Be Prepared!

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Mark McGraw, a frequent contributor to Reflections on the student loan crisis, has prepared a comprehensive document on emergency planning for families. With the tornado and hurricane seasons fast approaching, I felt the Reflections audience would be well-served by sharing it with you. Below is Mark’s article, “Be Prepared.”

­—Jim McGraw


Hurricane Katrina changed by life. I saw a total collapse of society into chaos in a matter of hours. At that moment, I decided that I needed to be prepared for an emergency.

The most likely disaster scenario we may face is the loss of electricity for an extended period of time. This could be due to a storm or other disaster that takes out the electrical grid. Things can get even worse if you lose water, natural gas, have flooding or need to evacuate.

If you are forced to leave your home, make sure you:

  • Know how to shut off your electric, natural gas and water supplies in your home.
  • Know how to drain your plumbing in case you lose heat.
  • Know the escape routes from your home in case you need to evacuate.
  • Keep your vehicles full of gas.
  • Know ahead of time what  you will take;
    key documents, laptop and key hard drives, passports, etc.
  • Have a plan for your family on where to get together and how to communicate.

It’s also vital to have the necessary supplies with you. FEMA is a pretty good source of information, especially www.ready.gov/build-a-kit. In addition, here are the things I recommend

  • Battery powered or hand crank radio with AM/FM/NOAA bands. Plenty of extra batteries.
  • Good flashlights for every member of your family, again with lots of extra batteries.
  • 30-60-day supply of non-perishable food.
  • Solar charger for your mobile phone and other hand-held electronics.
  • Water. FEMA recommends a gallon per person per day.
  • Camping equipment including propane cook stove, lanterns, heater, sleeping bags, etc.
  • First aid kit plus dust masks, plastic sheeting and duct tape.
  • Toiletry kit with items like soap, hand sanitizer, toothpaste, contact lens solution, etc.
  • Two gallons of Clorox bleach for cleaning and purifying water.
  • Toilet paper, diaper wipes, zip lock bags and trash bags.
  • CASH, in small bills.
  • If you have babies or pets you will need supplies for them as well.

Some of these items may have a limited shelf life so check them periodically.

Hopefully you will never have to use any of this advice, but as the Boy Scouts remind us, “Be Prepared.”

Summary

Thanks to Mark for sharing these important emergency planning tips. I hope you find them useful. As they say, “better safe than sorry.”

Fiscal Blackmail

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The $1.3 trillion-dollar spending bill developed by Congress and signed by the President is a joke!

With little involvement of Congress, we saw the “leaders” of the House and Senate throwing together a 2,232-page spending bill that had to be delivered to the White House in a wheel barrow. And then they had to temerity to demand the President sign it to “avoid a government shut down.”

All parties agreed that no one has had time to read the bill or even begin to understand what is in it. What we can be sure of is that it is so full of “pork” that it oinks. For example, Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York has billions for his tunnel in New York. And, there’s billions more for the military. Let’s at least hope they spend it wisely.

The Debt

The overall federal debt now exceeds $21 trillion and is projected to grow by trillions more as far as the eye can see. Have we become so used to the magnitude of the problem that we no longer care? If so, what a tragedy!

The attitude in Washington seems to be, “spend today and let the next generation of “leaders” and taxpayers deal with the problem.”

Interest on the Debt

We spend quarter-trillion dollars per year on interest payments for the national debt. Fortunately, we’ve had relatively low interest rates in recent years.  When that changes, every one-point increase in interest rates will add $200 billion per year to our borrowing costs. We stand on the precipice of a fiscal disaster!

The President

The President was angry when he received the spending bill. “No more last-minute bills,” he roared.

I predict that this flawed budgeting process will not end unless, or until the President refuses to sign these bills and shuts the government down. Then you might get Congress’ attention. They don’t know how to function in an orderly manner. With a stroke of his veto pen, the President might finally get them to understand, “no more flawed bills.”

