Archive for August 2009

The End of Rational Debate

It feels like the morning after.  We elected a President for change; we have made a pass at a climate bill and a health care bill; we stopped torturing, but still do rendition; we thought we were going to open up our government, but then we are told that the truth will do too much damage and somebody’s morale might he hurt;  and we still have gays being thrown out of the military for being who they are.  We just went through a weekend where we said goodbye to Teddy Kennedy and maybe the last lion to champion liberalism.  Now we face tomorrow and what we know is the people who have no ideas about our future are stifling any change.  And what we know is that the status quo is not acceptable and yet the defenders of that status quo are winning.

If we look at each of the major issues facing us today, there are viable and undeniable arguments for making a change.  There are also some good and viable arguments against some of the specifics of the plans proposed.  But those arguments are being lost in the din of emotionalism run amok.  Instead of having a rational discussion about the pros and cons of the proposed change, we are seeing a barrage of emotional appeals that have no rational basis.  What we have to understand is that these emotional appeals like death panels and the end of Medicare are smoke screens to prevent any change.  What is really going on here is an attempt to change nothing because the big money interests make big money in the present system and frightened little people unable to let the past be the past.  It is a total failure to face reality.  Denial is king.

Let’s take our climate change/energy bill.   There are undeniable (or so one would think) reasons to reduce our dependence on fossil fuel.  These are climate change, the unstoppable growth in the cost of fossil fuels, and that its use transfers much of our wealth to those who hate us.  Those against it deny climate change, and say the last two problems are controlled if we drill baby drill.  None of it is rational.  It is simply hanging on to the status quo assuming the future will be like the past.  If one accepts the proposition that fuel prices will continue to spike, then developing green energy will stimulate an industrial base for our future.  So what is so hard about this?  Money.  Sadly it was chronicled the other day that China was now leading us in green energy because of their government’s investment in its research.  But governments are bad aren’t they?

Now Republicans will hate climate legislation because it requires government intervention into a stagnate industry, therefore bad.  Their fear tactic?  A tax on every citizen and making us uncompetitive.  Democrats in middle America are bought and paid for by the coal industry.  Although we hear the word, “clean coal”, it does not exist.  It destroys the environment to extract it and there is no way yet to remove the carbon dioxide and sequester it.  But middle America gets their energy by coal and there is big money to be lost if we start taxing their pollution to incentivize other forms of competing energy production.  So our wonderful capitalist system (which doesn’t exist) is the biggest hindrance to innovation and change.  It is true that it will put a tax on many forms of energy production, but it is the tax that invests in our future.  The argument should be about how do we expedite our movement to green energy and how best to make it a soft landing for other forms of energy, but the fear tactics will stop anything and it is the product of our energy corporations.

Then of course we have health care.  We have heard the baseless allegations by top Republicans to stifle real debate.  The money train here has been well established by the New York Times, Washington Post, MSNBC, etc.  There are real and substantial arguments against what is presently being proposed and we are not hearing them.  If we had a real debate then a plan would go forward that addresses these issues.  But to have this debate would be to admit that change is necessary in a meaningful way.  Those against health care reform want no debate whatsoever if it impacts negatively the profits of their corporate masters.  Since by necessity this is what real reform will bring, there can be no real reform.

So far it would appear that they are winning as we have seen the less enlightened in our population  come out and scream at Town Hall meetings and listening to our moron media say that there are real concerns out there.  Is it a real concern if you are concerned about something that doesn’t exist and you are ignoring the real problems we are facing?  But shouting matches are good entertainment for small minds and we see that instead of enlightened debate.

So what I see is one party who sees challenges before us and is offering solutions albeit, liberal solutions.  The other party is unwilling to debate these proposed solutions on a rational basis because they do want change.  Therefore rational debate is being stifled by fear and ignorance.  We saw this in the run up to the Iraq war and apparently we have learned nothing.  I fear for this country when a large segment of the population operates with a set of facts that aren’t facts and we are afraid to let go of our past and face our future.

