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Net Neutrality Creates Fundamental Conflicts for Republicans

March 1st, 2015 · Business Management

The Republican core philosophy has always been based on individual freedom and opportunity for all. But it is a philosophy that can lead to conflict. Especially when the financial support Republicans need to fund elections comes from large corporations and wealthy elite, who favor freedom and opportunity—but for only the few.

This past week the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted by a 3–2 margin to declare the Internet as essentially a public service that should be available to all on a neutral and equal basis. The theory driving the FCC’s decision is that dependence on the Internet has become so pervasive and critical to communication and cablescommerce in the country that – like public utilities and interstate commerce – unfettered access to it should be protected.

(In May of 2014, I published a blog that discussed “net neutrality.” You might find it helpful to review the issues raised at that time.)

In reporting on the FCC’s action, the media pointed out that the vote was “along party lines,” with the Democrats on the Commission voting in favor of an open and free Internet, while the Republicans voted against that concept. Last year, President Obama came out in support of what is called “net neutrality.” In his comments Obama said, “An open Internet is essential to the American economy, and increasingly to our very way of life.” Nevertheless, when the FCC decision was announced, the Democrats praised it and the Republicans condemned it.

While acknowledging both the importance and impact of the Internet, Republicans prefer to grant the large corporations that control access and content delivery over the Internet the right to determine what fees are charged for access and speed of content delivery. The result of that action would be to limit the best aspects of the Internet to the haves, keeping others as have-nots.

None other than the intellectually irrepressible stalwart Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas led the opposition to the FCC ruling by referring to net neutrality as “Obamacare for the Internet.” What’s going on here? We have been led to believe that the Republicans are committed to individual freedom and opportunity. In today’s world nothing speaks more to individual freedom and opportunity than does an open Internet. Companies and services such as Google, Twitter, Instagram, Netflix, Angie’s List, Pandora, YouTube, Amazon are children of the Internet that could not have come into being if it were not for free and equal access to the Internet. Countless millions of commercial and non-profit websites have charted the same unfettered course, websites that could have ended up here.

How can the Republicans be so entrenched in opposition to an idea – net neutrality – that goes to the very core of their professed political philosophy of individual freedom and opportunity? Don’t they constantly speak of their commitment to small business and entrepreneurs? Maybe this anti-net neutrality is simply an unthinking knee-jerk reaction to oppose anything that Obama favors. After all, this has been the operational philosophy of the Republicans from the first day Obama took office. On the other hand, the Republicans could be hiding behind their often-stated belief that any government regulation of commerce is, by its nature, bad and should be resisted. The Republicans argue that the FCC ruling is just another landmark expansion of the government’s regulatory agenda that is an anathema to individual and corporate freedom and opportunity.

Biting Your Nose to Spite . . .

The Republican logic seems a bit convoluted here. Opposition to net neutrality is consistent with their dogged rejection of virtually any government regulation, but for a political party that positions itself as the champion of small businesses and entrepreneurialism, its anti-net neutrality position is at best confusing, if not downright hypocritical.

It has been the very openness of Internet access and service that has given individuals and new businesses the freedom and opportunity to develop and flourish. The reality is that an open Internet is the only way small businesses and entrepreneurs with a creative vision can be on a level playing field with the biggest companies. It is the only way startups and the next great new idea can compete and potentially flourish.

Government regulation of the Internet may be contrary to Republicans’ belief in a free market, but restricting access to the Internet or allowing bigger companies better service, would serve only to inhibit innovation, small businesses and entrepreneurs. Why would, of all people, the Republicans now be willing to allow the Internet to fall under the control of huge, virtually monopolistic corporations, bent only on making more profits for themselves? And in the process shut off the freedom of opportunity and access for all.

There is an interesting historical irony here. Republicans have a better track record of using government power and regulations to create opportunity and protect the interests of small business and entrepreneurs than do the 92822603Democrats. Teddy Roosevelt and his successor William Taft, both Republicans, were the first to use the power of government to attempt to create a level playing field for small businesses and entrepreneurs by breaking the monopolist power of huge companies. These two Republicans did this by declaring certain activities as essentially a public service that should be regulated to assure equal access to all. The best example of this is how Roosevelt dealt with the Internet of his day – the railroads.

