Who Knew Back in 1986?

Let’s say that in 1986 you had walked into my home (and after having me turn down the volume on my stereo playing last year’s best selling album from Bruce Springsteen) you told me that in twenty-five years I would find myself watching a television show hosted by a guy named Stephen Colbert and Colbert would be interviewing a neuroscientist by the name of David Eagleman, I probably would have shrugged and said something profound like, “Really?” I would have had some inkling of exactly what a neuroscientist does back then which is about the same as I actually have in 2011.

However, if you had told me that Colbert is a comedian and that he hosts an award-winning satirical program that lampoons idiotic, political, pundits (of which there are many in 2011) by portraying one of the idiots himself, I would have said something like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

But, if you had then told me that the interview was to discuss David Eagleman’s new book, “Incognito – The Secret Lives of the Brain” and that I’d enjoy the description of the book so much that I’d reach out and pick up a shining piece of metal and glass weighing only a little over a pound with the look of a skinny photo frame and by using my finger I’d touch the screen and in seconds I would have not only purchased the book but it would be delivered to that same device and I’d be reading it – I would have laughed and asked you, “What have you been smoking?”

Can you imagine today what kinds of new devices you’ll be using twenty-five years from now? Can you see in your mind’s eye something that could change the way we view not only symbols like words but also the way we view something as simple as eating or sleeping or as complicated as hitting a golf ball?

The pieces are already here right now.

Word processors, touchscreens and the Internet had all been around for years before 1986. But, we had libraries and book stores for our books. In 1986 we would have asked why anyone would ever want to read a book on a piece of glass and aluminum? Today, we know the answer to that question.

What questions aren’t you asking right now – what actions aren’t you taking today that will change your world (or maybe even the world) twenty-five years or even only two years from today?

Kids photo compliments of crol1373

Tax Dodgers

You probably already know the filing deadline for your federal tax return is April 18th this year. While you’re working on your taxes and thinking about how much you paid this year you might want to consider these facts.

  1. Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009. Exxon not only paid no federal income taxes, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to its SEC filings.
  2. Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, although it made $4.4 billion in profits and received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of nearly $1 trillion.
  3. Over the past five years, while General Electric made $26 billion in profits in the United States, it received a $4.1 billion refund from the IRS.
  4. Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS last year after it made $10 billion in profits in 2009.
  5. Boeing, which received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon to build 179 airborne tankers, got a $124 million refund from the IRS last year.
  6. Valero Energy, the 25th largest company in America with $68 billion in sales last year received a $157 million tax refund check from the IRS and, over the past three years, it received a $134 million tax break from the oil and gas manufacturing tax deduction.
  7. Goldman Sachs in 2008 only paid 1.1 percent of its income in taxes even though it earned a profit of $2.3 billion and received almost $800 billion from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department.
  8. Citigroup last year made more than $4 billion in profits but paid no federal income taxes. It received a $2.5 trillion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury.
  9. ConocoPhillips, the fifth largest oil company in the United States, made $16 billion in profits from 2007 through 2009, but received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction.
  10. Over the past five years, Carnival Cruise Lines made more than $11 billion in profits, but its federal income tax rate during those years was just 1.1 percent.

This is a list of the countries 10 worst corporate tax avoiders as compiled by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and released in a speech on the Senate floor last week. There is a great video of the Senator delivering this information you really should take time to watch (only 4.5 minutes) about what’s going on in the world of corporate taxes.

Our politicians want to cut as many social, educational, and public safety programs as possible while asking everyone but wealthy individuals and large corporations to sacrifice not only by paying their taxes but by giving up good education, help for the elderly and the sick, and any kind of social or regulatory safety net. I figure they’ll try to change the child labor laws and lower the minimum wage next right after they get rid of the EPA and Department of Education.

I read a report that states that China is likely to overtake the US in scientific output by 2013. It’s easy to see why that will happen. We’re cutting funding for education and the Chinese have made funding it a priority now for years.

We’ve elected and continue to re-elect these people – both Republicans and Democrats – who day in and out demonstrate their lack of accountability to the people. Too many of them live to serve special interests as they suck at the teats of the lobbyists that foul our capital with their lies and greed.

