Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Leadership on the Bounty

I just finished reading the Bounty trilogy and was struck by the many leadership lessons to be found within. Most know the story of 'Mutiny on the Bounty.' Captain Bligh was the petty dictator. Fletcher Christian the calm leader who, when he'd had enough, mutinied and cast Bligh adrift and returned to Tahiti. But what happened after that was the more interesting part of the story. The trilogy is made up of three books:
    The full 'Bounty' trilogy by Nordhoff and Hall.
  1. Mutiny on the Bounty, which we just discussed.
  2. 'Men against the sea.' The story of Bligh's return to civilization with almost all of the 18 men cast adrift with him
  3. 'Pitcairn's Island.' The story of the mutineer's life on their island refuge.
Let's first discuss the different leadership styles of Bligh versus Christian.  Any good book has opposition and this book focused on the two leaders.
Bligh, the petty tyrant, who's only power came from his position as captain and the weight of British Admiralty law. Bligh dominated his crew on their voyage to Tahiti, making unfair demands and obnoxious complaints. He handed out harsh lashings to anyone who he suspected of opposing him. When the ship landed in Tahiti and the men made friends with the natives who wanted to gift them with fresh meat and produce, Bligh commandeered everything for ship's stores. The men didn't trust Bligh because they suspected him of cheating them of their fair rations when the ship left England and pocketing the profits.

Fletcher Christian's leadership style was to trust the men under his command and treat them with the respect they deserved as men and sailors. Christian stood up to Bligh's bullying until his honor as a gentleman was challenged. At that point he chose to make a raft and abandon ship, only deciding to mutiny at an opportune moment. When he mutinied, most of the crew jumped to his side, knowing him to be a fair man. The only men who refused to side with him were some of the officers who well knew the punishment awaiting any British mutineers.

The story is simple and can be seen many times in every organization. Petty tyrants get themselves in positions of power and abuse that power but they always seem to get their's in the end. At least in my experience. Good leaders find followers who will stick their necks out for them when crisis strikes and lead their companies or projects to victory.

Book two offered a different contrast.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Thirty-sixth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Gwilym and his family spent every sunny day wading in the water and building castles and whole cities out of sand. Jac was a boy who could not sit still and ran everywhere, getting into adventures. Llawen was more content to work on his sand cities, filling moats with water, digging tunnels and building bridges.
Both little boys looked to Bleddyn for advice on how to spend the days. Often Bleddyn would set his brothers to work on different jobs while he transcribed a scroll or worked with Fred on spelling words. Llawen would join in on the latter activity and soon he had caught up with Fred and was spelling alongside him. Jac was busy doing somersaults and handstands during the day.
Late into the warm, summer nights, all the boys would gather in the lodgings and listen carefully as Gwilym read stories out of his many scrolls to them.
Gwilym talked one day with Tirion, the midwife, about his suspicions of Tarrant. “I watched him kill a man and I’m convinced now that he was responsible for your daughter’s disappearance. I’m so sorry that he slipped through my fingers. It won’t happen again. When I find him, I’ll bring him to you for justice.”
“If you discover that he killed my daughter,” Tirion choked out. “Find out where he left the body so I can have some comfort. But don’t bring him back in front of me. Rather, kill him yourself. I don’t want to see that bastard.”

One warm, summer day, Gwilym was playing with his sons on the beach when Tegid approached them. Tegid was a 15 year-old lad who was known for almost never talking. When he came close to Gwilym, the latter greeted him and asked. “How do ye fair, Tegid? Enjoying the day?”
Tegid shifted his weight around on his feet, scratched his face and then murmured, “Stranger in town, askin’ about ye.”
“Thank you Tegid. Where might I find him?”
Tegid pointed in the direction of the church.
“Thank you again Tegid. Would you like to stay with my sons and keep an eye out for them while I find him?”
The boy nodded and squatted down next to Gwilym’s sons.
Gwilym instructed his boys to be careful, listen to Tegid’s words and stay out of the water until he returned. Then he set off in the direction of the church to find the stranger.
On his way there, he was stopped by Reese, the old busybody of town. She told him the same story with less reticence. “There’s a man in town asking about ye, Gwilym. I told him I believed I knew where you were and he seemed very interested. But when I offered to take him to you he said a curious thing: ‘That’s all right ma’am, I’ll go to him presently.’ I told him you were at the beach but he set off down the road to Cornwall. That’s him just climbing the rise there.”
Gwilym saw a figure cresting the hill to the south. An uneasy feeling disturbed Gwilym’s stomach. Was this someone from his past? Or some more of Tarrant’s mischief? It did not bode well that the man had left after ascertaining that Gwilym lived here. When the man was out of sight below the hill’s crest, Gwilym took off at a run and followed.
The road became more wooded in the south and it was easy to follow the man without being seen by keeping to the edges of the wood. He knew this road and only came close enough to be seen when the man reached the crossroads and had to choose between the road to Cornwall or Calleva. The stranger looked around but Gwilym had melted into the forest before he was fully facing the right way. Gwilym glimpsed his face during this encounter but did not recognize him. The man continued toward Cornwall.
Gwilym was torn about leaving his children but decided to continue following the man to see what mischief was brewing. He’d rather face it now than