Congress

Congress is dysfunctional! I don’t care if they’re Republicans or Democrats. The only fiscal difference is the Republicans spend slightly less.

The main job of Congress is to develop a budget. Yet, every time we turn around they are headed out of town on another break. We need to write our Senators and Members of Congress and tell them to

GET TO WORK!

Spend less time in front of the cameras. Stop your useless “hearings.”

Solve our fiscal problems. They won’t go away with your lack of leadership!

I know many don’t like the President but let him do his job. Approve his appointments so he can govern.

The Senate has become the body of “no.” McConnell needs to lead, and the Democrats need to start doing what’s right for America.

Summary

The “process” we witnessed on the $1.3 trillion spending bill must stop. We are tired of the last-minute drama of bloated spending.

Congress must adopt an orderly process of developing spending bills that people have time to read, understand and support.

Congress must understand, if they don’t want to do their jobs, we will find LEADERS that will!

Leadership: The Critical Element

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In my program Leadership, Empathy and the Power of Persuasion (www.LEAPPAhead.com), I speak about the importance of leadership. Here’s an example.

General Electric has been in business for more than 125 years. When Jack Welch was CEO, success was achieved year after year. After Welch retired the Board selected Jeffery Immelt as the new CEO. During the Immelt years:

  • Sales declined,
  • Net income fell,
  • Market cap dropped from the $600 billion range to less than $200 billion
  • What caused this debacle?

LACK OF LEADERSHIP!

I define leadership as

The ability to achieve the right objectives. On time, through people!

During his time as General Electric’s CEO, Mr. Immelt made a series of mistakes. For example, buying back stock at a high price that consumed cash, and deploying a flawed acquisition strategy.

Board of Directors

As GE’s business declined, one could ask, “where was the Board of Directors?” Eighteen people were sitting in the board room reviewing Mr. Immelt’s lack of results every three months. They said or did nothing as salaries and bonuses went up while the company fell further and further behind.

Action Needed

Now, a new CEO is trying to turn the company around. He may have to sell off assets and totally restructure the company.

What should happen under the new CEO’s leadership?

  • The entire board should be dismissed (many have already left.)
  • New people with strong business expertise should be added.
  • The new board should be kept to a manageable number.
  • Board members should be required to spend at least one day a month visiting GE’s various business units to better understand the challenges they face…and LISTEN!
  • Each board member should have to own at least $250,000 worth of GE stock, making them stake holders in GE’s success or failure.

Leadership vs. Charisma

Obviously, business isn’t the only sector where leadership is needed. We are witnessing a dreadful lack of leadership in Washington, DC where our politicians seem more concerned with their image and political livelihood, than solving our nation’s problems.

At election time, many voters confuse charisma with leadership. Charismatic people look good and sound good, but they often don’t accomplish much. In time, their appeal is lost.

True leaders solve problems!
Charismatic people talk about problems, But may not solve them!

What we need now, more than ever, are government leaders who can propose thoughtful solutions to our vast range of problems, and make difficult decisions to address them. 

Summary

In business and politics, leadership is the key to getting things done for a stronger America.

Reflections on Our President

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Many years ago, I had the opportunity of hearing Joe Barr, the Secretary of the Treasury, give a talk on government leadership. He warned what would happen if more and more government officials had no commercial employment experience, or had never run a business. In short, he stated, “we would rue the day if our government leaders did not have commercial experience.”

Consider the striking difference in commercial backgrounds in our last two presidents and their cabinet members:

Only eight percent of the Obama cabinet had business experience. In contrast, 90% of the Trump cabinet comes from industry.

What does that mean?

  • Key objectives have been established with demanding time tables for results.
  • A “can do” attitude has been evident.
  • Regulations have been dramatically reduced.

People feel the optimism in the stock market with its soaring values. People are pleasantly surprised when they see their IRA results.

Our nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) annual growth was at 2% under Obama. It’s increasing to 3-4% under Trump.

In short, Trump and his leadership team are proving that

AMERICA IS OPEN FOR BUSINESS!