It is time for action. As long as people sit at home watching the crap on television that the same non-tax paying corporations put out then we continue to see our lifestyle and our lives deteriorate.

Watch the video and then go do something. Action – any action is better than doing nothing. Start here if you need some direction.

The High Cost of Health for Freelancers

One of the drawbacks of being a free-lancer really hits home when you get sick with things like viruses, back pain, or the flu. You know – the kinds of things that keep people who work for a company home for a day or two while they recover. I was feeling pretty rocky yesterday and I even rescheduled an interview because of this bug. I’m also lucky because I do have health care insurance. But, I worry about my freelancing friends who just can’t take time off to be sick.

They have the normal costs of living to pay and many of them are already working hours that would make most people give it up and find a company to get a paycheck. But, they don’t do what they do for a paycheck. They do it because they love it and they wouldn’t want to do anything else. Even if it does mean working with the flu or pain.

Now here is where my worry part comes to play. I know that way too many of them don’t have any health insurance. And, not because they like to gamble with their health and financial future. They just can’t afford the premiums that insurance companies charge the self-employed. They also can’t afford to pay for many tests that they sometimes really, really need to have done. A good friend was told she needed an MRI last year. She was in serious pain and was unable to find relief through things she could afford to pay for like massage and acupuncture. When I heard how much she was going to have to pay for it I knew there was no way she could afford it. Shop around yourself. It was going to cost her thousands of dollars. She did without it. She tells me the pain gradually got much better. But, what if it hadn’t? What if it had been something significant?

Now Google the cost of an MRI paid for privately in any other developed nation. A $2500 spinal MRI in the US will cost you $500 in the UK. In fact, the costs are so much lower in other countries for medical procedures that there is an entire medical tourism industry.

We are facing a health care crises that is unimaginable. 17 Million people identify as self-employed, 15 Million are unemployed, and 12 Million have given up looking for work or are working part-time with no health care. The current number of total uninsured Americans stands at around 60 Million and many of them are self-employed working harder than anyone on Wall Street ever worked only to live knowing that one serious illness or accident could be devastating. How many of these people are our friends and colleagues?

If you’re self-employed, a freelancer, etc. how do you deal with your health care? What would happen if you needed expensive tests or procedures? What can we do about this?

Guy Kawasaki Talks Enchantment

I had the pleasure of interviewing Guy Kawasaki yesterday to discuss his latest book, Enchantment:  The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions.

Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions is Guy’s tenth book. In it, he explains how to influence what people will do while maintaining the highest standards of ethics.

The book explains when and why enchantment is necessary and then the pillars of enchantment: likability, trustworthiness, and a great cause.

The next topics are launching, overcoming resistance, making enchantment endure, and using technology. There are even special chapters dedicated to enchanting your employees and your boss.

Finally, because there are times you may want to resist enchantment, there’s even a chapter about how to do this too.

If you want to change the world — or even part of the world, this book is for you. To interact with the Enchantment community, go to the Enchantment Facebook page.

Once you listen to the interview you can buy the book at these websites. And, to get an idea of how enchanting you are you can take the GREAT quiz. Great stands for Guy’s Realistic Enchantment Aptitude Test.

Now enjoy the audio interview. It lasts about 27 minutes. Thank you.

You Get What You Pay For

When I was growing up I often heard adults say, “You get what you pay for.” I’ve found that to be true more often than not. No place is it more true than in Pennsylvania politics and government.

I recently wrote about our new Republican Governor, Tom Corbett’s anticipated budget. He finally revealed it this week and it demonstrates that the gas and oil companies got what they paid for when they donated over $1million to Corbett.

Gov. Corbett presented his budget on Tuesday, and it included big-time cuts – nearly $2.6 billion – from vital areas like education and social services. It would slash about $1.5 billion from state aid to school districts and higher education. Gov. Corbett’s plan to cut higher education funding by half would inevitably mean tuition hikes, staff reductions, and even fewer students, administrators at Pennsylvania’s colleges and universities said Tuesday.

Corbett says he wants Pennsylvania to look more like Texas where he went to law school. So he cut spending for education and refuses to tax the gas business. YeeHaw!

