Facts vs……Facts?

critical thinkingRecently, one column directly below the other in the Op Ed section of my newspaper, both about fixing Medicare, attempted to persuade us of each writer’s position on the issue…one from Right leaning David Brooks, the other from Ezra Klein who appears to be tilting more left-ish.  They did this by appealing to our Spock-selves, using the logic of statistics.

Mr. Brooks cited the following in his attempt to convince us that a system with greater government control by a team of experts is akin to a walk in Wonderland: “(existing competitive model)…costs are 41% below expectations”; Mr. Klein  tried to convince us that countries with greater government control have far better, and more cost-effective systems than do we, by citing the following statistic: “The Medicare Advantage (competitive model) program…ended up costing about 120% of what Medicare costs.”

Hmmmm… the competitive model costs us less, except when it’s costing us more.

This is the problem with statistics.  The numbers may be real, the science behind them solid, but you can easily find what you want to support your position, using numbers to tell a very different story about the same specific issue.

It is understandable, then, that folks with some willingness (and ability) to think critically, will rely only marginally on easily manipulated (or carefully chosen) numbers to make important decisions.

Instead, here is my recommended recipe for deciding the best course of action: start with your fact-based numbers – fine (I am a particular fan of cost/benefit analyses) – but then add a big dollop of common sense, a generous sprinkle of compassion, add plenty of historic track record, throw in a dash of learning from others (mistakes and successes), and season with what is best for the common good (my fellow Boomers, “keep your hands off my Medicare” is a fine example of thinking “me” vs. common good).

Crucial decisions on how to fix seriously dysfunctional systems without doing more harm in the process, like reducing our national debt while maintaining a decent quality of life for all Americans, depend on this balanced approach.

“Civility” & The Press

inflammatory news storiesSo, how much responsibility does the press hold for keeping civility alive?

Does having a free press – which is a  cornerstone of American greatness – include a “no holds barred” approach to news reporting, printing/airing pretty much anything?  Or with great power, does great responsibility as well reside?

Take “reverend” whathisname who got the press in his pocket with his threat to burn the Koran.  The question afterward – How far would that situation have gotten if the press chose to ignore him? – was asked indignantly but never answered.  It’s well known that more stories are not reported than those that are, so we turn to the criteria for choosing one situation/comment/behavior, over another, thus considering it more “newsworthy”…

We’ve also known… for decades… of the ever-increasing needs of a starved 24/7 media system more intent on trumping the competition for 60 seconds than it is on the nation’s greater good…which both sides of the media aisle (“liberal” or “conservative”) claim as their motivation.

So: Is it the media’s responsibility to opt to report only the less inflammatory items in the best interest of improved national discourse aka not stoking crazy people, or is it our responsibility as media consumers to refuse to support such presentations by tuning out rather than droolingly tuning in when they go for the jugular to get better ratings?

They claim to be simply providing what the public wants; the public decries violent rhetoric that almost killed a Congresswoman yet continues to seek out blood in the water; Congress responds by considering a movement back about 150 years to the Wild West & takes a 2 minute break from name-calling; no one shows a modicum of true determination to end their part in this vicious cycle.

Here’s the real and most important question: If the media were to take their responsibility far more seriously, eg take the higher and more journalistically pure road, refusing to report nonsense as “newsworthy” or vitriol as verity, would it help make us a tad more “civil”?  Follow-up questions: would that be the end to the 24/7 news cycle, and the closing of more newspapers?  Is it a worthy price to pay for a nation ever more torn by extreme, and therefore extremely easily stoked, anger and personal dissatisfaction?

Once you’ve answered for yourself, we’ll have ourselves a start down the road of either less, or more, civil discourse.

Let’s Cut Through the Media’s Political Histrionics

Sheesh.  In our hearts and the back of our highest-on-the-food-chain thinking caps, we know that desperate 24 hour news stations, and newspapers with declining sales, will resort to any attention-pulling concept to stay afloat.

But really, how many more times are we going to fall for it?  Fool me once…twice…you know the adage….what is the exponential consequence for “fool me for the umpteenth time…”?

The latest is the tarot-card-reading interpretation of the Massachusetts senate race results.  They forbode any or all of the following:

  • A full referendum to oust every Democrat in the House & Senate
  • Total disgust with health care reform, or anything put forward by Democrats for that matter
  • Complete dissatisfaction with anything thought about, uttered by, or having to do with Barack Obama

I expect the tea-partiers will glom onto all they can to keep the party hopping.  Same goes for the far left.  But the rest of us (which is the majority of us) are capable but perhaps not willing to take that needed step back and see the facts over the hyperbole.