Diplomacy

The President has had a demanding schedule going overseas to share his vision, while also greeting an endless number of leaders at the White House.

Sometimes his message has been one of “tough love”, i.e., his comments to NATO members and historic lack of financial support. Now, those governments are paying their fair share.

The President has carried a consistent message to our trading partners: “We will work with you however, it must be fair for both parties.”

The Tax Bill

The new tax bill has had a major impact on business and individual behavior.

  • More than 250 companies have provided significant cash bonuses to their employees, plus adding to their IRA’s;
  • Other companies are moving back to the USA;
  • Overseas companies are building plants in the USA.

The President

In spite of the fantastic results in his first year, the animus towards President Trump continues. His family has been criticized with complaints about Mrs. Trumps shoe selections and other worthless drivel.

I grant, Mr. Trump doesn’t always “Tweet” the right message, but I believe his actions and comments reflect his love for America.

Summary

America is booming!!! We are optimistic with a bright future. I think we should take time to celebrate our success, don’t you?

I urge the Democrats to quit being the party of “No”. We have problems that need to be solved: Immigration, terrorism, infrastructure and more. It will require the leadership of both parties to address these issues.

Let’s make America even greater. It is our country!

The Path to Fiscal Sanity

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President Trump has made positive progress in reducing costly regulations; eliminating 22 regulations for every new one in 2017. However, more work needs to be done in the new year and beyond.

Tax Bill

There are many differing opinions on the impact of the new tax laws. However, its goal is to stimulate the economy by permitting people to spend or keep more of their own money. We need clarity on the new law to address negative opinions vs. actual outcomes.

The Budget

Congress needs to develop a rational budget to address our ever-mounting fiscal debt. The only way to control spending is to cut costs across the board. Government must do what we do when we have less money to spend…Cut Spending!!!

The federal government collected $3.46 trillion in 2017 compared to $3.268 in 2016. In spite of a gain of nearly $200 billion in revenue, the deficit continued to climb. Clearly, we have a spending problem.


To give you perspective, here are some shocking numbers on spending for 2017:
(Numbers are in Billions. Source: U.S. Federal Budget.)

Healthcare (Medicare/Medicaid) $1,130.4
Pensions (Social Security/Disability) $1,006.1
National Defense $ 823.1
Welfare $ 358.7
Interest on Debt $ 262.8

Total $3,580.6 (90% of the $3,980 billion spent.)


Solutions

Both parties need to sit down together and address the problem. We do not need more TV sound bites. We should start with the Bowles/Simpson report from a few years ago that outlined a game plan to address overspending. The report was well written but unfortunately, ignored.

The President needs to start the process with the leadership of both parties. The press should be encouraged to support the process.

Summary

2017 was a great year.

  • The stock market was up about 25%
  • Regulations were reduced
  • A tax cut that benefits middle income Americans
    was approved.

2018 should be another positive year if we can make progress on reducing spending.

Strong leadership will be required to address this nagging problem. The American people are looking for, and expecting, positive results. This task will not be easy and it will require strong leadership from both parties and the President.

We must stop this fiscal insanity before it’s too late.

The problem is not going away. We need leadership NOW!

This month’s column is by Jim’s son, Mark McGraw.

My Letter to Santa

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Dear Santa Claus,

So, how’s that “naughty and nice” thing been going for you? It must be tough, I’m sure.

We’ve had another year of bickering between the Republicans and Democrats. They’re worse than cats and dogs or even brothers and sisters. And, the hatred toward our President keeps getting worse. Many would rather see him fail than to do what’s right for America. Sad!!!

In spite of it all, business continues to boom. The GDP is up 3% and the stock market is hitting record highs. Many Americans will have a nice surprise when they see the growth of their IRA’s at year-end. It makes you wonder how much better our economy would be if we worked together as a nation to do the right things. Everyone would gain and our economy would lead the world.