In the late 19th century, the railroads meant as much to commerce in this country as the Internet does today. As the railroads spread across the country there was what could be called “railroad-neutrality.” Scores of railroad companies were formed to compete for the business of transporting goods all across the country. Railroads were open and available on an equal basis to any and all who wished to ship goods to market. As a result, new businesses were created and the economy flourished. But then, unable (or unwilling) to meet the competition, railroads began to consolidate. Before long the entire railway network was under the control of only two or three “railroad trusts,” which met the competition by conspiring together to eliminate competition.

No longer were railroads “neutral” and open to any business. Those who controlled the railroads were free to charge any price they decided and to favor large shippers over smaller ones. Since there was not viable a alternative to the railroads, just as there is no alternative to the Internet, individual freedom and opportunity was suppressed; while the rich got richer. In 1906 Roosevelt pushed through legislation (the Hepburn Act) that basically declared railroads to be a public service. The law (later strengthened by Taft) gave the Interstate Commerce Commission the power to regulate railroad rates and forbid preference for larger companies. The effect was to ultimately restore “railroad neutrality” that provided access to all on an equitable basis. The result was greatly expanded opportunity and commerce.

It is sad that today’s Republicans have not learned this lesson from the Republicans of the past. There are times when the use of government power to regulate is the best way – maybe the only way – to assure a level playing field that will create individual freedom and opportunity for all. You would think the Republicans would rush to accept this concept, but instead they fight it. Then again, maybe they are just too conflicted between the principles of their party and the hundreds of millions in principal that the corporations opposed to net neutrality contribute to the Republican Party to fund their election campaigns.

Republican Teddy Roosevelt must be rolling over in his grave.

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“They” Rule Most People’s World, but They Shouldn’t Rule Yours.

February 22nd, 2015 · Business Management

Who the Hell are “They” Anyway?

How often do you hear the phrase “they say”? As in: “They say it’s going to rain on Wednesday.” “They say the Cubs are going to have a good team this year.” “They say the climate in changing.” “They say that’s the way we always do things.” “They say you can’t do that.”

I could go on ad infinitum with examples of this ubiquitous little banality, but I think you get the point. The “they say” qualifier is so pervasive in common conversation, we pay little note to it, except to accord it a credibility it may not deserve.

The use of the “they say” phrase is generally intended to imply the relative truth or generally proven perception theysaidsurrounding the particular statement that follows. The assumption we are expected to accept is that, if “they” say it, it must be true. Even if we don’t know who “they” are, it’s assumed that this faceless group is a reasonably informed and unbiased source whose opinions are invariably better than yours.

In most cases, such as dealing with the weather, sports or politics, this lazy reliance on what “they say” is so innocuous it does little harm. However, when it comes to how we live our lives or seek career success, an important lesson to learn is that most of those who are “they sayers” are in reality “naysayers.”

If we blindly accept what “they say” and allow it to influence our attitudes and actions it can have a very deleterious impact on our future. Without taking the time to question and challenge what “they say,” – especially when it comes to our life, career and future – we run the risk that “they,” not we, will be in control of our future.

Taylor Swift best expressed this sentiment in her first hit-song, Tim McGraw:

They say not to have too much fun
They say not to get too much sun
Democrat, Republican
I guess I’m screwed, I’m neither one
Don’t say “hell”, say “what the heck”
Do what’s politically correct
Don’t pray in school, but have safe sex
Isn’t that what they expect?

Who are they?
Yea you know what they say
Who are they?
Someone I gotta pay
Who are they?