As with the Governor’s race in NJ, the Senate race in MA was lost by the Dems more because the candidate was weak if not a tad goofy; a strong, well prepared, somewhat more middle-leaning candidate might well have won.  Are folks steamed because the party in power is concentrating more on their own agenda to get healthcare reformed before addressing our economic woes (after all, only 1% of us go uninsured, while 9-12% of us remain unemployed)?  You betcha!  But that is no better…or worse…than the Republicans creating the economic mess in the first place.

I think (I hope) that we more tempered, thoughtful, non-berkenstock-wearing/tea-throwing types understand that one party is not better prepared to make the best decisions on our behalf than the other.  So I think (hope) that we would not continue to ping-pong to & fro from one to the other and back thinking that will somehow change things.  The definition of insanity is doing the same dysfunctional thing repeatedly and expecting different results.  I think, and really hope, that we as an electorate are not insane.

Equally disproportionate is the whole 60 seat supermajority “mandate” self-imposed by the Dems to pass health-care reform (and the real reason they took this on right away in the first place…).  Beyond the fact that the party has shown itself incapable of getting the thing accomplished with such a majority, our legislative process has become so indolent that it has been abandoned on the doorway of political expediency to feed the beast of re-election.  Both parties would, and have, done the same thing.

So, putting this past week’s events in a more rational perspective,

  • MA Dems were aburdly overconfident and that’s why they lost
  • Dems still have an impressive majority in both national legislative houses and could continue work on/eventually pass a well-designed healthcare reform package but will panic nonetheless and pass one that is so weak as to make it relatively meaningless…a year wasted, while simultaneously tackling the jobs/economic reforms issue (if they can still do two things at once…
  • President Obama is human after all (who knew?), has done some good things and made some mistakes, cannot fix our country’s woes in one year and/or all by himself, and has proven himself to be much more middle-of-the-road (rankling folks on both ends of the spectrum) than he is being portrayed as a whole, and
  • Each party has its tome of evils, just different ones – one is no better than the other, each’s ability to do right by us continues to deteriorate as they concentrate evermore on re-election rather than legislation.

What we, the electorate, do from here will determine the direction this country will take over the next few years.  Volleying back and forth from one party to the other will get us nowhere.  Holding those already in office to handling our best interests over their own, will get positive results.

But that requires continuous effort on our part beyond showing up at a polling station every couple of years (and so few of us even do that…); staying abreast of the facts, regularly communicating our expectations to our representatives, pushing for more than just 2 parties from which to choose, and, of course, voting en masse.  Thus far we have shown ourselves far less willing to do these effective nation-fixing things than we are willing to believe the media’s rantings.

It would seem the indolence is actually ours.

A sign of the Times

You know, when I was younger I would curse the bevy of advertisements throughout our newspaper… “Annoying…!” I would mutter to myself. “Look at this, a full page just for an advertisement…disgraceful!” I would exclaim aloud.

Now, I thank every ad-salesperson on my paper’s staff, and every savvy business buying it.  They keep that paper coming to my door every morning, and I am extremely grateful.

Because how happy would we be if our newspapers go away…victim of younger generations’ apathy for the written word held in one’s hand?  With the prospect looming for giants like the Chicago Tribune and LA Times, this is not as far-fetched as we wish it to be.

I teach businesses how to reach the Boomer buyer, as many companies still cling to the last century trend of marketing to the 18-45 crowd (begun, by the way, in the ‘70’s to reach, you guessed it, Boomers…) and then wonder why they’re struggling.  Boomers have the highest levels of disposable income with the greatest willingness to use it, we represent almost 45% of the consumer market, larger than all the other individual market cohorts combined, and we spend a whopping $2.3 trillion annually on goods & services…that’s $400 billion more than any other age cohort.

And it is we Boomers who are the primary subscribers to newspapers/ magazines; the last generation to get our buying information from traditional media (papers, radio, and TV). 

So to you smart companies advertising in the newspaper, you’re doing exactly what it takes to reach us.  Keep it up.  And to my fellow Boomer readers, I ask you to join me in doing the smart thing and spend with these businesses.  We can simply complain that our newspapers are either disappearing or becoming a shell of themselves, or we can help bring them back. 

