Thursday, April 26, 2012

Posts From the Road: Denton Record-Chronicle

I am on a mutli-city road trip for the next couple of weeks so I will take my inspiration from news stories found in the local newspapers:  As I am currently in North Texas so I will comment on the Denton Record-Chronicle cover story regarding the use of original artwork to decorate storm drains with an environmental agenda.
The art world is one that I support and participate in.  I have several original artworks in my own collection and have contributed to several performance art groups over the years.

There are four aspects to the art world.  1) the purists who feel art should be a statement of the artist only, 2) businesses who buy and sell at all levels from high-end masterpieces to retailers who sell wall hangings, 3) hobbyists who dabble and perhaps someday hope to make a living and 4) the uninvolved which is basically 95% of America which holds no real affinity or passion for it.

In the instance, local artists are developing art pieces that are attached temporarily to storm drains to discourage dumping of toxins into the system as they drain directly into Lewsiville Lake.  The question I pose is whether artwork done at the request of a specific municipal government or with the sole purpose of creating an environmental message a valid form or art?

I would propose that it absolutely is art. Art is the product of what I would refer to as skillful imagination and reflects aspects of culture and humanities.  I would further add that art has always been developed with some form of commercialism or to support a societal trend.  Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel at the behest of the Catholic church, Impressionists in their period almost all had benefactors who subsidized them and they ardently tried to be seem at Salon in Paris, Picasso painted pictures on napkins as currency for his drinking and perhaps even Jackson Pollock who was a definitive troubled artist relished in his fame for a period before succumbing to his alcoholism.  Many governments over the years as well have utilized artwork to craft their cultural vision though in fairness you can easily dismiss these attempts at state directed artwork as horribly unethical.  Obviously I am referring to Hitler and Stalin in this instance.

Some of the greats of the 20th century as well were quite amenable to making their artwork available for purely advertising purposes.  Norman Mailer comes to mind as one of the greats who utilized his artwork for Coca-Cola and TIME magazine.  If you extend art to include musicians then I think one of the goals of 99% of today's`modern recording artists is to have their music selected for use in advertising so commercialism obviously is not a deterrent to them.  Why would visual artists be held to a higher standards other than the fact that some purists hold them to a higher expectation and therefore are extremely reluctant to allow them access to galleries and press coverage.

I would suggest then in the 21st century it should not be surprising in the least that artwork has shifted to reflect societal trends as a driving force for the inspiration of many artists.  Plus, as benefactors rarely exist anymore and any type of cultural funding continues to be cut, then artists need to make a living so simply through necessity they are required to take contracts that may not necessarily reflect their true identity but enables them to put bread on the table.  The world of the struggling artist is one thing that has not changed much over the years.

The subjectivity of art though has not changed one bit.  Whether art is hanging in the MOMA or attached to a storm drain, it is still up to the individual who is viewing it to have final say as to whether it appeals to them or not.  Art should never be limited or restricted due to its purpose and should just be evaluated by effect.  In reality, today`s storm drains might be the great treasures of the future.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Post from the Road: Dallas Morning News

I am on a mutli-city road trip for the next couple of weeks so I will take my inspiration from news stories found in the local newspapers:  As I am currently in North Texas I will comment on the Dallas Morning News cover story regarding the alleged bribery scandal at Walmart in their Mexican operations.
One significant challenge all multinational companies face is adapting their current business practices to foreign cultures.

The Walmart story is a perfect example of just such a challenge. Walmart (it is claimed) paid bribes mostly in 2005 to local government officials in order to accelerate the process of Walmart expansion in Mexico.  Obviously bribery is an illegal business practice.

The second questionable behavior is in terms of Walmart's investigation of the in incident and the subsequent silence and evasion to regulatory agencies.

This second issue reflects the requirement for transparency in private companies and is testament to the need for the "Spirit of Law" mandate I set out in a prior post (April 12, 2012).  Companies need to at a minimum attempt to play by the rules and not try to hide findings purely for the desire of avoiding poor press and subsequent drops in share holder value.  It is inherent in any fairly run organization, that shareholders have access to truthful information in order to make educated decisions in terms of financial investment.  Executive level management has to come to believe in this philosophy and "the Spirit of Law" provisions would be useful in ensuring appropriate behavior. In instances like this though whereby obviously illegal activities are being undertaken then the Executives need to be liable and subject to criminal punishment.

