Archive for the ‘new york times’ category

Is “Ignoring” An Option?

March 6, 2017

On Saturday President Trump charged that former President Obama ordered a wire tap of Candidate Trump. The first question might be why did President Trump feel in necessary to gratuitously attack a former President? The second question might be what does it mean if it were true?

In order to answer the second question (whether the charges were true), one must make assumptions on why a wire tap might be necessary. It could be wire taps were the result of a (on going) FBI investigation. The investigation might be/have been about Trump’s business dealings, his campaign financing, or even potential connections with Russia or Russian intermediaries? Any of these potential reasons could have been a justification for seeking a legal wire tap. But wire taps are not necessarily a smoking gun proof that a crime has been committed.

Instead wire taps generate evidence. Evidence is then assembled and once there is a preponderance of information supporting criminal charges, official charges are brought by appropriate law enforcement officials.

So, what if there is not enough evidence assembled?

Indictments are judgement calls. They can be influenced by all sorts of factors. And, it is not unreasonable to think that a higher bar is used for someone who becomes President of the United States.

Now back to the first question, why did President Trump feel it necessary to tweet in the first place.

The most obvious and likely reason is diversion. President Trump wanted to divert the public’s attention from some issue, for example, the Jeff Session/Russian influence controversy. But why include President Obama and not just claim the FBI was tapping his phones?

There are reports that President Trump was furious that press attention switched from positive coverage of his speech to Congress to negative coverage over Jeff Sessions ties to the Russian Ambassador. It is possible that President Trump felt he had to raise the ante in order to get the press off the Russians and back to covering him. Hmmm.

There also continue to be wide ranging reports that the Trump Organization have had numerous business dealings with nefarious organizations around the world including Russian groups. President Trump may have felt it potential useful to make it more difficult for any previous wire tap information to be used in the future (claiming information was illegally obtained).

There are also other claims which say Presidential Advisor Steve Bannon wants to “deconstruct” Washington institutions. What a better way than to claim President Obama was complicit in conducting illegal wire taps?  How could anyone trust the Federal Government?

But, the most serious speculation lies in the center of all these charges and counter charges. What if our narcissistic President was emotionally unsteady and prone to undertake irresponsible actions for reasons known only to him?


Given past (45 days) experience, this controversy will blow over too, only to be replaced by some other outrageous incident. Ignoring President Trump’s tweets is a viable option but one with hidden dangers.

There will be a time in the next four years when President Trump will find it necessary to come before the public, explain a future event, and then ask for public support for his choice of a response. Each one of these emotional diversions will make it even more difficult to harness the publics support in such a situation. How will the public suddenly be able to tell that President Trump is telling the truth (this time) and his proposed response does not have an ulterior motive?

Ignoring President Trump’s tweets may be an option but far worse is dignifying them with a search for what “really did happen”.

If President Trump has concerns about anything he has a Cabinet and staff who can ask the appropriate section of the Federal Government for information and clarification, in a professional manner.

It would be wiser for the press and the public’s response to consider any Trump accusation as untrue (baseless) until supported by credible Government sources.

Amazonian (Or Is It Neanderthal) Thinking?

August 18, 2015

In Sunday’s New York Times, a front page story begins and sprawls out over more than two full pages.  It ran under the headline, “Amazon’s Bruising, Thrilling Workplace”. The story written without Amazon’s full support laid out the pressure and expectations Amazon’s white collar staff are experiencing. The sub-headline read “Giant Retailer Tests How Far It Can Push White-Collar Staff”. Hmmm.

In the early 1960’s, SRI (Stanford Research Institute) introduced the concept of “business stakeholders”.  Stakeholders are groups of people without whose full support the business could not thrive. Over the years, the term “4 stakeholders” has narrowed the many possible stakeholders to Customer, Employees, Community, and Shareholders (Owners).

