal mother lode is to be administered, instead of picking sides in a relatively penny-ante spitting contest…which, apparently, is looking more and more like a thinly-veiled political hatchet job by a puppet prosecutor for the party most recently spurned by a fickle electorate.

All the whoopla and uproar is over $190,000, used in an apparently legal manner…although ethically questionable...when the fact is both parties are adept at this brand of sleight-of-hand.

Texans for a Republican Majority, otherwise known as TRMPAC, or "trim-pack," sent $190,000 to Republican National State Elections Committee, a.k.a. RNSEC, or "rinse-sec," and RNSEC then sent the same total amount in seven checks ranging from $20,000 to $40,000 to Texas House candidates in 2002.

Travis County DA Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, says this is money laundering, because the money that TRMPAC sent to RNSEC came from corporations, which are barred from contributing to campaigns in Texas.

What you're not going to hear in the press is that A) This is a perfectly legal move, and B) the Democrats did the exact same thing. Maybe that will all come out in the the RNSEC cycle, perhaps (gotta keep this money laundering metaphor afloat!)

A recent study by the Institute on Money in State Politics discovered the Texas Democratic Party did the same thing in October 2002 when it sent $75,000 to the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and received $75,000 back from the DNC the very same day.

Ironic, don't you think, that the Democrats pulled off an exact, duplicate move in 2002? Only the names and the amounts were changed--especially the amounts: Democrats transferred a total of approximately $11 million dollars in soft money from its national parties to fund Texas campaigns in 2002, compared to $5.2 million transferred by Republicans.

Methinks the political Pot is calling the Kettle a Cookware-American…and mewonders what else is going on that we’re not seeing, while we’re watching this political freakshow unfold.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Effing America

The Hollywood Elite is at it again, pandering to the enemies of America, and offering yet another fantasy-land perspective on things of which they know nothing. The latest to join the ranks is Donald Sutherland, the voice of Volvo, and one of the cast on the new ABC fictional drama, “Commander-in-Chief.”

Sutherland was recently interviewed by The BBC, in which he blamed the Bush Administration for the ills being suffered from Hurricane Katrina, and for the fallout from the War in Iraq. Sutherland, ever the actor, even managed to shed tears as he told the BBC that we have taken our children’s’ legacy from them, and that President Bush will destroy our lives.

It’s important to keep in mind two key points as you hear about this story and digest its true meaning. Number one, Sutherland is an actor. He’s a fine actor, too, with an impressive filmography. What he is able to portray on the screen, however, is an illusion—a fantasy—scripted versions of reality that are not necessarily real.

Number two—Sutherland is not an American citizen, but a native of New Brunswick, Canada…who was raised in Nova Scotia. It’s okay to criticize—but it would be prudent to not nibble too sharply on the hand that is feeding him so handsomely.

That’s what I really resent about these so-called stars, who may have worked hard to create their careers, but seem to think that because they can portray a character on the large or small screen, they have the rubric for truth and knowledge. Then they rail against the very form of government that has allowed them the privilege to excel in their chosen field and craft.

In the interview with the BBC, according to, Sutherland ripped President Bush and his administration for the Hurricane Katrina relief fiasco, saying "They were inept. They were inadequate to the task, and they lied."

Do you find it a little intriguing that Sutherland fails to comment on the corrupt New Orleans city management that should be held to account for its official actions before and after the storm?

How is it that the politically-astute Mr. Sutherland conveniently neglects to mention Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco’s ballsy appearance before congress last week to ask for billions in federal aid, while refusing to answer any questions about her role in that state’s preparedness for the storm, and subsequent bungling of assistance resources?

How would Sutherland explain the flooded school busses in New Orleans? There’s a graphic portrayal of ineptitude. There’s your poster-child for inadequate leadership.

Sutherland’s rants on the War in Iraq are equally one-sided…

"And they were insulting, and they were vindictive. And they were heartless. They did not care. They do not care. They do not care about Iraqi people. They do not care about the families of dead soldiers. They only care about profit."

Remember, Donald Sutherland, who is married to the daughter of a Democratic Socialist in the Candian government, also counts in his filmography a production with Jane Fonda, “F.T.A.,” which was an documentary of their involvement in a anti-war stage show that entertained soldiers during that war, and is credited for being part of the momentum that eroded soldiers’ will to fight.

“F.T.A.” is an acronym for the film's true title, which uses the “F-word” to depict what should be done with the US Army. Some would say that title is an accurate depiction of what really did happen to all US forces… but who was the “Ef-ee” and who was the “Ef-or” depends upon your slant on the issue.

Bottom line—when US Morale crumbled—at home and abroad-- we lost that war.
Thanks Jane…thanks Don.
Hmmm…think I’ll buy a Volvo today.

Interestingly, the web site says, “Today, it’s tragic to watch Jane Fonda’s moving speeches against the war and sketches against sexual harassment knowing that she moved on from her radical commitment to social justice to be reborn as America’s workout queen in the 1980s. Or that now, she makes her grand return to the big screen playing the wicked mother in Monster-in-Law.”

I’m not sure tragic is the correct word.
Hypocritical is more like it.
Or Shameless.

But through it all, remember, they’re actors.
We pay them to act that way…