Archive for January, 2013

Lance Armstrong and Fish Stories

livestrong_logoWe should not be surprised to hear Lance Armstrong actually used performance-enhancing drugs in a sport permeated with such. In a strange and rather bizarre interconnected way almost everyone is Jonah, meaning that everyone has his or her own personal ‘whale story.’ All of us have a story, whether large or small. But regardless, we all have “fish stories.”

From a Biblical perspective, I cannot imagine a divine and peaceful God would command anyone to offer his son as a sacrifice (Genesis 22:5); that Jonah spent three days in a whale and did not at least have a major case of fish breath; that two female bears really emerged from a nearby woods and mauled 42 children (2 Kings 2:23); that God was so irked by Onan that He has to kill Onan for not having sex with his brother’s wife (Genesis 38:8-10); that an owner unwilling to let his male lodger be raped but it’s ok to offer up his own daughter instead (Judges 19:22-30), etc., etc., etc.

In today’s world, if any one of our children came in love like David and wanted to marry Saul’s daughter (1 Samuel 18:27), but needed to cut off 100 foreskins, most of us would say, “What the hell?” If another came to us and claimed he met God, but was shown (i.e., exposed) only God’s back parts (Exodus 33:23), some might claim there’s a pedophile in the neighborhood.

So just like Lance Armstrong, we all have a “fish story.” Lance Armstrong’s is about truth: his image versus his world’s image. In some way, we unjustly combine everything the man has done. But personally, all of us need to separate the man from his sports career.  Somewhere inside Lance Armstrong is a man who has told some big fish stories about his racing career and somewhere in there is the man who created the LIVESTRONG Foundation. The second man is the one whom battled cancer, fought the good fight and became a solid advocate for cancer treatment and research.

So in light of today’s admission that Lance Armstrong took performing enhancing drugs, must we destroy everything about the man?  Should Lance Armstrong be denounced for his lies of performance-enhancing drugs? Of course! Will Mr. Armstrong suffer both personally and legally for the coverup? Sure, you bet! But must Armstrong’s entire life be laid waste in the process? No!

If we must denounce and tear apart someone based upon a whale story, then President Clinton’s, “I did not have sex with that woman” is at the top. Yet former President Clinton is a highly respected statesman and advocate. The Reverend Jesse Jackson remains highly respected even though he fathered an illegitimate son. Bill Cosby is still a respected entertainer. Does everything General David Petraeus did go for not simply because he resigned as the Director of the CIA? Should we negate all the positive things Newt Gingrich did as Representative (R-GA) since admitting to having had an affair with an intern while leading the impeachment of Bill Clinton for perjury?

Why can we not denounce the false while honoring the good? Case in point, Michael Milken. Milken was indicted on 98 counts of racketeering and securities fraud and pled guilty to securities and reporting violations. Milken received ten years in prison. But Milken was also part founder of the Milken Family Foundation (MFF), supporting medical research and education. The MFF has awarded a total of more than $60 million to more than 2,500 teachers.

As for Clinton, Clinton was appointed to head the Asia Tsunami relief effort. After Hurricane Katrina, Clinton joined with George H. W. Bush to establish the Bush-Clinton Tsunami Fund in January 2005, and the Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund. Clinton also created the William J. Clinton Foundation to address issues of global importance.

At the end of the day, like many of us, both Milkin, Clinton and Armstrong created some really awful “fish stories.” But each of them has created some really wonderful organizations. Each became a better person and humanity itself benefited greatly. In light of the fact each of us probably has a fish tale or two … or three … or more, I suggest we forgive the man Lance Armstrong and allow the LIVESTRONG Foundation to carry-on it’s work.

The LIVESTRONG Foundation fights to improve the lives of people affected by cancer — today as they navigate the financial, practical and emotional challenges that accompany cancer, and tomorrow as they move beyond the disease. The LIVESTRONG Foundation is thriving and must continue its mission-critical work in the years ahead.

Buddhists often refer to life as a river. In life, rivers continually flow. Thus, the river, from moment to moment is never the same. Likewise, every man is a river. The Lance Armstrong most of us want to spit upon is no longer here. In truth, many of us look just like him, but we too are not same from moment to moment. Much has happened to Mr. Armstrong in these past ten years, let alone the past twenty-four hours! All of us have flowed so much.

So Mr. Armstrong, I cannot forgive you because I have no grudge against you. May your foundation, LIVESTRONG, live strong!

Are People Assets

BusinessSo a week after the infamous loss to the Seattle Seahawks on January 6, 2013, many have question Mike Shanahan’s decision to keep Robert Griffin III (RBIII) in the game. So the Washington D.C. Business Journal asked area business leaders of the decision.  Most were ok with the decision, while others weren’t.  Two notable quotes came from John Micale of USI Insurance Services LLC and Glen Hellman of Driven Forward LLC.

John Micale

I see my employee as an asset to an organization, just purely selfishly, and I wanted to protect the asset. I also wanted to send him a message that his health and wellbeing mattered more to me than any business objective. I think your employees need to know that you care about them, that’s the most important leadership rule.”

Glen Hellman

Leadership requires courage and decisiveness. Shanahan showed neither by deferring the decision to his star quarterback who desired to remain in the game.”

Having worked in business for over thirty-years, I am under no illusion that many business owners are unlike Mr. Micale, “… see my employees as an asset …” In fact, many businesses consider personnel an “expense” and quickly shed employees as financial winds bellow.  To illustrate, let’s look at Papa Johns. For the sake of brevity, I like Papa Johns Pizza, order it often. And while I could have chosen any one of a number of business examples, I just happened to see the Papa Johns two-million pizza give away commercial over the weekend.