He states, Big Gas will “make Pennsylvania the Texas of the natural gas boom,” as long as “we don’t scare off these industries with new taxes.”

You can rest assured nothing is going to scare them away. As a friend of mine who owns a great deal of acreage in the Marcellus shale area says, “People are acting like it is the California Gold Rush all over again.”

According to the Washington County Observer-Reporter, State Rep. Bill DeWeese, D-Waynesburg, said several potential sources of revenue were ignored by Corbett. “I think it’s outlandish that hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars are left on the budget table while big Pennsylvania corporations escape their tax obligations through a complicated dynamic called the Delaware loophole,” DeWeese said.

He explained that a corporation that does most of its work in Pennsylvania but maintains a “small corporate headquarters” in Delaware pays virtually no Pennsylvania corporate taxes. “In addition, Corbett cowardly decided to have Pennsylvania be the only state among the 21 big, natural gas-producing states in America to not have a small severance tax on Marcellus Shale, even one that would approximate the reasonable levy of our sister state West Virginia,” he said.

“Between the Delaware loophole and a Marcellus Shale tax, he (Corbett) could have raised over a half a billion dollars,” DeWeese said. “Now, it will probably be incumbent for the 501 school districts to raise their property taxes through the roof in order to make ends meet.”

Right now school districts in PA can pretty much raise taxes as they deem necessary. Corbett says he will push to require pubic approval by vote before school districts can raise property taxes above the rate of inflation. They aren’t supposed to be able to hike property taxes above the rate of inflation but there are at least ten exceptions to that law and the school districts use them all the time. The fact is that by cutting this much from education school districts will raise taxes. The governor may say he’s keeping his promise to not enact any new taxes but he’s just playing a con game and switching the burden to local municipalities and school districts.

Corbett also announced a Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission led by Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley to oversee this new industry. He then added 75 percent more money to Cawley’s budget for a total of $867,000 a year. I guess he’ll need it for travel, lodging and entertaining as he visits the gas and oil companies. Actually Cawley claims the last Lt. Gov. didn’t do anything and so he only needed $490,000 a year. Cawley is going to be busy keeping those oil and gas people from Texas in line so I can see why he’d need a 75% increase.

Additionally, Corbett proposes eliminating 1,500 states jobs with most of them coming from the Department of Public Welfare and Mental Health Services.

There is a lot more if you’re interested. For example, Ben Waxman reports for “It’s Our Money,” a joint project between the Philadephia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation. He writes about the Three Big Lies in Corbett’s budget address.

So, if the governor is slashing is he adding anything to the budget? Well, yes he is! He wants to hire 230 more state troopers and 55 additional probation and parole agents. He also wants to raise the Department of Corrections budget by about $13 million.

Yes, the new budget cuts education to the bone while increasing money for prisons!

The cost of keeping someone in the prison system is tremendously higher than education. It costs an average $29,000 a year to incarcerate an inmate while a high school student’s education has an average cost of $9,000.

You can give all the tax breaks you want to business but where are these businesses going to get their leaders and managers if we don’t place a higher value on education for our young people who are the drivers of economic development?

We already have an average high school dropout rate of 30% in this country. Many of these people go on to be long-term unemployed which leads to social disaster. They feel like they have been excluded from our society which leads to simmering anger that turns into crime and violence which then feeds our prison system.

H. G. Well said it best, “Civilization is in a race between education and catastrophe. Let us learn the truth and spread it as far and wide as our circumstances allow. For the truth is the greatest weapon we have.”

Living in Alice in Wonderland World

It seems to me that the “titans of industry” and politicians are living in an Alice in Wonderland world of their own making. Here is an example that is happening today in my own state. PA elected Republican Tom Corbett as governor. He took office last month and he is about to deliver a budget that is sure to be full of cuts to education, senior services, health insurance for low-income residents, child care, libraries, etc.

Meanwhile, one of Gov. Corbett’s first acts in office was to rescind the moratorium on drilling for gas in our state parks and he is about to lift a ban on drilling in state forests. He is a big proponent of of extraction of natural gas through shale that is across the state. Many people don’t even want the drilling to occur. However since it seems inevitable, a very large majority of residents want to see a tax on the extraction of the gas. Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state without a tax on extraction.

