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Browsing Posts published in August, 2014

The current edition of Fortune is carrying This Pope Means Business.  This in-depth look at the administrative skills of the Pope Francis reveals a series of challenges that would make any CEO sweat.  Unlike the modern CEO, Pope Francis keeps the goal of serving constituents on top of the priority list.

Francis declared that sound financial management was a pillar of his greatest mission: aiding the poor and underprivileged. That mission was endangered by volatile, unpredictable budgets that careened from modest surpluses to steep deficits. The Vatican’s inept practices had inhibited giving, he explained, and had to stop. “When the administration is fat, it’s unhealthy,” he said. Francis wanted a leaner, more efficient Vatican administration that would be solidly “self-sustaining.” That, he said, would free up more money for his charities. “You are the experts,” the pope said, “and I trust you. Now I want solutions to these problems, and I want them as soon as possible.” With that, Francis left the group to figure out the details.

There was no ambiguity about the job ahead. “The Holy Father’s message was crystal clear: ‘Let us make money to go to the poor,’” recalls Joseph Zahra, chief of the panel, a pontifical commission known by its acronym, COSEA. Zahra, a former chairman of the Bank of Valletta, Malta’s largest bank, says of Francis: “In finances, he’s not a micromanager but an inspirational leader.

Does he practice, preach, or practice what he preaches?

Pope Francis has a complex but pragmatic view of money. “Money is useful to carry out many things, for works to support humanity,” he has said. “But when your heart is attached to it, it destroys you.” His humble lifestyle follows those precepts. He resides in a one-bedroom, second-floor suite in Casa Santa Marta overlooking the entrance. (Benedict, the former pope, lives nearby in a converted monastery called Mater Ecclesiae and occasionally sends Francis notes with feedback on his interviews.) Visitors say the pope’s lights go on at 4:30 a.m. He’s frequently spotted in the buffet line, tray in hand, at the Santa Marta dining room, where the cuisine isn’t fancy—it offers a choice of two main courses for lunch and dinner, and features Italian specialties such as pasta con pomodoro and pollo arrosto. He takes no holidays, explaining that if the poor can’t take vacations, why should he?

In the next segment which describes his business practices, the starkness of the contrast with our supposedly bible thumping leaders in the Missouri legislature is hard to miss…

One of his rules is that big donors and companies that do business with the church should get no special treatment. Before he took charge in Buenos Aires, the archdiocese was a large shareholder in Argentine banks, and the banks regularly granted their ecclesiastical investor loans on easy terms. As cardinal, Francis denounced the arrangement as a blatant conflict of interest and sold all the archdiocese’s bank holdings. He also refused to attend fundraising dinners, usually regarded as one of a cardinal’s top jobs. His aversion to catering to the wealthy didn’t stop with his ascension to the papacy. It’s a Vatican tradition that the Secretariat of State, which receives donations from the rich on the pontiff’s behalf, would reward big donors by arranging special audiences and masses with the pope. Pope Francis ended the practice.

Pope Francis is a strong believer in workers’ rights. But that view is highly nuanced. He has famously denounced the excesses of capitalism and firmly believes that the rich get too much from the market economy while regular workers often don’t receive enough. In contrast to his readiness to ax high-ranking officials who block his agenda, he doesn’t believe in firing rank-and-file employees.

Stay tuned, the next session of the legislature will reveal if Tim Jones, Paul Curtman, and Dining Doug Funderburk can emulate the lessons of Pope Francis.

 

Obamavacationtime

Steven Colbert shares his take on the events in Ferguson, MO.  This skit is significantly more fun and respectful than the Ferguson police allowing their dogs to urinate on the memorial for Michael Brown.

Soon, police vehicles reappeared, including from the St. Louis County Police Department, which had taken control of the investigation. Several officers emerged with dogs. What happened next, according to several sources, was emblematic of what has inflamed the city of Ferguson, Missouri, ever since the unarmed 18-year-old was gunned down: An officer on the street let the dog he was controlling urinate on the memorial site.

For another view, check out Jon Stewart’s rant on Ferguson.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel has penned Building a progressive alternative to ALEC...

When it comes to moments in history, 1973 was not exactly a banner year for the Republican Party. The Senate Watergate Committeebegan its televised hearings in May. Spiro Agnew resigned in October. And President Nixon used a pre-Thanksgiving news conference at Disney World to unconvincingly assure the country that he was not, in fact, a crook. A tough year, indeed, for the grand old party.

But if you were a corporate conglomerate who dreamed of lower taxes and lax regulations and lesser rights for workers, 1973 was, ironically enough, a well-spring of new opportunity. That’s when a group of conservative activists joined together to engineer a different kind of burglary — one that involved forcibly entering cities and states with the intent to loot their working and middle classes.

The mechanism? A new organization dubbed the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC. The idea? Don’t just lobby state and city governments; write the actual laws you want them to pass and then hand it out as model legislation. In the decades since its inception, ALEC hasdismantled environmental regulationspushed for school vouchers, compromised public safety by backing “stand your ground” laws andcrippled unions with right-to-work legislation.

ALEC remains the ubiquitous conservative puppet-master; its fingerprints and that of its most well-known supporters (the Koch brothers, Exxon Mobil, Pfizer, AT&T, etc.) can be found all over right-wing legislation that has made its way through the state and local legislative process. To understand the magnitude of its influence, consider that of the more than 100 bills introduced between 2011 and 2013 to repeal or weaken minimum wage laws, 67 of them related back to ALEC. And in 2009, 115 of ALEC’s 826 model bills were enacted into law.

 

Editor’s Note: Republican State Representative for the Eureka-Pacific area – Tim Jones is Co-chair of the Missouri chapter of ALEC.