Papa John’s CEO, John Schnatter, weighed in on the impending Affordable Care Act legislation. Mr. Schnatter’s issue: the Affordable Care Act dictates full-time employees (those working 30 hours or more per week) at companies with more than 50 workers be provided health Insurance. Schnatter claimed Papa Johns, like other companies, would cut employee hours to avoid providing healthcare.

However, if one checks the math, Papa Johns earns roughly $1.218 billion in revenue. Total operating expenses were $1.131 billion. So if Schnatter’s math is accurate (the Affordable Care Act will cost his company $5-8 million more annually), then new regulation translates into a cost increase of .06₵ to .09₵ per pizza. Err, correct! Fractions of a percent in real business expense.

What’s funny is the Papa Johns commercial. In September 2012, Papa Johns announced that it would be giving away two-million free pizzas, a promotion designed to increase brand awareness. So in case you’re wondering, all that ‘free’ pizza would be the equivalent of $24 million to $32 million in revenue.

Apparently pizza can talk from both sides of the crust.

In truth, most companies rarely treat employees as assets. RGBIII was no different. RGBIII is and was a modern day Roman Gladiator. Whether RGBIII is permanently or long-term injured may be of little concern. Same holds true in the NFL’s concussion crisis. Close to 3,000 former NFL players claim to experience depression, diminished brain function, dementia and other allegations. Ex-players also reported barriers to getting help for depression, including a preference to rely on religion or family, lack of insurance and feelings that these problems aren’t important.

Yes, most former players lack of insurance. And if there’s one connection the Affordable Care Act attempts to weave it’s this: people are assets.

In the long run, Mike Shanahan’s decision to keep GBIII in the game may be of little significance. Like most employees of any company, RGBIII is simply a current asset … today. But will he still be asset seven years from now? Will any of us?

photoIn the last few days I have been amazed by the amount of chatter surrounding even the remote possibility involving weapons ban or control.  And many, even in my office, have publicly stated some sentiment similar to:

When they come for my gun, they will have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands.”

Some have gone further, publicly stating gun ownership is a “God” given right.  Personally, a God given right is hard to euphorically claim, for one simply cannot find any Biblically documented reference to the right to keep and bear arms. However, in a speech to the  National Rifle Association’s (NRA) Celebration of American Values Leadership Forum, Newt Gingrich stated the right to bear arms is a political right designed to safeguard freedom so that no government can take away from you the rights, which God has given you.

Still, with the entire back and forth on the whole controlling weapons ban, the most distressing statement came straight from the National Rifle Association:

“The only way to stop a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved and invested in a plan of absolute protection. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

The NRA statement literally means the only way to stop monsters is to arm the shit out of everyone.  In truth, that’s so far whacked-out even most reasonable gun owners would classify the argument as ignorant.

My counterpoint to the NRA actually comes from a Gil Grissom of the TV show CSI, “We stopped checking for monsters under our bed because we realized they were inside us.” It means that we are the monsters. We, as a society, created the monsters.  Want to see who’s responsible, look in the mirror.

Picking up the NRA argument, if society really wants to stop these “monsters,” then we must address societal problems that create monsters. Here are just a few:

  • In 2011 the Census Bureau indicated 16.4 million children in the United States lived in poverty. That’s roughly 22%. Of the 16.4 million poor children, nearly half, 7.4 million, lived in extreme poverty, which is defined as an annual income of less than half the official poverty line (i.e., $11,157 for a family of four). You want to fix monsters, start lifting the country out of poverty.
  • A third of families headed by single mothers are in poverty, and they are four times more likely than married-couple families to be poor. These mothers have little access to quality education, healthcare and other services afforded to high, more educated and or affluent.  When single mothers have a full-time, year-round job, the poverty rate for these families falls from 40.7 percent to 14 percent. You want to fix monsters, start educating the poor for real jobs.
  • If there is one thing that Americans do seem to agree on, it is that millions of children desperately need guidance from positive adult role models. Proper mentoring often means 12 years of continuous mentoring at least four hours per week — typically beginning in kindergarten and extending until high school graduation. If you want to fix monsters, everyone needs to mentor someone.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) keeps track of one class of underemployed workers, which it calls “involuntary part-time workers,” that is, workers who want full-time employment but cannot get it. According to BLS, the number of these workers has risen even faster than the number of unemployed workers since the beginning of the recession. As of September there were 9.2 million such workers. Between Sept. 2010 and Jan. 2011, nearly two million college graduates under the age of 30 were working in jobs that did not require a college degree. If you want to fix monsters, we must fix our economic structure.

Monsters whom shoot and kill come from us. So in all fairness, I briefly reviewed the NRA Foundation website. There is also another group called the Friends of NRA. NRA field representatives coordinate Friends of NRA, but the majority of the program is organized by thousands of volunteers throughout the country. The NRA Foundation claims to have donated $160 million for programs involving, Civil Rights Defense Fund (Legal Assistance for Those Defending a Right to Bear Arms), Competitive Shooting, Eddie Eagle (a children’s gun safety based program), Education and Training, Freedom Action Foundation (getting people to the ballot box), Hunter Safety, Police Firearms Safety, Media Outreach, National Firearms Museum, NRA-ILA (lobbying).

According to Wikipedia, during the 2008 presidential campaign, the NRA spent $10 million. In 2011, the organization refused an offer to discuss gun control with U.S. President Barack Obama. In response to the invitation, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre said “Why should I or the N.R.A. go sit down with a group of people that have spent a lifetime trying to destroy the Second Amendment in the United States?” In his statement, LaPierre named Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (both Democrats) as examples of the “people” he referred.

During the 2012 election, the NRA spent more than $17 million on presidential and congressional contests, $11.9 million opposing Democrats and $5.4 million in support of Republicans. In the end, All six Democrats won their races against Republicans.

With all that money spent, I beg to ask, just how many “monsters,” if any, did we help?