They probably own the Village Voice
The Nashville Scene, The People’s Choice
To me it is all a bunch of noise
Decided on by the funny boys
They say who does and don’t belong
They say our hair’s too short or long
They say who’s right and who is wrong
As if we’ll all just come along

Swift’s implied advice is prescient beyond her years. Where would we be today if, for example, Henry Ford had caved in to what “they” said in 1908; that manufacturing an automobile so inexpensive that even the workmen who assembled it could afford to buy one was a fanciful pipe dream? Suppose Fred Smith had taken to heart when “they said” that express overnight parcel delivery was an impossibility? That’s right. They’d be no FedEx. And how about Steve Jobs? They said in the late 1990s that Apple was finished; a has-been company doomed for the corporate junkyard. But Jobs refused to accept what “they said.” And his transformative technology reshaped one industry after another, from computers and smartphones to music and movies. In the process, of course, he also reshaped our lives.  As a side note, Taylor Swift would probably be writing poetry while on Wal-Mart coffee breaks today if she had accepted the “truth” that major music publishing houses don’t hire teenage songwriters (she landed her first writing gig at Sony/ATV when she was 14).

You are probably going to meet a lot of “theys” in your life and career, just as Ford, Smith, Jobs and many others did. I know I have. They want us to believe that they know what is best and that it is best for us to go along with what they say.

From my perspective, the best way to respond to what they say is to say, “you don’t say.” In other words, you should be the one to have the say, not they. If we blindly allow the “they says” to influence our thoughts and actions, the opportunity to prove that they were wrong will be lost.

The problem is that “they says” evolve into a set of rules promulgated by an amorphous group of “theys.” These cheattowincoverbecome presumptions and assumed truths that must be followed because they say so.  Some of the biggest “they say” edicts I have experienced include: “They say you can’t attack the traditional products of the industry.” “They say you can’t start a new life insurance company.” “They say you can’t give all employees ownership in the company.” “They say you can’t write a book titled, Cheat To Win. Thank goodness I didn’t listen to what they say.

The truth is that success is easier when we don’t allow what “they say” to determine what we do. Listen to their idle pronouncements with a cheerful inner indifference. The key question you’ll be silently asking is who “they” are. Challenge the “they says” and when you do, more often than not, you will find they lack credence. Careers should not be built on what “they say.” Rather, a career should be based on what you say and do.

The next time someone throws a “they say” at you – especially when it pertains to what you want to achieve – stop, question and challenge the assumptions behind the “they say.” If you find their views based more or custom and assumption than reality – and you often will – you will recognize the opportunity to prove that what you say is more viable than what they say. The poet Edgar Guest noted that when he wrote:

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
      There are thousands to prophesy failure,
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
      The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
      Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
      That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

The real path to success, is not what “they” said, but what “we” did.

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A Parody can be Really Humorous Unless it’s Really Serious

February 15th, 2015 · Business Management

Now that Republicans are in full control of Congress, they have an opportunity to exhibit strong, constructive leadership.  Instead, the Republican leaders have chosen to make a parody of leadership.

A parody is deliberate, exaggerated imitation of the particular way someone does something that is calculated to produce a comic result. What makes a parody humorous is mocking, mimicking and overplaying the noticeable aspects of a certain situation or activity.

The Tina Fey portrayal of Gov. Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live is a classic case of parody. And if the Feyissues facing the country were not so important, the actions of the Republican leaders in Congress would serve as a humorous parody of leadership that might be seen on Saturday Night Live or The Comedy Channel.

It seems too easy and almost cruel and unusual punishment to pick on Republican Congressional leaders for their absence of any ability to exhibit even a modicum of positive, productive leadership. Talk about shooting fish in a barrel; chastising Republican leaders for a famine of leadership is like going on an elephant hunting safari in Africa and discovering all the elephants shackled by chains.

Now before you climb up on your high horse and ride off in a huff thinking this is an attack piece on Republicans in general, it’s not. Rather, this blog is intended to be a lesson in leadership – good or bad – that we can all learn from. Often we can learn just as much – if not more – from what people do wrong as we can from what they do right. This is a case where Republican leaders are showing us what leadership is by doing just the opposite of what leaders should do.

Getting Leadership Right from the Start

There is little political divide or argument over the fundamental essence of effective leadership. Without a clear vision of what needs to be done to solve problems or to move forward, leadership cannot exist. Leadership is about proposing, not opposing.

That does not mean there can’t be honest debate and disagreement over what should be done or even how it is done, but it should be conducted in an environment that seeks a solution, not a stalemate. Nor is leadership an individual sport. It calls for honesty, openness, collaboration, and compromise. Most important of all, it demands a commitment to achieve the vision—no matter who gets the credit.