The bigger issue of course goes back to the first point regarding the bribes. In the era when Sam Walton was in charge, Walmart was generally seen as an extremely admirable and ethical organization in context of its operations. Walton would never have authorized or condoned bribery as he knew that was bad for business in the long run. Short-term profiteering once again is just testament to the selfishness and shortsightedness of many of today's CEO's. It is also representative of the win at all cost too many of today's boomer possess overall in their attitude towards life in general.

American companies specifically have to become the role model for appropriate corporate behavior globally. There can be no challenge to put ethical agenda as a primary objective of business expansion. American companies have to be the benchmark on how foreign companies conduct their operations and also how foreign governments learn to work with them. Economic expediency can never be the only purpose of an American company in a foreign land. The era of exploiting foreign nations is long over.

Finally, as more and more countries around the world have access to capitalism then there is more and more competition for investment dollars. American companies have to be the ones that lead the way in making their profits honestly and ethically in countries where they operate. American companies have to embrace the mindset that if they do business in a foreign land then they have to bring the experience and advanced business knowledge to those regions in order to expedite global development. Successful business practices by these American companies will have positive influence over foreign areas and aide to bring them into a positive, honest and free market environment. Under this model, American companies can thrive by opering new markets without having to embrace the poor business environment that preceded them.

The notion of "ethical capitalism" I put forth earlier (February 28, 2012) is the future for American companies. Brand value and revenue streams will flow to the companies that operate in the most humane and honorable way possible. Corporate valuation and investor confidence will be given not from just domestic operations but international as well.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Post from the Road: Globe & Mail

I am on a mutli-city road trip for the next couple of weeks so I will take my inspiration from news stories found in the local newspapers:  As I am currently awaiting a connection while at the Montreal airport I will comment on the Globe & Mail's (Canada's national newspaper) cover story regarding the amount of fighting during the National Hockey League's Play-Offs.
Being an avid hockey fan myself and a former Junior player I have always seen fighting as part of the game and just a by-product of the roughness of the game.

The amount of violence in this years play-offs is so over the top that there has to be more to it than in earlier years. For example, in the article posted within the G&M, they point out that in the first week and one half of this years play-off season (2012) there has already been 8 suspensions (and more are pending rulings from the league). During the entirety of the 2010 play-off season there were none. There were four in 2011.

There are three over-whelming causes at the root of this dramatic increase. The first is that the Boston Bruins won the Cup last year; the second is the attention given to head shots during the 2012 season; the third is the win-at-all-cost mindset held by NH:L players (or at least the keep my job mindset).

The first situation is that the Boston Bruins were able to win the Stanley Cup last year through a style predicated on intimidation and rough play. The NHL owners all seem to have the same reaction when this happens and that is to encourage that type of performance from their own team.  The instill GM's, coaches and players that are able to deliver what appears to be the appropriate methodology to win. Much like life, when one sees a winning formula it is not too long before others follow. The mindset is that to defeat the Champions the competition has to do more of what they do rather than devise a plan to overcome them. In this case, where toughness and intimidation ruled last season, every other team has to be tougher and more intimidating this year. Escalation of violence inevitably leads to worse and worse behaviour.

The second situation is that head shots have been on the radar all season which has forced some players to adjust how they play. What used to be a tough hit on what many would consider an inattentive opposing player is now a suspendable action. Human nature tends to replace unacceptable behaviors with new behaviors that deliver the same result. It takes years to eradicate societal ingrained actions. Therefore other measures by the players are implemented to overcome the now banned tactic.  The dramatic increases in boarding penalties and fighting is testament to this occurrence.

Finally, players themselves are responsible due to the all out competitive nature to play and stay in the NHL. In a new age of team parity and quality of talent, there are only a few players in the league that seem to have the superior talent to rise above the fray and it is rare that even they as top players over-achieve.  The highest paid players in the league are now 30 goal scorers and defensemen who can log 30 minutes a game.  Let's face it, 30 goals is no guarantee of a long and prosperous career nor is playing twice as much as everyone else. I an age where distinct and natural talents are less and less achievable, then players have to bring other talents to the table in order to stay in the league. Player leadership has all but disappeared from most players due to the single-minded goal they have all pursued which was to just get there.  And as most players hold comparable skill levels it becomes about brute force as to who gets to stay. Therefore, more and more players are arriving in the league with an extremely aggressive game to go along with their competent hockey talent.