The notion is that unless a business tends to the needs of all these stakeholders, the long term corporate prospects will be far less than otherwise possible and potentially truncated. The 4 stakeholder concept directs management to make decisions which involve the needs of each of these 4 groups. The implied message is business performance (what owners or investors seek) will be optimized if all 4 groups’s needs are balanced.

The NYT article was disturbing to read on many levels. The two most significant management risks involve (1) favoring or not paying attention to one or more stakeholders, and (2) creating the work atmosphere where healthy checks and balances are muzzled in favor of “A Tale of Two Cities” atmosphere of behind the back criticism.  As described in this article, Amazon has both risks.

Silicon Valley high tech firms’s personnel practices have become familiar to us.  They woo talented workers with free food, gyms, and college campus like work places. Pay and stock options are also liberally used to develop employee loyalty and hard work. The employment model seemed to be “bright people, well rewarded, produce great innovative results”.Apple and Google, for two, seem to have a bright future. What could Amazon be doing that’s so different?

This article introduced quite a different model, “bright aggressive people, adequately rewarded, continual measured for performance yields results (and some who fail or burn out are discarded)”.

Amazon employs an almost cult-like approach to white collar work. Drive, drive, drive. Beginning with recruitment (sounded like Amazon seeks all type A’s), then orientation (learn the mantras), and beginning with their initial work assignment, periodic peer ranking (who stays, who gets weeded out), Amazon makes clear to employees what personalities and output are wanted.

Amazon encourages fellow workers to secretly criticize fellow workers and expects supervisors to give weight to these comments during personnel assessments. Personnel development and  improvement results from “survival” more than from coaching and counseling.

Assignments are expected to be completed as quickly as possible demanding the workers full attention, often 7 days a week and 18 to 20 hours a day.

Amazon relies on data availability. All aspects of day to day operations are tracked and a supervisor can see “real time” measures of what his subordinates are doing. On a periodic basis, the bottom performers (regardless of how good those employee might be) are let go (timely reminder to those remaining what could lie ahead). The article reported instances of workers losing their job because of serious illness and pregnancy (failures to perform). Hmmm.

Amazon does have a carrot as well as a stick. It rewards middle level workers with stock options and given Amazon’s stock performance, these can be attractive financially. The article also spoke of the “thrill” that some workers experience with the get it done at any cost model.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, has publicly compared Amazon to Microsoft (both firms headquartered in Seattle) and said he will not allow Amazon to calcify into a rigid bureaucracy (slow reacting) like he sees in Microsoft and promises to keep Amazon striving to deliver customer delights before the customers request them. Hmmm.

The purpose of the NYT article can only be guessed (the article was featured as news). One could think the Times published the report as an expose of questionable management practices, or possibly a warning of a coming trend in management direction (why don’t more companies fire the bottom performers?). Or could this article have resulted from encouragement from major competitive retailers like Walmart or Macy’s (to show Amazon in a poor light)? Amazon claims to have surpassed Walmart already as the US retailer, so where next?

The article is disturbing and clearly describes a workplace I would not wish to be part of.

Amazon might not be alone in these policies which de-value workers.  A recent practice involving Disney involved firing US white collar workers and replacing them with imported lower priced (special visa) white collar workers from lower wage countries.

The trend is disturbing. The early days of globalization outsource jobs to low wage countries. Then businesses used the resulting lower wage rates to pressure other blue collar workers to accept lower wages. Now this new Amazon model culls the most productive white collar workers, consume them until they become less productive, and then discards (fires) them. Hmmm.

Amazon has surged ahead of its peers by capturing the web experience market and satisfying consumers willingness to buy on-line. These competitive advantages are not unique.   Amazon growth has been built upon broadening its range of products and services. They continue to experiment with new methods of deliver such as drones and same day service. A question might be, how long can this growth be sustained?

A more relevant question would be “what will happen when Amazon can no longer grow so quickly? What will happen to its stakeholders? Will Amazon be forced to shortchange its employees, the communities in which it operates, or (OMG) abandon its customers?   Hmmm.

