Now It’s Your Turn

It seems like years ago – hmm, yet it was – that I was decrying the problems with Obamacare.  In my mind, it was never “affordable” and it was going gnat hunting with a 30-06 rifle.  In retrospect, it was President Obama and the Democratic party looking for a way to create a universal (single-payer) health care system.  The result, as far as I’m concerned, was a health system that was turned on its head and accelerated costs to the nearly 90% of the population which were paying premiums (employers and their employees), plus created another “we’ll figure it out down the road” entitlement program.

In fairness, it dealt with one big issue ignored by many – the problem of how we deal with a system based on the ability to pay.  If you worked for a large wealthy employer (or were in a strong union), you had a very “rich” health insurance program.  If you worked for a small employer, you had no coverage, or at best, a meager plan.  Then, there were the folks who couldn’t afford health insurance.  Although the number of un-insured is in the millions, it represents a very SMALL part of our society.  Yet, we turned the system upside down for that group.

Now, it’s the Republican’s turn to muck it up.

As a long-time user of employer-provided health insurance, and as an executive who was intimately involved with providing health coverage for thousands of individuals, I’m concerned about the Republican plan.  First, millions will lose financial support and possibly coverage – regardless of “there’ll be more choice” rhetoric from Speaker Ryan.  For me, this is a poor decision from a socially conscious perspective, as well as a political one. Second, pushing through the Republican plan without strong deliberation and discussion is a failure of leadership.  Not the political leadership of winning at all costs, but leadership of doing what’s best for ALL Americans.

Health care for many, should not be in the prevue of the government.  Yet, whether we like it or not, the government has been in that business for decades – and it’s not going to change.  I understand that the horse has left the barn, but let’s not burn the barn down to prove that our way is the best.  As with any problem, there are multiple solutions.  Although I may be an idealist on this issue, I would like to see a comprehensive approach to fixing our health care system. Taxes.  Insurance providers.  Existing entitlement programs.  Health care providers as well as hospitals.  Repealing and/or replacing Obamacare, or ignoring the systemic issues of health care will not be in the best interest of the American public. The main question remains — does the Trump Administration or the Congressional leadership have the creativity to take on a true leadership role – or just play to its politically vocal base and just kick the ball down the road?

The Great Divide

Now that the Republicans have put forth some options to replace ACA, one of my favorite topics, I could comment on the proposed legislation and its potential effect on small business as well as individuals, but I’ll let that slide.  Not enough REAL substance to opine about.

I could talk about the Russians and the U.S.  Nah, too easy.  And as an avid Cowboy fan, why not discuss what folks in Dallas, Denver, Houston, and Kansas City are arguing about regarding Tony Romo, the talented but oft injured quarterback.  Nope, ain’t going there.

Let’s talk about the growing divide between the electorate and the fears which are being fed by 24-hour news channels and the blogosphere (I guess that’s me).

As with many individuals who have retired (or semi-retired), I find myself consuming TV and reading more than I have in the past.  Which in itself is a good thing, but given what I’m seeing from the news channels and other media very concerning.  Don’t like what you hear about the President or current political issues on CNN – then go visit Fox or comedy channel du jour.  Odds are you won’t even see the same topics discussed.  Is this any different than what we saw from the newspaper industry in the past century, probably not.

It’s today’s near-hysterical messaging which concerns me. Publishers in those days did not hide their opinions – but they weren’t constantly exposing their audience with statistics, consultants, and nuanced messages on a 24-hour basis. My hope is that today’s audiences will grow-up and realize that the world is full of bias and for lack of a better word – fake news.  Once we begin to discern between the facts and spin, we’ll all be much better off – and so will our country.

The Big Nowitzki

The “Dude” was in full force last night in Dallas.  For you non-sports fans, I’m talking about Dirk Nowitzki who is in his 19th year with the Dallas Mavericks reached a milestone that only five other NBA players had accomplished.  Those other players are legendary – Kareem, Wilt, Kobe, Karl, and Michael.

Growing up as a Laker fan, I watched Wilt, Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, Gail Goodrich, Magic, and of course Kareem.  I was always comparing this tall gangly kid to those folks – and found him wanting.  I expected him to be a shot-blocker, or playing power-forward the way Karl Malone or Havlicek played.  But he played it differently.  Yes, he’s a bit goofy looking and awkward, and he played from the perimeter where the air was rare for 7’ white boys.  But you don’t score 30,000 points in the NBA by being mediocre.