Friday, May 25, 2012

Ten things to consider when negotiating for that new job

You've done it! All your hard work getting your resume into shape, all the network interviewing and company research, posting that resume to all the right places, going through the phone screen and the real interview. You receive a phone call and the person tells you they are ready to make you an offer. Here it is...

Now what?

1. Now is your last chance to negotiate.
There are some very important things you need to consider at this point. First of all, this is your last chance to negotiate. Every penny extra you get now not only gets multiplied by every year you work at this company but it is the basis on which all future raises are based. So if you can negotiate an extra $10,000 now and work there for 5 years, that's $50,000 extra you earn, plus those 3 - 5% raises you get are added to the $10,000 meaning an additional $2,500. Chances are, your salary at your following job will be based on your ending salary at this job so the stakes keep getting higher. Negotiations you perform at this point could literally be a million dollar decision. So get it right.

2. They want you.
The people who interviewed you and several other candidates came to a tough decision. You are the person who will best suit their needs. People rarely change their minds at this point. It's not as though they are deciding between two people and will take whomever they can get the cheapest. New employees are not airfares. We are stuck with these people for the long haul and, once we decide who we want, we don't back down just because they are asking for a little more money.

3. No-one ever gives you their best offer first.
Let's say the budget for hiring a new person for this position ranges from $60,000 - $120,000. That's not unusual. Ranges can be quite large because people often have much greater than the minimum requirements for the job. The hiring manager decides they want you. She talks with Human Resources and they agree to offer you $100k. But, the economy is bad so they think they can save a little so they offer $90k. If you say yes to that, what will they think? Most likely, "What's wrong with him that I got him that cheap?" or "Damn! I should have offered $80,k."
If you negotiate and bring them up to $110k, they believe they got a better product. So it's a win-win.

4. Don't say yes right away.
The first offer you receive might be over the phone. "Bruce, we've talked it over and decided to offer you the position. Can you start in two weeks? The salary is $90,000 and you will get all the benefits we discussed during the interview."
How do you respond?
First of all, sound excited. "Cheryl. Thank you for the offer. I'm so excited to start working working with you soon. I have many ideas on how to tackle the problems you told me about."
That's good, you sound excited and didn't say no. Now for the other shoe to drop.
"Can you send me the offer in writing and I'll talk it over with my wife and get back to you tomorrow?"
Nobody expects you to agree to a life-changing offer in an instant so this is quite acceptable. Most offers in writing will give you a week to respond. You haven't said no but you haven't said yes either. You are deferring to an unseen authority, a classic negotiating strategy. Do you recognize this from the last time you purchased a car and the salesman asked you to write down your offer and he'd try to talk his sales manager into accepting it?

5. Say 'No' in a way that makes them offer more money.
You want them to offer more money before you negotiate. When you return to them the next day, start by saying something along these lines. "You wanted a go-getter in this position. I'm clearly the best man for the job. When we talked during the interview you said you were offering a competitive salary. I don't think $90,000 is competitive. Can you do better?"
Notice you are not counter-offering, just asking them to up their bid. Remember when they thought they could get you for $90k even though they thought you were worth $100k? Now is when they come up to that point. When they do, thank them and acknowledge their new position. "So you are now offering $100k in addition to the same benefits and start date?"