The violent play is unlikely to go away as long as the teams that are playing this way now win moving forward.  Let's be realistic, if it worked in the previous round there is no reason to stop.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Party System Has To Go

The Democrats and Republicans have to go. The party system has fundamentally crippled government and stymied any type of effective debate in the nation.

The fundamental flaw in party ideology is that it assumes a predetermined response to any issue that might arise. These responses sadly just fall into the black or white, right or left typical responses and as a result no enlightened dialogue is generated. The result is that the government becomes just an organization that recycles the same old policies and innovation becomes stagnant.

Secondly, the party system dissuades most talented people who have their own opinions from participating in the political process. Very few individuals who are self-determined and hold their own views are willing to subjugate those views for the acceptance of a party. Therefore, the party tends to attract only individuals who are concerned with power, wealth or recognition rather than those who can generate solutions in a complex modern world.

Thirdly, party politics dismisses the democratic process. Though the process of becoming a member of a party or its leader might appear democratic the result is not so. The individual whom ultimately makes it to power becomes a party representative first and foremost and that loyalty is the priority.  Toeing the party line is fundamentally more important than representing your constituents and infinitely more important than putting your own opinion into the debate.  America suffers greatly as a result.

Finally, the party system has simply fallen into a mindset of opposition whereby any and all actions initiated by the other party is inherently wrong.  This in and of itself is not necessarily bad as opposition can be effective, but it has gone so far that opposition has become synonymous with skewering the opposition as evil or un-American.  This is unacceptable practice in a democratic environment adn really serves no purpose other than alienating Americans against each other.

The party system needs to be 100% replaced so that those elected to office are able to perform their role in a free manner unencumbered by party pressure.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Bringing Back Ethics: "The Spirit of Law"

America needs to bring back morality and ethics into the private operations of corporations and in the mindset of individual citizens.

One hallmark of the modern world is that organizations, corporations and individuals try to find loopholes in the system that work for their advantage and then stand on the their principals and claim that they did nothing wrong when it blows up. This practice absolutely has to be ended.

The recent Wall Street meltdown is a primary example of this practice whereby the financial firms ultimately had a whole team of lawyers who tear apart every piece of legislation in order to find the gaps or the opportunities within the legislation that are open to them. They then proceed to find ways around the overseeing institutions such as the SEC in order to continue their actions. 

The obvious problem in this approach is that it undermines the intent of the legislation and results in border line illegal activities that benefit very few people but also serve to undermine society in general. Whether one sees intervention in the private sector as socialist or not it has been demonstrated time after time that if left to its own devices, the free market forces will do what is in their selfish best interest and then not be held accountable for any damage done to others.  They do this with a clear conscience as they are able to claim that they have technically done nothing illegal.

The issue is not that they have been able to usurp the legislation rather that what they have done, though not technically illegal, it is definitely 100% unethical.  Morality has gone out of the current American way of thinking.

However, in order to overcome this monstrous gap in America, weherby societal ethics have been abandoned by the "ME generation", what needs to be implemented are "Spirit of Law" provisions whereby the actual intent of the legislation is considered legally binding over and above the actual specifics of the legislation itself.

In today' world, it is pretty unrealistic to imagine that any legisaltive body would be able to create a set of rules that will cover every and all future situations that might arise or have yet to be imagined.

The "Spirit of Law" legal provision will make individuals and corporations legally bound to follow through on the intetnion of the legisaltion rather trying to find ways to circumvent it. Under the "Spirit of Law" mantra any entity that finds loopholes in legislation and then exploits them would be held criminally liable and subject to prosecution.

Americans have to embrace a mindset whereby they respect the intent and spirt of the US way of life rather than imagining ways to co opt it for their own selfish purposes. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Churches: Time To Pay Up

Institutional religion and non-profit organizations receive billions of dollars each year tax free. This money or portions thereof have to be taxed.

Though the practice of taxation is out of hand in the USA right now, new sources of revenue have to be found to improve the situation. If a nominal federal tax rate of 5% of all revenue collected was taxed this would be a good place to begin reducing the monumental budget deficit that is now in place. States would have the opportunity to choose whether an incremental tax would be levied up to no more than an additional 5%.