As a generation we brought the nation civil rights and the world human rights, to name just a few of the society-altering fixes for which we fought and won – we can handle this one easily.

Hang in there, print news…with we Boomers behind you, you’ll be just fine!

Boomers + Economy: Doesn't Need to = Panic…

Yes my fellow Boomers…you’re hearing it everywhere; our current state of economic affairs are ABSOLUTELY DEVASTATING for us as we head toward our much anticipated retirement days in the sun.  Here’s an example (contracted) from US News and World Report:

3 Ways the Economic Crisis Is Destroying Baby Boomer Retirement

  1. Stock Market declines: During the past 12 months, retirement accounts have lost $1.6 trillion or 18.3 percent of their value, according to Urban Institute
  2. Falling Home prices: The average home price fell 3.9 percent from January 2007 to May 2008, according to the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight
  3. Decreasing Job markets: Contracting credit markets could weaken the labor market, thus limiting employment opportunities for older adults

And although the writer of this USNWR article does provide ideas for how to offset today’s admittedly troubling economic conditions, many others do not, staying firm on the newspaper-selling, google-search-engine attracting, dire news, all of which can understandably make a Boomer feel…well, panicky.

Don’t.

Here’s why, issue by issue.

Stock Market Declines

Will the recovery from this mess take years?  As Sarah would say, “you betcha!” 

But the operative word is “recovery”.  We do, in fact, have a few years to hold on and wait out this inevitable, years-in-the-making, needed correction to our (and our nation’s) overspending, under-saving, and the massive, voter permitted deregulation of an industry that has proven itself at least 2 other times in the past 30 years of being incapable of controlling itself (but immensely capable of poor decision-making and business practices founded in greed).

Panic, sell off your stocks, and you create precisely the situation you fear; a self-fulfilling prophesy.  My guess is that all of us were smart enough to have generally diverse portolios.  This economic situation is why we have such diversity, so trust it.  Selling your stocks will just make your situation worse (because it will take the market into a greater downspin), and has no upside (because you’re selling at such a huge loss).  Worst case scenario, you will have to work an extra year or two to compensate for the losses your portfolio is experiencing right now.  But your investments will come back.  If you don’t panic and crash the system.

Working

OMG, as our kids would text-speak, there is plenty of work for us right now!  Whether you’re recently laid off (due to the economy…) or seeking your retirement second career a little sooner than you’d originally budgeted for, there are “recession-proof” industries/jobs that will snap up a Boomer with our experience and background, in the proverbial heart-beat!

This from the Miami Examiner’s Baby Boomer Expert (Paul Briand):

Uncle Sam to Baby Boomers: I want you

The last time some Uncle Sam needed some Baby Boomers was during the Vietnam War … as soldiers.

Now, according to a new partnership, there is need anew … as workers.

The Partnership for Public Service has started the FedExperience pilot program with federal agencies, corporate partners, and other stakeholders to match government’s critical hiring needs with the talents of experienced, older workers.

The partnership sees a win-win relationship between the government and older workers.

I’ll add to that a list of other, Boomer friendly and recession-proof jobs available right now:

  • Mechanical and Electical Engineer
  • Sales Executive
  • Technology Executive (for those of you with or able to get quickly get your Computer Science degree)
  • Customer Support/Management
  • Database Administration
  • Product and Project Management
  • Testing/QA
  • Financial staff at every level (from Finance execs, to accountants and bookkeepers)
  • Business Analysis & Development
  • Adminstrative/Executive Assistant
  • Nursing/PA/NP

And yes, you may have to put off for a little while your dreams of business ownership, but there’s no need to throw out that dream.  Just postpone it perhaps for a year or two.  That said, if you do want to go for it now, sign up for my free report Forbes 9 Best Boomer Markets: http://tinyurl.com/3rlrpe

Retiring

Is your house worth less right now?  It is.  But the housing market is already reaching its bottoming-out point and will rebound in less than one year.  So just hang in there a little longer before you take that reverse mortgage or consider moving.

Will you have to revamp your retirement timeline or plans?  Perhaps, but again, our retirement is hardly IN RUINS!!!  It is on hold for a while, or will look differently than we’d hoped for a while.

Ultimately, Boomers, this is not a catastrophe; it is a major but temporary inconvenience.  It is scarey, but not fearsome.  We will not all be living a new millennial version of The Grapes of Wrath; we will be living a little leaner, which isn’t a bad thing anyway, really.

We’re going to be fine.  But not if we panic.