Think about how easy a decision this should be for the governor.

  1. The majority of PA residents want to see a tax on extraction.
  2. The tax will help pay for many of the programs that the governor wants to eliminate.
  3. The tax will help pay for the impact of the drilling on local communities.
  4. It doesn’t put PA in a disadvantage to other states (the competition) as they all have the tax.

But, guess what. The Republicans led by Corbett oppose the tax. Why would they do that? Well, to begin with the gas industry has been throwing millions of dollars at all the states politicians. Corbett alone got $1 million in campaign contributions from the gas industry. Super Bowl tickets and trips to Dallas for the game were given out. (By the way, PA is maybe the only state that allows its elected representatives to take these kinds of trips and gifts.) The elected senators, representatives, and the governor has assured the public that will will not let their decisions be influenced by these contributions and gifts.

Here is what usually happens when voters/residents see these kinds of things going on. This type of bought and paid for government has been running wild since Watergate. As a result, instead of being aghast and mortified and bringing about an attitude of “never again,” people have developed the attitude of “Oh, look! Here’s more of the same old garbage.” And they do nothing.

A friend and I think that this happens because:

  • We are still a wealthy enough nation that there has not been enough people really going hungry or homeless to create a serious uprising (and the corollary; the ruling class has been too smart to re-initiate the military draft.)
  • The ruling class has spent their time and money since Watergate perfecting their ability to control public opinion and they are REALLY GOOD at it.

As long as people remain indifferent and believe they are powerless there will be no change.

How to bring about collective action amongst the diverse groups in this country is a huge challenge. Too many people (and I’m going to include most of my fellow Baby Boomers here) believe that everything will work out for the best because they think it always has. I wonder sometimes if there wasn’t some kind of magic drug in the fluoride we’ve been drinking all these years to make us immune to the theft of our way of life. The young don’t trust the Boomers, the poor don’t trust what was the middle class and the conservatives want to blame the poor for taking all those mortgages when they couldn’t afford them and now wanting social programs to feed them. And then there are those pesky immigrants living like royalty off the rest of us. Or so the liars and haters at Faux Broadcasting want you to think.

We need to come together and focus our outrage. If you’re not a politician or in the top 1% of the wealth holders in the country you need to understand you’re part of the same team. Understand this – the top 1 percent in our nation now controls 43 percent of all financial wealth. That is more than the combined wealth of the bottom 95%. That’s you, me and pretty much everyone else you know.

When the distribution of income and wealth is so skewed that 43 percent of all financial wealth is controlled by the top 1 percent of the population and when that 1 percent is intent on a long-term assault on our middle-class society we are a country in danger. Wake up! The assault is on the middle-class – not only the poor and those needing essential things like food, shelter, and medical care. The ruling class has been pumping us full of lies for over 40 years now trying to tie the loss of our way of life to the poor who are bankrupting us. It is a lie.

Is there an answer? Have you heard about US Uncut? They just came together and they are modeled after a group of a dozen friends like us in the UK who met in a pub one evening and said “Let’s do something about wealthy corporations owing millions in taxes while cuts were being made to education programs. They began UK Uncut and they got results.

It’s a start.

The End of Democracy in the United States

It’s been a while since I’ve written many blog posts. The truth is I am having a difficult time writing about marketing, sales, leadership and creativity at this point in time. I wasn’t sure why I was feeling this way. I’m going to be 62 this year and I realize I am in the last passage of my life so I thought that maybe I’m worrying too much about picking the perfect thing to do at this time. It’s important to me to not waste time on stuff that I don’t believe will matter. I’d like to leave this world a better place if that is possible.

I see a lot of people struggling right now with the economy. How can I help them? I’m very worried about people who have started their own business and don’t have much of a marketing background and probably little to no sales experience.

But, the one thing that keeps forcing its way into my thoughts is what’s been happening to our own country. Nearly 15 million people are officially unemployed and another 12 million have either settled for part-time work or given up the search for a job. Many of these people have started their own businesses with most of them relying upon trading time for money which is not sustainable over the long haul especially if you don’t want to work 7 days a week and 12 hours minimum a day.