My Christmas Stocking Stuffers

Santa, here’s what I would like to see in America’s stocking this Christmas:

Stocking Stuffer #1 – Tax Reform Bill

A pro-growth tax bill that includes a reduction in the corporate tax rate to 20% at minimum; preferably 15%. The bill should also eliminate the unfair inheritance tax. This money has already been taxed once. Inheritance taxes are a burden on small businesses, farmers and others.

Stocking Stuffer #2 – Border Control

Build the wall! As we do, we must continue to vet immigrants that we welcome to our country. Talented immigrants will make America stronger.

Other countries emphasize the importance of skills for greater success. We should as well!

Stocking Stuffer #3 – Bipartisan Cooperation

The Democratic Party has become the party of “no.” Obamacare has been a disaster. The Democrats refuse to improve it, in spite of soaring premiums and limited choice.

It appears that Democrats want Obamacare to fail so we will be forced to accept a single payer system. This would limit choice and increase costs. It is not a solution, but would create a bigger problem.

Why can’t both parties work together and solve the Obamacare disaster?

Stocking Stuffer #4 – Be Kind!

We all live under the same sky. What we do with our life is up to us.

In America, we have the freedom to choose what our careers will be and how we will live our life. How truly fortunate we are.

I suggest we all pause and reflect on how we can treat each other better, and in so doing, add more fulfillment in our own lives. For example:

  • Say “Hello” and really mean it.
  • Send a note to an out-of-town friend.
  • Appreciate your spouse and children more.
  • Do an act of kindness that adds fulfillment to another’s life.

In short, think of others. In doing so your own life will have greater meaning and fulfillment.

I’m not talking about insincere flattery, or something you do once a year. Make “Being Kind” a year-round philosophy for life!

There’s an old Irish saying, “A kind word never broke a tooth.”

Thanks for listening, Santa. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays,

The Cost of “Endless” War

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In August 2010, I devoted that issue of Reflections to the War in Afghanistan and how it affected Savannah, GA a historic city where I lived for 20 years. I would like to share some of those thoughts with you again.


We have a host of military bases in Savannah, with thousands of soldiers coming and going. War is not some far-off battlefield, but one that we feel every day. Many a tree has a bright yellow ribbon. The shops offer a military discount. When we dine out, we buy meals for our men and women in service. It’s our way of saying “thank you.”

Our airport is unique when it comes to the military and their families. We permit the families to go to the departure gate to say goodbye and to welcome their soldiers home.

Recently I was waiting for my flight when the incoming plane arrived with a number of troops returning from Afghanistan. It was a very emotional moment.

The wives and children were waiting, holding balloons and signs. One little three-year-old had a “Welcome Home Daddy” sign that was bigger than she was.

The plane pulled up to the gate. Everyone came alive in anticipation of seeing their loved ones. The door opened and the returning servicemen and women were greeted with applause. Their eyes searched for their families. A squeal of delight rang out from the wives and children when daddy stepped through the gate. Balloons dropped to the floor, followed by long hugs and tears.

Everyone was moved by the emotion. The applause continued until the last service person had left the plane. Then there was silence. We all wiped the tears from our eyes. I, for one, was emotionally drained.

On Memorial Day weekend (2010), it was announced that over 1,000 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan. I thought of that number during this moment at the airport. Many were from the Savannah area. They plant a tree at Ft. Stewart for each fallen service man and woman. We have too many trees!!


We are now seven years removed from that day at the Savannah airport and the war in Afghanistan continues. Politicians promise to end it, and yet more young men and women have died or been wounded and billions more dollars have been spent.

The statistics today are sobering, if not infuriating.

Human Toll

  • 2,350 U.S. troops dead (more than double the number in 2010)
  • 20,092 U.S. troops injured
  • Thousands more civilian contractors, allied troops and local civilians have been killed or wounded.

Economic Cost

  • Over $1 trillion spent so far.
  • Another $1 trillion will be spent treating the wounded and disabled over the next 40 years.

(Sources: U.S. Department of Defense, Brown University research study.)