6. Bargain for every last cent.
Remember that $10k extra is a million dollar decision. That means that $1k is a $100k decision. So fight for every cent. If you think you can get $110k, your counter-offer should be $120k. If they offer to split the difference by offering $110k, your response should be along these lines: "Your new offer is $110k, my position is $120k, can we split the difference here?"

7. Be tough. You aren't negotiating with your boss.
Unless it's a small company and you are. In which case, be gentler since you want a good, long-term relationship with this person. But most people are negotiating with Human Resources and will be working in a different department. When negotiations are concluded, HR will tell the hiring manager, "It was tough and he negotiated hard but I finally got him for you at the best price I could." This is a compliment to you and makes the HR person look good also.

8. Now negotiate for other things.
Salary isn't the only thing on the table. Negotiate start date, review time, level of benefits, signing bonus, vacation time. Sometimes you can trade one off against the other. If the HR person is up against the top end of the range on salary, ask for a signing bonus. (Remember that the bonus won't multiply yearly like extra salary will so don't trade a $10,000 raise for a $20,000 bonus. It's worth a lot less in the long run.) But a performance bonus could multiply each year. You could trade salary for vacation either way that you prefer. Some companies have two or more levels of benefits and you may be able to switch from one to the other. And try to get reviewed in 6 months instead of a year so that your raise comes earlier.

9. Congratulate them when the negotiations are over
Everyone is nervous at the end of contracted negotiations and wonder if they got the best deal. You are aren't you? So put their minds at ease by telling them what great negotiators they are. Say something like, "I hadn't planned on working for you at this rate but you are such a skillful negotiator and made such a compelling argument, how could I say no? You are an asset to the company. I'm proud we're on the same team now."
That kind of a statement makes them say what you wanted them to say in section 7. "It was tough and he negotiated hard but I finally got him for you at the best price I could."

10. Don't go overboard
It's one thing to negotiate with a used car dealer you'll never need to deal with again. In that case, go for the throat and walk away if you need to. When negotiating for a job that you'll likely be in for five years, you want to remain in their good graces. So leave a little money on the table and show a little bit of a soft side. That will pay dividends when you need that promotion later or when lay-off time comes around again. You need to work with these people so treat them well.

Here's a good book to read before you go through your next negotiating round, whether it be at a garage sale, a used car lot or your next job. Just be careful about which tools to use with people you want a long term relationship with:

Monday, May 21, 2012

Fourteen steps for conducting effective Network Interviews

You've heard me talk about Network Interviews. What are they?

Simply put, a Network Interview is an interview where there is no job on the table. That may sound useless if you're the one looking for a job but many of these network interviews will lead you to that real interview where you have a real shot at a job.

Here's a statistic that hasn't changed in 30 years:
75% of jobs are obtained through networking
So while other ways of getting a job have changed, posting to career websites like Monster etc, taking over from newspaper ads, for example, you still need to spend 75% of your time networking.
What is networking? Talking with people, face-to-face, over the phone or via e-mail and learning about them as they learn about you. It's making friends. This is easy for some people and harder for others.
How do you do it?

1. Make a list
Start with a list of everyone you know, and I mean everyone. Co-workers, former co-workers, family, friends, neighbors, service providers like your mailman, dentist, doctor, bagel store owner, religious advisor, vendors from work, people in industry groups, former classmates. Check your Facebook friends, those connected with you on LinkedIn. Circle all those you feel comfortable telling that you are looking for another job.

2. Talk with them all
Tell them frankly that you are in the market for another job. Specify what industry you are targeting, which companies you're interested in and ask them if they know anybody at those companies. If they don't, ask if they know anybody else who might know someone in those companies. Your goal to is walk out of the network interview with at least three more names.

3. Expand your network to the next levelThat part was easy because they were people you know. But your goal is to expand your network. You need to now visit these people and get three names from them. How do you do that?
First of all, ask the person who gave you their names for an introduction. The wording goes along these lines: "Would you mind giving Joe a call and warn him that I'll be calling sometime this week?"
Then, when you call Joe you introduce yourself in this way, "Hi, my name is Bruce Fieggen. I'm a friend of Fred's and he suggested I talk with you." Then pause. This gives Joe a chance to say, "How is Fred?" or "Fred! He owes me $50!" or something to give you a clue on how to proceed.