Imagine yourself serving as chairman of a committee charged with solving a vexing problem. But every time you demonstrate your leadership by offering a proposal to solve the problem, a majority of the committee opposes it – and rejects it out of hand. No matter what solution you offer – even ideas that the majority had previously endorsed – the majority of the committee rejects it.

When you ask this group to offer their own ideas for a solution, their response is silence, except to reiterate their opposition to anything you propose and criticize you as a weak leader for the failure to solve the problem. How frustrated would you feel? Would the committee produce any constructive results?

Now with the mandate from the voters to provide leadership, the problem for the Republican leaders is that they have been in such a hardened opposition mode for so long, that any leadership ability has fossilized to the extent that they have become incapable of providing any new or constructive ideas.

A Case in Point

The current stalemate over the funding of the Homeland Security Department (HSD) is a telling example of the GOP’s policy of deliberately impeding good lawmaking. The Republicans have attached an outlier in the bill rescinding President Obama’s Executive Order on immigration. Now tell me: Is it good leadership for the Republicans to put themselves in a position to be blamed for failure to fund HSD, especially in these times, simply because they are at odds with Obama on immigration? The Republicans know they can’t win this battle, either with votes or public opinion, yet they press forward and hold HSD hostage. That is a clear example of obstructionism, not leadership.

Maybe the Republicans forget they are in full control of Congress. If they are hell-bent on reversing Obama’s executive order on immigration they could pass HSD funding (sans immigration) on one day and bring up immigration for full debate the next day. The problem is that the Republican leaders are mired in the politics of opposition, not focused on vision and leadership. The truth is that the only idea Republican leaders have put forward on immigration was Mitt Romney’s suggestion of “self-deportation.”

(As a side note: Do you know what Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and Truman’s order to desegregate the army had in common with Obama’s action on immigration? They were all executive orders issued because Congress failed to act.)

The Republicans vociferously opposed Obamacare and since its passage the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has voted 57 times to repeal it. Obamacare may be a poor solution to the health care issues in the country, but what alternative have the Republicans offered? The Republicans have opposed, but they have never once proposed a single alternative idea. Not even one suggestion as to how to improve it; just total and complete opposition. Let me repeat: Leadership is about proposing, not opposing.

The Republican leaders are now attempting to take up the mantle of protectors-of-the-middle class, lamenting the issues of stagnant wages, job flight and wealth disparity. That is a good thing; these are important problems that need to be addressed and resolved. Unfortunately, but true to their pledge to oppose anything and everything, the Republican approach to improving the plight of the middle class is to blame Obama for causing the problem. This is like the drunk driver who veers across the road and causes a horrible accident, and then blames the other driver for being on the road.

In fairness to the Republican leaders, they have had a vision for the past six years. In the same week that President Obama was inaugurated, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell (Is it just me or when you Doody_McConnellsee a picture of McConnell, doesn’t he look like an aged Howdy Doody?) told a group or Republican leaders that their number one objective would be to oppose anything and everything that Obama would propose. At least give the Republican leaders credit for sticking to this pledge, but by no stretch of the imagination could that be called leadership.

It would be of immense value to the Republican Party – not to mention the country – if its leaders could discover and practice the art of real leadership. But doing so won’t be easy, because when one has for so long made a parody of leadership, it is difficult to be taken seriously.

This is a good lesson for all of us who profess a desire to be leaders. Remember, leadership is about creating a vision and then offering a plan to achieve it. If one seeks to be a successful leader they have to understand that it will require sacrifice and compromise; it will demand a willingness to be open to the ideas of others and an understanding that success is more likely when all work together to achieve the objective. A leader has to understand that it is not their way or no way, but that any way that achieves the vision is the right way.

The Republican leaders have a unique opportunity to demonstrate that they can be real leaders. They have the stage to show that they have the best ideas to confront the challenges facing America. Until Republican leaders understand and accept that in order to demonstrate their leadership prowess, they have to have the creativity and courage to step up and propose something – anything – they will rightly be viewed as no more than a parody of leadership. And that’s not funny.

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