For 17 years we have been mired in this conflict. How much longer? To what end?

Certainly, we must fight terrorism and keep our country safe, but we need to define a path to cease combat operations in Afghanistan in a reasonable timeframe.

Our best young men and women have given all that they can give. We salute them. But, we must demand better from our politicians, policy makers and the Pentagon.

I pray that I won’t be writing a Reflections piece about Afghanistan in another seven years.

Hurricanes Awaken The American Spirit

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Strong leadership at many levels is helping our nation respond to major hurricanes in the continental United States and our off-shore territories.

Harvey

In response to the massive flooding in Texas and the Gulf Coast, federal, state and local governments provided aid on a timely basis. But something more illustrated the true American spirit.

The Cajun Navy

Private citizens came from miles around to do whatever they could. They gassed up their bass boats, loaded them on trailers and drove to where they were needed. Thanks to them, thousands were rescued from the rising flood waters.

It was a great example of neighbors helping fellow neighbors in need. Everyone worked around the clock carrying people to higher ground. In short, they responded when the cry for help went out.

Irma

Florida was hit with high winds from Hurricane Irma. Power outages occurred, however, again thanks to strong federal, state and local leadership, the damage was quickly resolved. Residents especially thanked “the pole dancers”; electric crews who came from across the country to restore power. Another great example of neighbors helping neighbors.

Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico has been devastated by back-to-back hurricanes leaving residents with no electricity, limited fresh water and debris as far as the eye can see.

In contrast to Texas or Florida, Puerto Rico is an island where all relief supplies have to come in via ship or plane. The three million people had very limited supplies until help arrived. It is estimated that it will take months to restore power and clean up the debris.

A large cruise ship was used to transport some to safety. Portable generators were brought in to supply some emergency power. Relief supplies piled up on the docks because they had no truck drivers to move the supplies over the severely damaged roads and bridges.

Added to the immediate devastation is Puerto Rico’s current $75 billion debt. Their economy is under siege. Where will they get the money to rebuild their infrastructure?

Electricity

The hurricanes remind us that Americans take electricity for granted. It’s always available…until it’s not. We need to ask, how would we survive if our power was lost for weeks or months?

There would be chaos across the country. Within hours stores would run out of food. Gasoline supplies would be gone. Access to money would be shut down. In short, our economy would collapse.

Protecting our electrical grid must be a top priority. North Korea has already threatened to wipe it out. We can’t take that chance.

Summary

Americans again responded to major crises. They came in their boats of all sizes and shapes to help their neighbors in need. They drove repair trucks non-stop to get the power back on.

We salute the American spirit and our citizens’ “can do” attitude.

Let’s keep that spirit alive. Tell Washington that we expect the same “can do” spirit from them. Quit fighting amongst yourselves and start doing your job!

Reflections on the Past and Future

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September 2017 marks the eighth anniversary of “Reflections.” Your responses over these many years has been most gratifying. Thank you for your support and input.

Let’s go down memory lane and reflect on the highs and lows over the last eight years.

Communications

The first issue dealt with the importance of communication.

“When we think of communication, we generally think of speaking, writing, sharing information. How many times have we heard the statement, “He’s a great communicator.”?

“However, there’s another side of communication, and that is listening. How many of us really listen to what a person is saying, or are we merely waiting for our turn to talk? Too many of us have “cement ears” and do not want to listen.”

Today, America is facing significant challenges because we are not communicating with each other. We need to listen more and talk less!

The communication industry—TV, newspapers, radio and the internet—are not serving their audiences well. Their biased reporting and commentary are a disgrace to all Americans. Their comments are filled with hate and misinformation. People are tuning out. In the media’s efforts to destroy others, they are destroying themselves.

Fiscal Responsibility

A common theme in “Reflections” during the last eight years has been fiscal irresponsibility. Neither party has provided fiscal leadership—just the opposite.

The deficit has doubled to $20 trillion and climbing. We can’t continue to spend $4 trillion a year and collect only $3 trillion+ in taxes. This is madness.