4. Your 30-second spiel
Next you need to give your 30-second spiel. This is something you need to have practiced many times so you can say it cold. There are many elements to the 30-second spiel.
  • It takes 30 seconds or less. You don't want to bore anyone with a long speech
  • It should put the listener at ease that you are not asking them for a job, just information
  • It should describe you in a way that makes the listener feel comfortable meeting you
  • It should show what information you want to gain from the listener
Here's an example: "I've been managing projects in the Medical Device industry for the last 15 years in R&D, Manufacturing and Quality. I'm interested in switching to the Pharmaceutical industry and would like to talk with you for about 20 minutes about life at Hoffmann La-Roche." I just timed that at 11 seconds.
Now think for a moment about what you would do if a friend of a friend of yours, who you'd been warned would call, gave you that speech. Wouldn't you enjoy breaking your day by twenty minutes to talk about your life at work? Most people would agree with you. I've had tremendous success with this approach, conducting three network interviews a day while laid off.  Try to set up a few of these per day when you are laid off, a few per week when you are still employed but looking.

5. Meet them
Set them up as coffee breaks in the company cafeteria or a nearby Starbucks. Dress up like it's a real interview. Do not go over the 20 minutes you set for the meeting. Even if it's going well, we need to respect the other person's time. The last thing we want is for them to walk back to their office and find that they spent 45 minutes with you and are now scrambling to make their next meeting on time. What you say, when the 20 minutes are close to being up is something along these lines: "Thank you so much for your time and all the great insights. I know you're busy so I'll be on my way now."

6. Go Dutch
Removing all awkwardness from these meetings is essential. You're not asking for a job, they're not offering one. If you pay for the coffee, they'll feel like they owe you something. If they pay, you feel like a beggar. If you're getting coffee from a Starbucks, this is easy, you order first and pay, then step aside as Joe orders. If you are sitting down and being served, specify separate checks up front.

7. Ask them about themselves
Ask about their life at their company. How did they get their job? What do they like and not like about it? What trends are new? Where is the company expanding, contracting? Which departments are good to work for?

8. Get more names
The goal of every network interview is two-fold. Get more names and impress everyone you meet. Eventually someone will know of an opening and has met you and realizes that you would be a great person for that position. He/she puts you in touch with that hiring manager and you're in!
9. Improve your marketing
The second time I used this technique, I had been in the Medical Device Industry for 6 years and was looking to move into Genetic Engineering. But, after talking with about five people who gave me the same answer, I realized that this move would require me to go back to school for a Masters or PhD in the field before trying to get that job. I realized that I needed to change my tactics and decided to stay in the Medical Device field instead. I saved a lot of wasted time.
Having this kind of conversation in a Network Interview setting is pretty easy. After they've told you about them and you've shared about yourself, you can ask them where they would see you fitting in their company, which department, what group of people etc.
10. Give as much as you get 
Even though they have a job and you don't, the Network Interview is a two-way street. In the hundreds of Network Interviews I have given and accepted, the flow of information has always been two-fold. They are curious about you, companies you've worked for that they may be thinking about moving to, hobbies, sports, places to live, the list goes on. As soon as you've done a few of these and realized that you've given as much information as you've received, you'll feel better about asking for the next one.
11. Be careful showing off your resume.
Have it handy just in case they ask for it but don't flourish. Remember, this is not a real interview and you don't want your new friend to feel ambushed. But if they ask to see it so you can explain your background better, do so. Then ask how you can change it to improve your chances at a job in their company/industry.
12. Thank them.
Don't forget to thank them for their time, the names they offered and any advice they gave. Send a thank-you note the next day, e-mail is fine.
13. Let them know where you landed
Chances are that only one of the fifty people you networked with knows where you ended up but the rest are curious. When you land that new job, send out a mass e-mail, (bcc so they don't have each other's addresses) thanking them all again and showing the results of their efforts. Offer to meet with them or any of their friends any time.
14. Continue Networking
Conduct Network Interviews with others who are looking for a job. Become known as someone who is connected. Remember about it being a two-way street? Every Network Interview you conduct helps you out as well.