These 27 million people are in even more trouble because most of them have gone through all or part of their retirement funds trying to keep their homes or pay back the banks. And, meanwhile, Republicans and other Conservatives have declared war on social safety net programs in order to look like they are trying to balance the budget. The budget was balanced before George W. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and a band of war criminals lied to invade Iran while letting Osama Bin Laden slip into Pakistan. “It’s the war, stupid,” should be the battle cry for anyone who really wants to balance the budget and stop some of the madness of the military-industrial complex.

Over the last 40 years this country has become a democracy in name only. The wealthy control everything and the government, politicians and courts have sold all the rest of us out. Eisenhower warned us about the military industrial complex back in the 50’s and we ignored him. As a result we are now faced with a country that is not a democracy and millions of people who thought they were middle class and living the American dream only to find there is no longer any middle class. There is the wealthy and the rest of us. And, heaven help the poor because most everyone else has already done so.

More and more people who thought they were middle class are losing their homes because they have lost their jobs and are no longer employable. This is happening while the financial CEO’s report enormous new profits along with windfall bonuses for the same people who are largely responsible for this mess. Goldman Sachs average year-end bonus was $430,000. Meanwhile, 43,000,000 Americans are receiving food stamps.

Am I the only one seeing this? I don’t think so. I’ve sent out queries to friends and business contacts and they’re seeing the same things. Maybe it’s the people I associate with, maybe not. So I thought I’d post this here and get your input. What are the top three things you have personally noticed happening around you that concern you? What about that issue concerns you most?

Steelers Made Me a Fan – Not The NFL

Alert – This is a post about football, the Super Bowl and the NFL. So if you’re not interested I’ll see you in a couple of days. 🙂

I grew up 33 miles from Pittsburgh. Other than a 4 year stint in the Navy, I spent the first 48 years of my life living in the area. For twenty years I worked in Pittsburgh. My first memory of the Pittsburgh Steelers centers around one of the more interesting players in the Hall of Fame. His name was Bobby Layne.

Bobby began his pro career in 1948 with the Chicago Bears. His last years of playing were with the Steelers from 1958 – 1962. I was 10 years old in 1959 and I got my first real football Christmas that year. It was a Bobby Layne autograph edition.

I’m not sure why I got a football autographed by a Steeler player. My father was a Cleveland Browns fan back then as the Steelers didn’t have much of a winning tradition up to that point. We lived in East Liverpool, Ohio and despite the fact Pittsburgh is only 45 minutes away and Cleveland more like 110 miles a lot of local people grew up as Browns fans watching Jimmy Brown make history as a running back.

Whatever the reason I got this particular football it started my lifetime of following and enjoying the Steelers. In 1969 Chuck Noll became the head coach. The Steelers won one game that year and lost thirteen. Three years late on December 1972 (just a month after I was discharged from the Navy) I was wielding a sledge hammer in a second-floor, walk-up apartment in East Liverpool, Ohio listening on the radio to the AFC divisional playoff game between the Steelers and the Oakland Raiders. I was using the sledge hammer to take out a wall between two rooms to turn the entire upstairs into what would become my first photo studio.

I don’t think I had a choice about listening on the radio or watching the game as it was blacked out back then as they were playing in Pittsburgh. With only about a minute to play the Steelers were losing and it was 4th down. Terry Bradshaw, drafter in 1970, threw a desperation pass under an enormous rush. The ball was headed toward Frenchy Fuqua who collided with Jack Tatum of the Raiders just as the ball arrived. The ball bounced backward several yards and just before it hit the ground, Franco Harris, arriving out of nowhere caught the ball and ran it in for a touchdown and what today is called The Immaculate Reception. I remember yelling my head off in an empty building. It was the beginning of a dynasty in professional football.

The Steelers won Super Bowl Championships in 1974, 1974, 1978, 1979, 2005, and 2008. Sunday they will go for their 7th Championship. Pittsburgh has won more Super Bowl titles (six), won more AFC Championship Games (eight) and played in (fifteen) and hosted more (eleven) conference championship games than any other AFC or NFC team in history. It has been quite a fun ride for me and millions of other fans of the NFL. The league has grown to become the most profitable sport in the world with annual revenues of about $9 billion.