Taxing the rich more is not the answer. The solution is reduced spending coupled with tax reform. Let people keep more of their own money and we will have a robust economy which will lead to more tax income.

Obamacare

We have been living with Obamacare for seven years. It has been a disaster!!

Both parties need to solve this problem. Going to a “single payer” is not the answer. It will lead to less health care and more costs.

Energy

One bright spot during the last eight years has been energy development. Thanks to fracking and the expanded natural gas supply, we have become an energy powerhouse again. This has resulted in significantly lower costs for gasoline and natural gas.

The prior government did everything in their power to halt or interfere with our energy development. Private industry made it happen.

Politics

The November 2016 elections were a major victory for the Republican party. They now have a majority in the House, and Senate, plus the White House.

However, many were disappointed with this outcome. These people—both Democrats and Republicans—refuse to accept the outcome. They are committed to blocking the President and his agenda, much to the detriment of the American people.

Civil Disobedience

We have been confronted with all forms of civil disobedience. People marching in the streets, chanting their slogans of hate, coupled with destructive acts of violence. Law officers have been killed and wounded. When will this madness end??

The press has added to the rancor with their biased “reporting.” They should report the facts, not their opinions. Don’t give these hate groups publicity!

Summary

As I have said for these last eight years, America has a choice to make. Stop the actions of self-destruction. Start working together to build America

I urge you to speak out. Communicate with your leaders. Tell them you want results…NOW!!! Tell Congress to stay in session until we solve healthcare and tax reform. Remind them, they work for us!

Regulations and Taxes

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Regulators have become the fourth branch of the federal government.

According to the Heritage Foundation, federal regulation that explicitly restricts business transactions has exploded since 1960.

  • From 1960 to 2015, the amount of taxpayer money allocated to federal regulators increased by more than 1800 percent, from $3.06 billion to $57.05 billion.
  • The 277,000 regulators recorded in 2015 didn’t include anyone from the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration, Defense Department, or the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services-even though these agencies account for roughly one-third of all final rulemaking actions in a typical year.
  • The budget for the Federal Aviation Administration increased from $241 million to $1.36 billion.
  • Since its founding in 1970, the EPA has grown to over 10,000 employees.

These are just a few examples of the federal regulatory juggernaut.

Government Spending

The Heritage Foundation also reports that federal, state and local governments spent an astonishing 37.7 percent of America’s gross domestic product in 2015. That’s over 37 cents for every dollar Americans produced that year.

Taxes

The tax burden on all Americans is too high. Consumers need to keep more of their money. This will improve the economy and help us achieve the desired growth rate of 3-4%. It worked under Ronald Reagan’s leadership and it will again.

Corporate Taxes

We have one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world at 35%. Reducing it to 15% will make our companies more competitive. This will keep more companies and their jobs in the USA.

In exchange for a lower tax rate, Congress could eliminate all corporate subsidies including green energy. No more special tax breaks for one company vs. others. The government should quit picking winners and losers.

Overseas Earnings

The current practice of taxing overseas earnings needs to be changed. Although a company paid the country tax where it was earned, that company is also taxed by the U.S. government if they bring their earnings to the USA.

The Bush administration provided a one-time opportunity to bring those earnings back to the U.S. with a small surcharge. We have trillions of dollars “parked” overseas that we could and should invest in the USA.

Dynamic Growth Opportunity

If you want to see business in the USA grow at a fantastic rate:

  • Cut corporate taxes to 15%,
  • Bring the trillions of dollars sitting overseas to the USA, and
  • Continue cutting regulations.

Combine these actions with our low-cost energy, and you have a recipe for a growth powerhouse!!!

Summary

The American people are tired of the lack of leadership and results in Washington. We elect people to Congress and the White House to solve problems and make decisions.

It’s time to stop talking and take action. It’s time to enact a strong tax plan that will help us address the opportunities before us.

Just Do It!!!

Together, we can make America Great Again.