Thursday, October 11, 2012

188. There are limits to 'suggestions'

With the election only a few weeks away, we are starting to hear the same sort of stories that we heard in 2008. We are hearing stories of employees who are receiving the unsolicited recommendation from their employer as to who they should be voting for in both the national and local elections. In some cases, it is just a suggestion as to which candidate might best represent the company's interest; in others, it is an employer threat that if the wrong candidate wins there might be employee layoffs.

There are some rules, but generally the employer is free to communicate its opinion on how its employees should vote. I have seen emails from a local company where the employer has sent out a notice to employees with voting recommendations stating that "employees have asked which candidate we should vote for." Many other companies have formed political action committees--with the sole purpose to get their candidates elected.

It has also been reported that Koch Industries President Dave Robertson wrote to employees, "At the request of many employees, we have also provided a list of candidates in your state that have been supported by Koch companies or by KOCHPAC, our employee political action committee." While it may be true that some employees inquired, the company-wide communication is certainly mostly unsolicited (of course, if you work for Koch Industries, need you really ask?).

Wealthy Republican Westgate Resorts CEO David Siegel made similar news and took that to a new level when he wrote a threatening to employees that if they voted for Obama they may lose their job, "What does threaten your job however, is another 4 years of the same Presidential administration. Of course, as your employer, I can't tell you whom to vote for . . . ." Later though, he makes the significance crystal clear, "If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, as our current President plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company."

With the availability of jobs still quite tenuous, it is natural that employee would want to do what is best for their company and family. Few are willing to risk their job and will be inclined to protect their own financial interest.

To be fair, at times it does matter and one's organization should indeed be considered when voting. For example, the healthcare law affects many organizations and whether it remains or is repealed can have a real impact on their viability. Medicaid eligibility will be expanded, and organizations that provide Medicaid services certainly have an interest in keeping President Obama. Conversely, financial institutions impacted by the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act may want Romney elected to minimized the increased regulation on Wall Street.

So the question the employee must consider is whether a CEO who communicates his or her voting recommendation is considering the company's interest, the employee's interest, or his or her personal interest?

Each organization is different, but CEOs usually make a lot of money, and it is no secret that Romney and the Republicans want to continue the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Republicans also usually favor deregulation and free trade and this might mean more opportunity to outsource jobs and factories--employing the cheapest labor available, capitalizing on weak environmental regulations and moving profits overseas.

Conversely, from the employee's perspective, Obama and the Democrats have supported healthcare reform and labor unions. They want to let the Bush tax cuts expire and use that money to pay down the debt and lower the taxes on the middle class. It also wants to stop the outsourcing of American jobs by lowering corporate taxes and closing the corporate loopholes that incentivize it.

While I think the employer is in a position to unduly influence its employees with its voting recommendations, and that the tactic is usually disingenuous and should be avoided, the employee has a responsibility to learn the issues and decide which candidates represent his or her social, moral and financial interests. The employer's opinion should be one of many--taken with a grain of salt and with the understanding that the employer has its own interests at stake. Employees ought to consider the big picture and all interests involved-and then make his or her decision.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

187. Candidates: Please, at least be consistent

Ralph Nader, while not shying away from his criticisms of President Obama, called the current Republican Party the worst in history. I am not sure how Nader defines "worst," but I would suggest that, from the national races down to the local level, there is indeed a disconnect and a lack of a consistent message within the Republican Party.

It is certainly a time of turmoil as the party searches for an identity, a political philosophy that integrates both social and fiscal conservatism. While I had noted the paradox a few years ago, the party continues to digress into a montage of unprincipled ideas and convictions. There is an attempt not to alienate social conservatives and their agenda, while at the same time fighting for fiscal conservatives who despise spending and taxes of any sort. Where the middles class fits in this is anyone's guess.

The infamous 47 percent comment aside, there seems to be some serious disconnect at the national level and the Republican choice for president. Romney who was born wealthy and Ryan who married into wealth do not seem to understand, or respect, the working class. They vigorously maintain their support of the wealthy at the expense of the middle class under the guise of fiscal conservatism. Romney was a moderate before he was a conservative. Ryan vacated his economic principles for Romney's. Conservatives hate Romneycare, but so does Romney, sometimes. Romney was against the bailout but now takes credit for it. It's so confusing to figure out where they stand.

Even locally we see the sacrifice of principle in the chase for votes. To the extent that I know him, I really like Republican candidate for County Commissioner, Phil Van Treuren. However, even he spends his time courting Democrats--with partisan parties and campaign flyers detailing his union heritage. So I wonder how he voted on Senate Bill 5 last year--did he support his union roots or his Republican governor? His five point plan was less than engaging--not hiring family members is not an economic or political principle; it is a feel good distraction absent of Republican or Democratic ideology. It's too much boots, mirrors and nebulousness.

Here are some other examples of party conflict:

• Republicans, and particularly the Tea Party, want government accountability and transparency, but Romney draws the line in the sand with his tax returns. It is an act of arrogance and if he is willing to hide information before he is elected, what happens after he is elected?

• Many Republicans were repulsed at Todd Akin's comments about "legitimate rape," but not all. Rick Santorum recently said this on offering support of Akin in his Senate race in Missouri, "The entire Republican Party should stand up and say, 'You know what? He's our candidate, it's too important for the future of our country not to have a majority of the Senate in this upcoming election."

• Many conservatives find that money spent on foreign wars and national defense is warranted, even if the amount spent on our military budget far exceeds that spent by most other countries. The debt incurred, which should offend fiscal conservatives, in case we need to attack another country is acceptable; providing food stamps to the poor and people who had their jobs outsourced, which is foundation of social conservatism, is not.

• Elected fiscal conservatives, such as Tea Party Republicans, are placed in a quandary when federal funds are available for their community--do they stick with their principles or accept the funds for their community?

• Republican teachers and firefighters also faced a dilemma over Senate Bill 5 last election--did they support their union and their personal interest or their Republican governor?

• In support of corporations, Nader noted the irony when Romney attacked the 47 percent he said do not pay taxes. Nader wrote, "'Hey, Mitt, why start with the 47 percent? Fully 100 percent of the nation's 500 biggest corporations are dependent on various kinds of corporate welfare -- subsidies, giveaways, bailouts, waivers, and other dazzling preferences -- while many pay no tax at all on very substantial profits." Nader, continued, "Mr. Romney doesn't understand the double standard where government checks, whether already paid for or not, to people are called "entitlements" while far bigger checks to corporations are called ‘incentives.'"

• Most seniors have worked hard all of their lives, but now due to the cost of healthcare and evaporating pensions they are forced to live on a fixed income and on the benefits of Medicare. Although many seniors are socially conservative, they also make up a significant part of Romney's 47 percent.

The Republican Party needs to take a stand and adopt a consistent political message or split up into two or more political parties. Candidates, whether Democratic or Republican, are to present to the country, or their community, their ideas, values and beliefs. Constituents base their votes on those principles--no fair if we cannot identify them.

There is a spectrum of political ideology in this country, but when there are only two political parties, we are forced to fit into one of them-and they are forced to chase voters that they do not fairly represent. We need more ideology, more integrity and less campaigning.