In 1982 the players went on strike for 57 days during which time no games were played. Thousands of fans learned there were other things to do on Sundays. In 1987 another strike occurred and one week of the season was cancelled. But, it might was well have been more as the NFL staged games with replacement teams made up of players cut during training camp and a few veterans who crossed the picket line. Once again thousands of fans came to the realization that Sunday afternoons could be spent doing other things than watching a TV screen and a game.

Now the league is ready to lockout the players and face a work stoppage since the current collective bargaining agreement expires on March 3rd. If this occurs I believe it may ultimately lead to the greatest loss of fans in the history of any sport.

It’s all about greed as near as I can tell. Billionaire owners want more money as do the multimillionaire players. Everybody wants as much as they can get. I don’t think the average fan really will have much empathy for either side especially considering the state of our current economy.

I could be totally wrong about the loss of fans. But, my gut tells me people are fed up with greedy CEO’s (the owners) and greedy employees getting multimillionaire dollar paychecks to play a game willing to say “so what” to the people who ultimately pay them.

I’ll be watching the game Sunday. But, I’m also going to put my two cents into the pot if there is a work stoppage. There will be no more NFL related purchases by me. No more games. What about you? Let’s assume you enjoy watching the NFL.

How do you feel about a work stoppage so billionaires and millionaires can fight over getting more money while disrespecting the paying fans?

Listening To Create Miracles

Samuel Stupp and his team at the Institute for BioNanotechnology in Medicine at Northwestern is Molecules that are allowing paralyzed rats to walk again, polymer nanofibers that could assist the body to grow cartilage, and a heart repair technique based on molecular technology. They are creating miracles.

His team is a disparate group of scientists who work together doing interdisciplinary research. Getting a group of chemists, nanotechnologists, physicists, biologists and materials scientists to work together on the same projects must be akin to herding cats.

Apparently Dr. Stupp is an extraordinary cat herder. In a Fast Company article by Elizabeth Svoboda one of his physicists, Monica Olvera de la Cruz says.

“He pays attention to human beings in a way I’ve never seen from someone at his level”

That may be the greatest compliment anyone can give to another person. Dr. Stupp is a leader and not a manager.

Dr. Stupp is also a fantastic salesperson. He understands that to convince a disparate group of people that they can work together to create miracles means you have to sell them on why they can and should do it. He knows he has to find out what makes each member of his team tick. How do they think.

He does that by asking questions and listening “in a way I’ve never seen from someone at his level.”

What do you employees, co-workers, clients and customers say about your listening skills – about how you pay attention to them?

Listen First – Sell Later. It really does work!

I’d Rather Set My Hair On Fire

Have you ever had a telephone conversation with someone while also catching up on your email or surfing the latest news?

Have you ever been on the phone trying to talk with someone only to realize they aren’t paying attention but are instead reading from the screen in front of them?

Nobody disagrees with the importance of really listening to each other. In fact, I’ve tracked it on Twitter and you’ll see that thousands talk about the importance of listening. If that is all true then why do so many people do just the opposite?

To listen – truly listen to someone you have to tune everything and everyone else out.

This is one reason I don’t understand why so many companies insist on having telephone conference calls that last for an hour or more. Most of them are usually scheduled for one hour and it seems like whoever is leading the call always feels the need to fill that time. As a result, the majority of the people on the call have a speaker or headset on while they read their mail, check out their favorite blogs, clip their nails and groom the dog. And, what is even more amazing to me is how many people have to attend these calls every day and sometimes multiple times.

Yikes! I’d rather set my hair on fire!

I know that’s easy for me to say but you get the point.

You’ve probably played the game where a group of people get together and someone leads off by whispering to the next person a statement that is written down. Then that person tells it to another and one-by-one the story is passed down the line. By the time the final person at the end of the chain states out loud to the group what they think they just heard the entire initial story has changed and often so much so there isn’t any resemblance to it.

If this can happen when you know you’re supposed to be listening imagine what the outcomes are of corporate decisions dependent upon team conference calls that last for hours where your attention is less than focused.

Managers love these kinds of calls.

Leaders detest them.