What made me a Dirk fan was his work ethic and his willingness to re-invent and improve himself.  In this era of “look-at-me” stars, Dirk was coming to work every day and willing to sacrifice the big contracts to stay in Dallas and build his legacy. As a fan of basketball, I hope to see Dirk return next year so he can celebrate 20 years in the NBA. All of those years with one team.  He is truly the “Dude.”

What’s The Right Theory?

Tax reform is on everyone’s lips – but is there a good solution?  The traditional supply side theorist (I use that term since there’s no guarantee the solution will work as predicted) says that lower taxes will help create jobs and grease the wheels of industry.  The other side is concerned about social benefits being curtailed and feels that higher taxes keep the predators in line.

The reality for most individuals and small business owners is that we need a balance on both sides.  I believe that lowering taxes doesn’t assure us growth.  I believe that we need some forms of social programs.  The question, as always, is what’s the right balance.  A tax on imports (call it what you want) will not guarantee more jobs will be created – and import “taxes” could be detrimental to our industry.  The answer is NOT getting rid of social programs, nor is it providing richer and richer benefits.  Remember, although no one is talking about it, our deficit is still a large one. With rising interest rates, a reduction in taxes without the hoped for growth would create long-term damage to our economy.

I have plenty of questions – but may be short of solutions. I don’t think it’s any different for Congress.  I for one, hope that they move slowly and remember that the economics underlying their decision is theory – and we are the guinea pigs.

Wine & Print

This morning I was completing an article for one of the PIA Affiliates when I realized that my blogging had gone dark for a few months.  Although I have had plenty to say – much of it political – I felt that the blogosphere had enough of rants and raves on politics.  All I can say is that the next 120 days should be “interesting.”

One of the unique pleasures of my new career (semi-retirement) was that it afforded my wife and I a 10-day trip to California late last year. We started in Los Angeles and for the next week and half put over 600 miles on our rental car.  We drove up the coast all the way to Mendocino (my wife grew up just south of there) with our good friends John and Kathie.

Since all of us had been to Napa and Sonoma in past years, we decided to see the “not-so-famous” areas of Santa Ynez, Paso Robles, Carmel Valley, Healdsburg, and of course, Anderson Valley.  Needless to say, it was a wonderful trip – and a reminder of the role print plays in communication.

As all of us know, packaging will continue to play a key role in visual communications for decades to come.  All of this was obvious with the different labels which we saw at over 16 wineries.  What was a pleasant surprise was the collateral material we discovered at every stop.  Some of it as simple as a six-panel folder, while others were complex marketing pieces.  Granted the wine industry isn’t supporting the entire California print industry, but it reminded me of the key role  print continues to play in this world of self-driving cars, virtual headsets, and Amazon’s Alexa (topic for another time!).

What Now?

That’s the question many are asking themselves two days after one of the most contentious elections in recent history.  I was going to stay away from any commentary, but after the barrage of news and discussions with friends and associates, I once again became a moth drawn to the flame.

If you are a Trump backer, you’re excited about the possibilities to “Make America Great Again.”  If you were a Hillary supporter, you’re still in shock of how this could have happened.  And then there’s a whole bunch of folks (and I include myself in that group) who want to see a different Donald Trump.  One who is willing to move his agenda forward, and yet remember that a 50/50 split in the electorate is not a mandate.

As many have said, “the people have spoken,” but it’s the 535 individuals in Congress plus the President’s cabinet and administration who govern, and that group is not very homogeneous.  Odds are that the majority of those folks are not in Mr. Trump’s camp; thus, how he approaches Congress (and all the other power brokers) over the next few months and into 2017 will be critical to OUR country’s future.

We’ll see a different nominee for the Supreme Court, and we will see different paths taken by the regulatory agencies (EPA, OSHA, etc.), but those are not as crucial as how this new Administration will respond to healthcare, immigration, and more importantly, foreign affairs. Yes, I know what’s been said by President-elect Trump, but saying and doing are very different as every President of the United States has discovered.

How will this play out for the printing/graphics/mailing/visual imaging industry and the thousands of firms and millions of employees?  Difficult to say since so many of those firms are small businesses, and no one was really talking about small business during the campaign. Read Mark Michelson’s article on the subject and the comments made by Michael Makin and Mark Nuzzaco, neither of whom are strangers to Washington D.C.

Yet, let us not forget that every one of those businesses will be affected since they are comprised of individuals.  Those employees and their families will see changes to their personal well-being because of the new administration.  For the good.  For the worse.  I remain cautiously optimistic for the first option.

It’s All About Selling

I just finished reading two articles of interest.  The first by Robert Byrne who is Mimeo’s CMM (Content Marketing Manager) titled “How The Printing Industry is Ripe for Disruption Through On-demand Digital Printing Adoption.” The second by Dr. Joe Webb titled “Traditional Publishing Ebbs, and Oh, Those CMOs.”

