Archive for March, 2009

The Problem With “Taxing The Rich”

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Those who favor the current administration’s plan to generate billions and billions of dollars to fund their new entitlement programs often cite Scandinavia as a model of “spreading the wealth.” I’m married to a Dane and have traveled there, but would never call myself an authority. My wife Gina, however, has some very strong – and extremely unfavorable – opinions about what our government now proposes. Let me tell you why.

Indeed, in the 1960′s Denmark and Sweden enacted Tax The Rich legislation similar to what is now being proposed here. But what has occurred in those countries in the decades since provides a very good reason to not follow in their footsteps.

Why? Because 3 things happened there that will inevitably occur here, should we do so.

1. The rich took their money elsewhere. Rather than pay 90% and more of their income to the state in taxes, the rich either moved their families to less-taxed (or even un-taxed) havens, or they created corporations in those locales that sheltered their assets.

2. The middle class then had to take up the slack. Government programs, once created, rarely ever go away. So the burden in funding cradle-to-grave welfare and medical programs fell on those who were left behind. A registered nurse in Denmark began paying over 40% of her salary in income tax. A small business owner entered the 60% bracket. In time, even these monies fell short of feeding the Welfare Machine, so taxes were raised on every conceivable commodity (gasoline, especially.) When that wasn’t enough, Sales and Value Added Taxes went through the roof.

3. The best and brightest moved away, and the “takers” moved in. Immigrants (many from Turkey and the Middle East) came to Scandinavia on work visas, had babies, and thus qualified for all benefits of the nanny state. But they also refused to assimilate into the Scandinavian cultures. They were willing to take the Swedish and Danish kroners, but would not embrace the values of their hosts.

History repeats itself when we fail to heed its lessons. If we follow the Scandinavian model, your children and theirs will never know the opportunities and blessings you have always taken for granted.

(Of course, you could always move with them to Monte Carlo or the Cayman Islands. If “Spread The Wealth” becomes our national policy, they will be two of the places where our wealthy go.)

Want To See REAL Leadership? Rent Some Gregory Peck Movies!

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Most of what I know today about Leadership, I learned from Gregory Peck – at the movies.

He was not just a Leading Man, he was a Leader. Time and again in his films, he put a human face on The Person In Charge in a way that business schools can’t even hope to match.

His Horatio Hornblower was modest about his own abilities, knew the names of every subordinate, and was as quick to offer praise as he was skeptical about the value of punishment.

He could also teach by showing us what not to do. In “Twelve O’Clock High,” he was too hands on, becoming so personally involved in the lives of his men that sending them out on dangerous missions ultimately cost him both his command and his sanity.

But it was in “The Guns Of Navarone” that he summed up the essence of what it means to be a leader. At a point in that movie where absolutely everything has gone wrong, he says:

“If you think I enjoy this – any of it – you’re out of your mind. (But) someone’s got to take the responsibility if the job’s going to get done. Do you think that’s easy?”

Every self-employed person I know can identify with those words, as can PTA presidents, committee chairs, and mid-level managers the world over.

Of course, those particular lines were written by Carl Foreman (based on Alistair MacLean’s novel.) So you could make the case that Peck was just reciting words. But he was ever so much more than a mere parrot. He was a leader off-screen as well (prominent California Democrats even asked him to run for Governor – against Ronald Reagan), which is no doubt why he conveyed so many facets of Leadership – both good and bad – so convincingly.

And today, as 24/7 TV News gives us perhaps too close a look at what passes for leadership from the local to the national level, you’d better believe that if I see anybody who seems cut from the Peck mold, they’ll have my vote – forever!

Adios, Paul Harvey. Farewell, Horton Foote

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

2 of my heroes and mentors died recently, both in their 90s and both immeasurable in their impact on me.

When Paul Harvey began his “The Rest Of The Story” programs back in the 1970s, I sent him some unsolicited true stories “with a twist.” A few weeks later, he called. For the next few years, I regularly forwarded him the raw material (always with 2 sources of authentication) for his son Paul Jr. to craft into finished scripts. Soon after, I’d receive a check signed by his wife Lynn (or – as he called her – “Angel”), but only for those stories he actually read on the air. Sometimes, he would use as few as 1 out of every 4 or 5 ideas I researched for him. Gradually, I got a little better at guessing which ones he would like. But what I learned was that I might not know which ones were right for him, but he always did.