Read on about negotiating for that job you finally get. And look back at a previous post about how to effectively post your resume.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Mayor gets back at nuisance advertisers

Don't you just hate these signs that appear all over our neighborhoods? They are just another ugly version of graffiti, this time placed by lowlife businessmen who can blanket an area for a few hundred dollars to advertise their services. That's a lot cheaper than a billboard but it's illegal.

But here is a mayor who figured out how to get rid of them, and collect the fine owed for their violations. Read this article and watch the video about Mayor Peter Bober of Hollywood, Florida. I love the strategy he came up with.

For $300, he bought that annoying Robocall software. Then he plugs in the numbers that he writes down by driving around. The service calls these numbers incessantly until the owners show up to Town Hall to get their numbers removed. First they have to prove that they've removed the signs and pay the $250 fine.

And the result? 90% reduction in signs! Let's hope all our cities take this strategy and use obnoxious advertising tactics against obnoxious advertisers.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

NYC Bike experiment

After spending millions and aggravating thousands of people creating a network of bicycle lanes in New York City, Mayor Bloomberg announced the unveiling of its own bicycle share program. This third generation program strives to avoid the pitfalls of previous cities' experiments and move NYC into the future of green transportation.

According to this post within Wikipedia, there are over 300 of these bike share programs worldwide and they have gone through three generations.
  1. Free bikes are painted a distinctive color and distributed unlocked for anyone's use. (These programs invariably fail due to theft and vandalism)
  2. A small deposit is paid for the use of the bikes at stations. (Since the deposit is small compared to the value of the bike, these bikes usually fall prey to theft)
  3. The third generation uses credit card deposits, membership within the program and credit card withdrawals that pay for lost or damaged bikes
The NYC plan is sponsored by Citibank who, in exchange for advertising on the bikes, kiosks and elsewhere in the city, will pay for the bikes and kiosks and setting things up. This ambitious project will have 600 stations boasting 10,000 bikes, making it the biggest program in the US. Click on this interactive map to see the proposed stations for the first phase.

The locations were picked in concert with the public.

The system is administered by Alta which runs the Capitol Bike program in Washington DC. It is self-sustaining through use of membership that can be purchased for 24 hours to one year. Riders are only charged if they use the bike for more than 30 minutes and the price moves up steeply from there, encouraging quick turnovers.
Let's hope for the best for this project.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

What happened to secrecy in war?

So the good news was that we foiled another Al Qaeda bomb plot. Then it became even more exciting when we learned that guy we 'arrested' was actually a double agent the Saudis had infiltrate AQAP.

But why do we know this? Surely this is one of those secrets we should be hearing about in fifty years to protect the agents involved and the ongoing operation? While it's exciting to read about these adventures, I'd rather win the war and read about them later.

So what prompted the disclosure? Was it payback for the last Saudi double-agent we placed there who was executed? Or was it election-year politics?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Thirty-fifth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Father Drew was following along with his own Bible and nodded his head.
Father Drew was admiring the collection of scrolls in Bleddyn’s library. “You have put your library to good use, son.”
“Aye, Father. Would you like to trade some scrolls for copying again? I found some real interesting ones in Airmyn and Londinium.”
“I certainly would. Show me what you have.”
Father Drew and Bleddyn bent over the collection for a while and the priest picked one out. “I have a great adventure story in my collection that I have been saving for you, son. I will bring it with me tomorrow.”
Bleddyn smiled, sensed his father wanted to talk with the priest alone, and left the room.
Father Drew turned to Gwilym. “How goes your quest, Gwilym?”
Gwilym laughed and said, “You mean the building of towers? It is hardly a quest, though I’ve been learning a lot about how to do it better. Fred is keeping track of the ideas and Bleddyn is teaching him how to read and write. We plan to write down all our improvements in something called ‘The Project Management Guide’”
“That is a lovely story, Gwilym but you are concealing from me your true quest. Why is a man who reads better Greek and Latin than I, a man who has traveled to the Holy Land, a man with a huge collection of scrolls, building towers?”
“It’s a living, father. You cannot feed your family on scraps of Greek.”
Father Drew looked long and hard at Gwilym, then released him from his stare. “Let us resume our talk about the Bible. I have done a lot of studying since we last talked and have a few questions.”
Gwilym nodded.
“Which parts of the Bible do you believe are true and which are not?”
Gwilym took a deep breath and prepared his words. “My father came up with three criteria that help you to decide how likely it was that anything in the past actually happened. If something meets all three criteria, it is more likely to be true than if it meets none of the criteria. I cannot say for sure if it really happened, only that the likelihood is higher.”
“That sounds sensible. What are the criteria, Gwilym?”
“The first is the criterion of multiple attestations. If different people tell the same

Friday, May 11, 2012

Habitat for Humanity stabilizes Property Values

According to this recent Times article, Habitat for Humanity, the Christian charity founded in Georgia in 1976, has been making some smart purchases during this recent housing price turndown. And clever philanthropists are noticing and adding their money to the group's efforts.