One cannot argue that an ideal work force contains a lot of dull, unimaginative, lazy people. It is equally hard to argue that those that produce more should not be rewarded more. The question becomes what mix of people produces the best results for the longest period of time?

Activist investor, however, see the goal as which management style produce the greatest return for their investment with little regard to any stakeholder but themselves.

If this NYT article paints an accurate picture, Amazon will almost assuredly need to evolve to another form of white collar management as their business model ages. At the current pace, Amazon is burning out the bright young people it is hiring. It would be surprising if this risk and prediction is not well known within Amazon’s top management.

Of course, Bezos might have have a vision of growing Amazon into not just the largest retailer, but one so large as to make all others subservient.

Hmmm. Don’t they call that a monopoly?

Note: to learn more about a contrasting management style, see “Visions, Values, and Results” by John R Lewis

Do Churches Fail The Poor?

May 19, 2015

Ross Douthat in his New York Times opinion column on Sunday asked this questions, “Do Churches fail the poor”? But why the euphemism? Why the “poor” and not “African Americans deep in the poverty cycle”?

If Douthat did mean the heart and soul of the “poor”, his observation presents no contest, of course they do.

Without debating the question whether his assertions that churches have been more concerned with women’s health and gay rights, or that churches real interest in poverty bent to keep their pews filled, the question is has the churches’ malfeasance worsened the poor’s lot? Or even more important, had churches focused differently, could they have been a key force to end poverty?

One can spend hours listing the real interests of organized religions. These institutions are creations of man (or woman) and in the end take on characteristics of any other social or bureaucratic collection of people. Churches may claim a “higher purpose” but when the cows are counted, churches are interested in whether they have collected more dollars than what they owe. Churches will create any beliefs or visions to fit the narrative that most likely will fulfill their quest for financial survival regardless of its impact (or lack there of) on the poor.

So where do the poor fit in?

The world is awash in pockets of poverty. No continent is without its poor. Some maintain poverty is a necessary bi-product of a free market. In this zero sum world view, everyone has a chance, the smarter do better and the less smart, not as well. At some point, some begin a life long process of losing.
These losers reproduce and the cycle becomes a little more set. The question is can this poverty cycle be broken, and if so, how?

The US poor, it is said, have such dysfunctional lives, they produce a following generation less able to complete than itself.   Hmmm. This is a pretty dismal outlook.

Hmmm. I wonder how churches can break this cycle?

(Let’s be clear, the poor or poverty cohort is mainly African American. But all African Americans are not poor or stuck in a poverty cycle.)

The apparent perception is that churches, somehow, should be able to inspire the poor so they become winners. Alcoholics Anonymous, a quasi-faith based organization requires attendees to swear to a “higher authority” as the prerequisite to becoming sober. Do you think this would work with just substituting “poverty” for alcoholic?

Regrettably AA has a relatively low success rate ( despite what even those who get the “cure” think). But what is evident with those “cured” is (1) they want to be cured, and (2) they recognize they are responsible for their own cure.

America is based upon notions that upward economic mobility is available for all. Americans believe that the destitute can become better off if they try hard enough. Americans also generally believe that if they do better, their children will have a chance to do even better if they work hard. Both of these notions is hard to detect in the US poverty zones.

So, to the question, “do churches fail the poor”, the best answer is “we don’t know”. All we know is that churches have not enhanced the lot of those stuck in the poverty cycle.

“Fail the poor” implies that churches have either done nothing (when they knew what to do) or have done somethings (which turned out to be incorrect) and in either case, have not reduced poverty.

While the answer to the breaking poverty cycle is still unclear, it is hard to imagine any solution that does not run through education and skill development, a family unit with limited family size, and community support within the poverty cohort.

I wonder whether churches know how to teach math, english. plumbing, carpentry, nursing, etc?  I also wonder  whether churches would step up to real family planning and birth control?  And lastly, just how far are churches (especially those with large African American presence) willing to push parishioners to help their brothers and sisters do what they should know better to do?