Last year we featured a post describing the problems with the practice of many employers using the Body Mass Index (BMI) as a method of determining employee’s health care premiums.

It was found to be useless to the point of humorous for athletes whose weight is due to muscle mass rather than body fat. The most commonly used example is that Arnold Schwartzenegger’s BMI was 30.8 during his peak years, which would categorize him as obese.

Mother Jones‘ Why BMI is a Big, Fat Scam will hopefully help put this practice where it belongs – in the compost pile.

There’s just one problem: A higher BMI doesn’t necessarily mean you’re less healthy. In fact, patients with heart disease and metabolic disorders whose BMIs classify them as overweight or mildly obese survive longer than their normal and underweight peers. A 2013 meta-analysis by the National Center for Health Statistics looked at 97 studies covering nearly 3 million people and concluded that those with overweight BMIs were 6 percent less likely to die in a given year than those in the normal range. These results were even more pronounced for middle-aged and elderly people. This is known as the obesity paradox. “The World Health Organization calls BMIs of 25 to 29.9 overweight,” says Paul McAuley, an exercise researcher at Winston-Salem State University. “That is actually what is healthiest for middle-aged Americans.”

And get this: While epidemiologists use BMI to calculate national obesity rates (nearly 35 percent for adults and 18 percent for kids), the distinctions can be arbitrary. In 1998, the National Institutes of Health lowered the overweight threshold from 27.8 to 25—branding roughly 29 million Americans as fat overnight—to match international guidelines. But critics noted that those guidelines were drafted in part by the International Obesity Task Force, whose two principal funders were companies making weight loss drugs. In his recent book Fat Politics: The Real Story Behind America’s Obesity Epidemic, political scientist Eric Oliver reports that the chairman of the NIH committee that made the decision, Columbia University professor of medicine Xavier Pi-Sunyer, was consulting for several diet drug manufacturers and Weight Watchers International.

What would be a better predictor that BMI?

But there’s an even easier way for docs to gauge their patients’ risk level: Ask them how much they exercise. “It’s much more important to avoid low fitness than it is to avoid fatness,” Lavie says. Research supports this: McAuley and his team, for example, followed 831 veterans with type 2 diabetes for 10 years and found that the ones who exercised rarely and performed poorly on treadmill tests had a 70 percent higher death risk than those who got regular exercise. Fitness, it turned out, beats BMI as a predictor of mortality. Yet many physicians still don’t prescribe exercise: In a 2013 study, Lavie and his colleagues found that only a bit more than half of diabetes patients—and just 44 percent of those with hypertension—reported being counseled to exercise more.

Of course, exercise requires no prescription. So the next time you find yourself obsessing about BMI, maybe it’s time to stop crunching numbers and go for a walk.

 

This week’s audio netcast: Another anniversary of the March on Washington comes amidst a crisis in Ferguson, Missouri. Civil rights historian David Chappell reviews the legacy of the “I Have a Dream Speech.” Presidents always invoke God in their major speeches, but political scientist David O’Connell says it never really works in changing minds. And Bill Press interviews Jillien Meier about hunger in America.

Kevin Horrigan notes the apparent irony in the location of the Ferguson protests and home of one of the highest paid CEO’s in America, Emerson Electric in Two Worlds, A Mile Apart.

The macro-global-economy is cheek-by-jowl with the micro-local-economy. Winners and losers side by side. Talk about your accidents of geography.

Emerson is No. 121 on the Fortune 500 with 2013 revenues of $24.6 billion. Some 1,300 St. Louisans are employed at the Ferguson campus, most of them doing highly skilled financial and management work.

Emerson employs a lot of less-skilled people to make a lot of different stuff, but not in Ferguson. In Mexico, Central America, South America, Germany, France, Romania, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, Poland, China, India, Japan, the Philippines and other nations, in 230 manufacturing centers, Emerson employs 130,000 people, including 33,000 at 80 locations in the U.S. and Canada.

Of course, this is only ironic if these multinational firms brag about helping the community, in this case Ferguson and in the larger sense America, while they outsource the jobs needed for a vibrant economy.

In 2009, David Farr, then as now Emerson’s chairman and CEO, told analysts in Chicago that President Barack Obama’s ideas for the environment, health care reform and labor could “destroy” U.S. manufacturing.

“What do you think I’m going to do?” Farr asked his audience. “I’m not going to hire anybody in the United States. I’m moving.”

For Farr’s bosses — Emerson’s board of directors and its shareholders — this was precisely the right attitude. Every dollar the company can save by employing foreign labor instead of American labor is a dollar that goes right to the bottom line.

Emerson has enjoyed 57 straight years of dividend increases. It creates dependable, if not spectacular, returns for investors. If it has done so in part by offshoring America jobs, well, welcome to the globalization NFL.

I have not seen many analysts trace the frustration in Ferguson and many major American cities back to the Free Trade policies that put U.S. labor in competition with labor around the world to the benefit of transnational corporations.  Coupled with the disconnect between compensation and productivity trade agreements like NAFTA and PNTR with China have fueled income inequality.  There is an answer.

But what a great story if Emerson, with all of its management talent, would reach out to its neighbors left behind by the globalization, automation and computerization that has enriched its shareholders and executives.

David Farr has said he sees great potential in high-end American manufacturing, the sort that requires refined technical skills.

Michael Brown was shot to death on Aug. 9. His family said he had plans to start tech school on Aug. 11. A lot of tech schools promise more than they deliver, and a lot of students don’t follow through. Emerson already invests in technical education. Maybe it could do more of it in Ferguson.

 

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