In a depressed real estate market, Habitat, the nonprofit housing group, has been buying vacant land on the cheap, shopping from banks in repossession and foreclosure sales to squirrel away for housing projects years in the future.

This spring, the first 22 homes in the largest Habitat project in Oregon history — a 65-unit subdivision left partly built by a private developer who abandoned it when the market crashed — is rising on Portland’s east side. Habitat, meanwhile, has become the 10th-largest home builder in the Portland metropolitan area by housing volume, according to a local building trades association.
The 150 lots bought by the fund will keep the group busy for five years or more, even as it has increased its home-building output by 50 percent, to 30 homes a year from 20.

In Nevada and Florida some Habitat groups stopped new construction entirely and shifted to renovation, buying abandoned properties in cities racked by high foreclosure rates. 
Business leaders and housing experts said that Portland — partly through Habitat’s timing in betting big in a down market, — is creating something that will resonate long after the recession: Habitat neighborhoods.
“The market, and the depressed prices, allowed us to carry out our goals.”
The scale and scope of the new Habitat projects, city officials say, will allow entire blocks on the city’s struggling east side to be anchored by owner-occupied housing. Those owners, under Habitat’s model, would earn 30 percent to 60 percent of the median Portland area household income (around $20,000 to $40,000 a year for a family of four), living in homes they helped build themselves, and paying down their mortgages with zero-interest nonprofit loans.
“As a housing commissioner we feel like we’re trying to plug a lot of leaks in the dike,” said Nick Fish, a Portland city commissioner in charge of the housing bureau and parks and recreation. And the city’s budget has still not recovered from the downturn. Habitat, especially in east Portland, he said, is filling the gap.
“One of the ideas that they have floated is a plan, outside government, to take back blocks of the city, block by block, using their tool kit, with modest government contributions,” he said. “We can start building around their work.”

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Quiet versus Dominant Leadership on Survivor.

Kim and Sabrina of Survivor 'One World'
The women’s team, led by Kim, decimated the men until the only one left is her stooge: Tarzan. Kim’s only overt challenger for power was Troyzan who was unable to sway those outside Kim’s inner circle to turn on her. Now Kim is flexing her muscles, winning challenges, being invited on rewards and winning immunity. It looks like it is her game to lose.

But let’s not count out the quiet leadership of Sabrina. Did you see last week how she turned the tide against Kat when Kat invited Kim and Alicia on her reward. She focused on the unfairness of Kat not inviting Tarzan and Christina, each of whom had emotional reasons to want to spend time with their loved ones.

Then, after energizing her team to accomplish this task, she sat back and let them do the work. It helped when Alicia saw Kat as a threat due to her tenacity in the immunity challenge. But I believe that the real impetus was Sabrina’s work on Chelsea and the difficulty Kim faced changing other people’s mind away from Sabrina’s plan.

Kim had initially wanted to get rid of Sabrina whom she correctly identified as a legitimate threat to her winning the game. But it was not to be. And now, the core of Kim’s initial alliance: Kat, Chelsea and herself has been damaged. Chelsea is dubious of Kim’s motives and realizes that she is in danger staying with her.

Sabrina has positioned herself as the puppetmaster of the outcasts of the women’s team. She can manipulate the votes of Christina and Tarzan at will. Alicia thinks she is in charge so she could go either way. Kim recognizes Sabrina as a threat but she may not have as much power over Chelsea as she thinks. Kim has thrust herself too openly into the leadership position and put a target on her back as one who you’d better get rid of as soon as she loses immunity. And Chelsea knows that Kim had the hidden immunity idol.