My first meetings with Horton Foote were similarly frustrating. I knew him mainly as the author of the screenplay of “To Kill A Mockingbird” when he came to Dallas in the early 1980s, to cast “Tender Mercies.” I made it from the 1st audition to a 2nd, and ultimately to a 3rd and 4th, before losing “my” role to an LA-based actor. I was crushed at the time. But then, a couple of years later, he came back to town to shoot a new movie, “The Trip To Bountiful.” This time, I got a personal call to the audition – the ONE audition. It seems that he had remembered the kid from Texas who’d been not quite right for the Tender Mercies part, but who exactly fit the role of “Billy Davis” in the new project. Like Paul Harvey, Horton Foote’s gift was knowing the difference between a thing that’s almost right, and one that’s perfect.

Both men knew and understood their audiences, but more – they understood themselves. They trusted their own instincts, rather than committee reports or popularity polls. Add to that their talent, work ethic (neither ever really retired), and basic decency, and it’s no wonder they were so successful.

Nor is it any surprise that they will be so terribly missed. Giants always are.

If Who’s On First And What’s On Second, The Short Stop Is…?

Monday, March 9th, 2009

Answer: I Don’t Care (sometimes rendered as I Don’t Give A Damn.)

When you are planning an event honoring a special person or couple (ie. retirement dinner, birthday, or anniversary), the last thing you want to hear from your guests is I Don’t Care. But, all too often, the persons who should be the focus of the evening are lost (or at least blurred) due to too many preliminaries.

Case In Point 1: At a 50th wedding anniversary recently, one of the couple’s children turned the spotlight on herself for a long and self-serving retrospective “tribute” to her parents’ marriage. Some of the elderly guests (friends of the honorees) actually left before the bride and groom ever got to rise and say a word.

Case In Point 2: Due to extended thank-yous from winners in lower categories (whose “2 minute” speeches average closer to 20), Mary Kay’s annual awards dinners in my town routinely run hours over schedule. As a result, the Top Salesperson Of The Year receives her prize before an exhausted – and half empty – room. This is grossly unfair (but totally understandable.)

What’s the solution? As the batting coach says to Who (or What): “Keep your eye on the ball!” Just as the bride is the center of the wedding universe, the honoree (or – in the case of multiple winners, the TOP honoree) is always the central figure of an awards gala. Every element of the evening leads to their special moment – including whatever it takes to get to that moment before anyone says, “I don’t give a …!”

Ann-Margaret Starred In Which Re-Make Of A John Wayne Classic?

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

Answer: The 1960′s version of “Stagecoach,” the story of a very eventful ride on the Lordsburg Stage. Instead of the Duke, A-M appeared with the immortal (?) Alex Cord.

If you are planning a special event, a stage may be in your future, as well. The additional height of a stage makes it easier for audience members to see a featured speaker. Band or deejay wires, speakers, and lights are also less likely to be tripped over by your guests when they are off the dance floor and on an elevated surface.

So a stage is a good thing – usually. Two common exceptions to this rule are (1) when your venue has a low ceiling that makes those onstage likely to bump their heads on light fixtures (or on the ceiling itself), and (2) when the stage is not configured properly for your music provider. For instance, a stage that is 8′ deep and 20′ feet wide has the same number of square feet as one that is 20′ deep and 8′ wide. But one may work perfectly for your band, while the other is useless.

So listen up, Pilgrim, and listen tight: a stage is only good when it’s right for the room and right for your band, deejay, or featured speaker. If it’s not, the only stage they’ll be gettin’ on is the next one out of town!

Who Sang “The Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia”?

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

Answer: It was Vickie Lawrence, Carol Burnett Show alum, game show hostess, and star of “Mama’s Family.”

If you don’t want the lights to go out at your next event, you need to be in possession of 2 critically important facts: (1) how much electricity your party will require, and (2) what power is available at your venue.

Today’s PA and lighting needs for bands or deejays are enough to blow the breakers at many older venues (or places – like a train station, gymnasium, or art museum – that were never designed as party palaces.) Margarita machines, spotlights on every centerpiece, coffee pots, and heat lamps on the buffet table also drain precious power your party may need. Ask all of your vendors what their total electrical needs will be. If they’ll have to economize, it’s better that they – and you – know it, up front.

(You really don’t want your guests walking out the door humming, “That’s the night that lights went out…”)