What I find of interest is there perspective.  Byrne is an individual who cut his teeth on the fast-moving world of digital content and marketing.  Webb is the grizzled industry veteran who is known for his economic discussions, but is a marketer at heart.

In Webb’s article, my takeaway is the need for a print provider’s sales team to focus on helping customers define their needs and provide solutions with a positive ROI – because marketers are struggling with all the varying channels to create more sales.  In Byrne’s article, my takeaway is the need to embrace the technological solutions.  It’s what Paul Reilly (New Direction Partners) calls “Proprietary Customer Interface.”  The ability to create customer solutions which are supported by online technology.

If you were to read the articles separately – or just viewed the world from those single perspectives, I feel you would miss opportunities.  Technology has always been the core of the industry, it just looks different today than 30 years ago.  For the vast majority of the industry (and their clients), online solutions have to be supported by knowledgeable and competent sales individuals.  Technology alone is not the solution.   If one is to look back at the print providers (or whatever you want to call them) who have succeeded over the past 30 years, there success is built on being able to sell solutions — and merge the right technology.  It’s always been that way — just ask Johannes Gutenberg, who ended up in bankruptcy.

Missouri Fire Storm

Several weeks ago the University of Central Missouri (UCM) made it known it was closing its Graphic Technologies program.  Needless to say this has created consternation for the instructors who have worked hard to make the program viable in our constantly changing industry.  It has also shocked alums who were recently made aware of this announcement.  Here’s a sample response from one of the program’s graduates, “This is unbelievable. What are they basing their decision to cancel the program on? Why would our program be deemed useless? With the successful digital industry we are experiencing today, I would have thought that technology would be a very popular area of study and one that would pull potential students. I will absolutely show my support any way I can.”

Yet, the reality is that over the past 10 years, dozens of four-year programs with a focus on “print” have closed around the United States.  The reason, in my opinion, is the lack of industry support.  The UCM program had support of suppliers (Fuji was one of those), but it lacked an “overwhelming” support of print providers who were committed to hiring students and becoming involved with the program.  It’s that type of interest and support which is important to college administrators, who sad to say are more focused on “bodies” in programs rather than how successful the graduates may be in their chosen industry, and I’ve met many UCM grads – who are bright and extremely passionate about our industry.

Although the door has not quite closed, if you would like to support the efforts being led by Dr. Mark Rankin (rankin@ucmo.edu) to keep this Missouri program operating – give him a shout and support his efforts to make the university’s management aware that the industry does care; otherwise another program will find its way to the ash can.

Journalism — It’s All About Content

Thanks to one of my web trolling buddies (Thanks Scott), I had the chance to see John Oliver’s 20-minute rant about journalism in a recent HBO “Last Week Tonight.”  Love or hate Oliver’s style (I find it interesting), there’s a lot of meat in this video.  I also found the “AdAge” editor’s approach to the story interesting – there was just as much focus on the last 90 seconds of “fluff” as there was to the heart of Oliver’s argument of the changing world of “journalism.”

Politics Are Local

OK, the fat lady is singing and the parties are over — so to speak.  We now have two candidates running for president which create heartburn for many “centrist” like myself.  For all the hate Hillary gets, I could have “accepted” her as president until the Democratic Party’s Platform made a big shift to the left.  In my opinion the Trumpster is totally unacceptable as an individual who has the chops to lead this country – and don’t give me that cr*p that he’s a business guy and understands how to lead.  Mr. Trump is a wealthy entrepreneur and they don’t do well in organizations.  Trust me.  Plus, his economic ravings concern me as much as the Democrat’s Platform.

So, what does that leave us?  Your local elected leaders.

There are 535 individuals (100 senators; 435 congressman) who ARE the folks who create laws – not the president.  They’re the folks we need to be electing — and more importantly – making sure they hear our opinions.  And don’t fall for that “they’re bought and paid for” by special interest groups (on both sides).  Yes, they’re being lobbied on a regular basis – but it’s the voters who keep our representatives employed.  So, it behooves us to make sure we have the right kind of folks representing us – not just folks who are listening to a vocal minority.

I have been fortunate over the years to be in the “belly of the beast” (Washington D.C.) working on behalf of the printing industry, and it’s a messy business. Yet, when it gets all set and done, it’s about that representative getting re-elected. So, if you don’t like the choices for president, make sure that your congressman or senator (and their staff, who really get the job done) hear your concerns and more importantly remind them that you’re a voter.  So, come November, let them her your voice!