So what will win? Quiet or dominant leadership? I predict Sabrina can do it.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Leadership on combating Gang Violence

Massachusetts State Troopers Luis Rodriguez, left, and Stephen Gregorczyk stopping a suspect in the Brightwood neighborhood of Springfield, Mass.  By
An interesting NY Times article Green Berets returning from Iraq to their state police jobs and realizing that the tactics used to combat insurgents there would work with gangs in Massachusetts. Before they tried their new tactics, Gang members and drug dealers cruised the streets on motor scooters carrying SKS semiautomatic rifles in broad daylight. Gunfire erupted almost daily.

The tactics that work included involving the community. These meetings, advertised by word of mouth, have grown steadily in attendance, drawing residents, community leaders, landlords, representatives of city agencies and nonprofit organizations, and local politicians.
Gary Linsky, the owner of a paving company, started attending after Trooper Cutone stopped him for a traffic violation and instead of issuing a ticket, persuaded him to participate. Karen Pohlman, a nurse practitioner at the nearby Baystate Brightwood Health Center, heard someone mention the meetings and decided to attend.

The gatherings are part networking session, part pep rally and part social event. At a recent meeting, Trooper Cutone, standing ramrod straight at the front of the room in his blue uniform and black lace-up boots, reminded the group of its mission to “promote a safe and secure environment” and “reduce gang activity and violence.”
“You are the greatest resource,” he said.

New ideas offered at the meetings are quickly translated into action: a “walking school bus” program, proposed by Ms. Pohlman, has flourished, with teachers chaperoning students as they walk to school each morning. A photo array in the entrance of 101 Lowell displaying the names and faces of people barred from trespassing on the property was the brainchild of a resident fed up with the drug trade operating there.

This is another great example of people taking a leadership position along with some intiative to solve a big problem.  What do you think?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Time to rethink currency

There have been many movements in the past to redo the US currency. The most popular is to rid the nation of our pennies on the basis that it costs more than 2.4 cents to produce a penny. According to this article that looks at Canada’s recent obsolescence of their penny, nickels are an even worse deal, costing almost twelve cents each.

The last time this argument came up, there was a letter to the editor asking for us to get rid of the 1/10 cent first. As in: the 9/10 of a cent added to the more than $4 we pay per gallon of gas. This sleight of hand made sense (pun intended) when the price of gas was less than ten cents each but nowadays it should be dispensed with. Especially when the price boards are going to need to add another digit to the beginning of the price. (Are you ready for $10 a gallon gas in a few years?)

Chipotle currently rounds to the nearest nickle in all their purchases. People complain that they are being cheated but forget that the sales tax is already being rounded to the nearet penny.

While I agree with this policy, I think it’s time to look at the idea of currency holistically. Do we need it at all? In the era of credit cards, checks, wire transfers and automatic payments, how much do we need cash at all? An older NY Times op ed pointed to the fact that the 500 Euro bill was routinely nicknamed the ‘Bin Laden' due to its prevalence in financing illegal activities including terrorism.

Can you imagine drug smuggling without $100 bills? Prostitution without $20’s? Counterfeiting with no larger bill than a $1? How much more tax revenue with the government generate with restaurants and handymen being paid by credit cards and checks?

Hold on! You say. What about those cute kids with their lemonade stands? Why should I have to use a credit card when I’m just buying a slice of pizza? You could resolve this by only having $1 and 10 cent coins.

Eventually everyone can take credit cards. It’s possible already for anyone with a smart phone.

Parking meters are already being converted to take cards and phones.

In Kenya, a mobile banking system known as M-Pesa allows six million people to execute small payments using SMS messages.

So what about it? Get rid of all cash except the dollar and the dime. Everything costs a multiple of 10c in every store and taxes are rounded up or down to the nearest 10c. Get rid of all paper money. Use your computer to transfer money around. Let’s look at the benefits:
·         No more counterfeiting
·         No more money laundering
·         More tax revenue generated so tax rates may actually come down
·         Easier to spot drug smuggling and other crimes that require large sums of cash
·         No more pockets full of change, wallets full of bills

This same theory works in every country. Who needs Euro and Yen when you have other means to move money around. We can finally stop that group of  Neopolitan counterfeiters who have been active since World War II.
I’m sure the crooks will find ways to get around these restrictions but let’s stop making it easy on them. Who’s with me?