One hallmark of American society is the freedom of religion and this is of course guaranteed within the Constitution. Freedom in this instance, seems to have come to mean complete freedom to operate from a formal obligation to the overall American way of life. Churches benefit from the taxation and infrastructure that the federal system provides so it is only fair that they should contribute financially.

Many would argue that religious institutions should be tax-exempt due to their civic contribution and non-profit status. The idea that non-profit organizations are tax exempt is ridiculous. I would suggest that any non-profit organization that has assets and/or paid employees should be taxed. Employees already pay income tax and volunteers would of course not pay due their lack of income.  Therefore, individual members of these institutions and organizations would not be affected at all.

Also, in order to encourage greater spending against community charitable efforts, any funds that are utilized directly as part of a community charitable effort would be 100% exempt from taxation thus lowering the institutions overall obligation. However, funds that are directed for operational expenses, payroll, marketing, fund-raising, assets and investments will be taxed.

The taxation does not have to be universal for every organization or religion. The expectation is that if a religious group or a non-profit organization holds property as part of their assets or has paid employees then taxation would be mandatory, though at the much reduced rate from private sector organizations.  Any organization that operates on a community level and has assets less than $50,000 and revenue less than $50,000 per year would not be taxed thus encouraging locally-minded and individual efforts.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

News Media: Just Give Me The Facts

News media needs to stop entertaining so much and get back to investigation.

Freedom of the press is truly one of the greatest differences between the US and the rest of the world.  It exists truly as one of the series of checks and balances of the US system. It was partially envisioned to act as the watchdog for the general public in terms of rooting out wrong-doing within the various systems of US society i.e. business, politics, ethical actions, criminal activity

However, the news media has in the last twenty years just become an entertainment medium like any other and really serves virtually zero beneficial purpose other than general informing.

Outlets of all mediums has to serve a more tangible role in the modern world rather than being so willing to be spoon-fed the news and manipulated by influential private PR companies. In the worst case scenario which has become so prevalent, many news media outlets have just become part of the process and exist purely to serve an agenda under the guise of being a news agency.

The internet has certainly become a new medium for reporting but unfortunately due to lack of access and resources by the people who are striving to reveal the facts and truth it is mostly just opinion fueled rants that drives the content so little actual information is considered reliable. Further, even when it is proven reliable information there is usually such a backlash due to the ethical nature of the organization sharing the information that the information is overshadowed. WikiLeaks is a prime example.

What needs to evolve is an independently funded media that does not have to rely on subscribers or advertising for its operational budget and does not have to answer to society for what it reports on. I would suggest that the news media world should pool its resources rather than being in a competitive environment  such that the original intent of the media is to represent public interest rather than have to rely on that same public for its revenue. Currently, the public is more interested in being entertained rather than informed so they should not have the ability to influence news reporting.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Myanmar: How To Help Emerging Democratic Nations

The election of Suu Kyi yesterday in Myanmar is a great opportunity for US foreign relations in terms of assisting the evolution of democracy in a new part of the world.

The traditional USA role of "all or nothing" support for the pro-democracy forces has to be abandoned by a willingness to work with the entirety of the Myanmar government, including President Thien's ruling party in spite of it's human rights history.

America has the opportunity now due to softening hard-line domestic policies there to act as a consultant along with other foreign powers rather than as an unilateral force which imposes it's will. The best way to lay a foundation for a free and democratic future in Myanmar is to offer expertise and infrastructure and not militant rules and threats.

As many more emerging countries enter the global economic community, I would suggest that an advisory group be established that represents many national and private interests such that Myanmar and others avoid many of the democratic failures which ultimately end up no further ahead in the long run (look to just about every country in Africa for examples).

The advisory panel goals should be to stabilize the country, encourage and protect foreign investment, educate the citizens on democratic principals and support the ruling party. The advisory board needs to be collaborative rather than punitive such that the nation can move forward in the right direction and will also help to avoid the attempted coup's and public rebellion which seem to be inevitable in the 21st century.

A democratic and economically focused international advisory board would be a first step in assisting emerging countries cope while maintaining their sovereignty through non-political or military intervention.