“Now is the Winter of Our Discontent…”

These are the beginning lines in Shakespeare’s Richard III to describe the seething unhappiness of the current state of affairs as seen through the Earl of Gloucester’s hungry and ambitious mind’s eye before he begins his murderous and manipulating route to power as Richard III.   I see a parallel in our present circumstances.  First and foremost, it certainly is our winter of discontent.  To wit:

  • We are looking at a $9 Trillion deficit in the next 10 years, more than the sum of all our previous deficits – One has to wonder if this is sustainable and one also has to recognize where it came from.  A large portion is the legacy of the Bush Tax cuts and a war paid for off the books.  Republicans (the present day Richard IIIs) today will try to pin this on the Democrats of today, but the present crisis was sown during the Bush years of a free ride and ignoring our growing problems.
  • Banks are showing large profits after being bailed out by our tax dollars, while things get worse and worse for the working man and woman – There seems to be a total disconnect between our financial industry and the fate of working men and women.  They continue to foreclose on mortgages and raise rates on credit cards oblivious to the fate of those that buy their services.  The free market at its best.
  • Some economists are seeing positive signs in the economy and yet the reality for most of us is that it is getting worse – Maybe, just maybe, the indicators that we have used for a strong vibrant economy are no longer operable in this global economy.  On the other hand if you don’t care about unemployment numbers things are looking up for investors.  After all, why should we all have to share in the pain?
  • Health care reform has devolved into a campaign of misinformation for the poorly informed while we are the only industrialized country that doesn’t provide universal health care – My favorite is that we can’t afford it.  The same people like to say we are the richest, most powerful nation on earth.  My view is that we on the road to being a backwater if we continue to listen to those with very little minds and no big ideas.
  • We have a party pandering to right wing wingnuts and possibly sowing the seeds of violence, a la Timothy McVeigh, and calling it their first Amendment rights – Mainstream Republicans are now the voice of guns at political events and applauding a self-described right wing terrorist.  They stoke these wingnuts by a continuing misinformation campaign that in bygone days would have been unpatriotic.  Honest debate is no longer to be had in Republican circles.  Winning is everything isn’t it?
  • Things are going to get worse – State economies are constricting and that will further constrict local spending and increase unemployment – In California layoffs/furlough of state workers is constricting local economies and making the revenue crisis even worse.  Of note is that tax agencies estimate that they will be unable to collect $350 million in back taxes because of the furloughs, the child protection agencies are being devastated by layoffs and we know who will suffer here, and our schools are becoming grossly overcrowded.  This sound like the way out of our crisis to you?  Meanwhile we do nothing to raise revenues or identify what really needs to be paid for to secure our future.

I could go on, but I am sure I have depressed you enough.  We are facing a crisis born out of a citizenry who has been raised on no personal sacrifice and me first mentality.  Our crowded prisons are just one example of “getting tough on crime” through simple-minded solutions like throwing away the key, without considering the cost to incarcerate the largest prison population in the world.  It was born out of Ronald Reagan who convinced everyone that government was the problem and personal aggrandizement is the way to economic prosperity.  Complex answers to complex problems have no place in Republican ideology.  That would be because we would all have to share in the pain of the solution and they’re special.

The Republicans will try to take advantage of the worsening conditions to convince poorly informed voters that they can bring back the old days.  Sadly, any hard look at our history of how we got here will tell you their conservative philosophy brought us our current problems while weak kneed Democrats enabled them, trying to win votes from the middle.  The road out of this morass is going to be long and hard.  It will take sacrifice from all of us and I am just not sure after watching the health care debate, that we have the moral fortitude for our struggle ahead.  Just listen to the calls for lower taxes and smaller government and that is precisely how we got here.

So like Richard III, the Republicans see an opportunity, and also like Richard III, in seizing that opportunity they will wreak havoc with our country.  I just hope we aren’t going to let the crazies run the country again in their selfish grab for power and maintaining their favored position.

Vine/Wine Friday

DSC_0447Vine: There has been a massacre in the vineyard.  See photo of dropped fruit.  Los Hombres were up here to thin the fruit and the leaf cover for the final push to harvest which is about 6-weeks out. I have explained dropping fruit as focusing the attention of the plant to a reasonable number of grapes to intensify the flavors.  Think about it this way.  The grape’s “brain” is wired by evolution to produce as many children as possible.  There is a certain segment of our own population that does that, but I am not going there.

Now it does no good to deposit all your children (seeds) in one place so the plant is working hard to make as many grapes as possible that appeal to birds.  Birds are wired by evolution with not so great palates, so sweet is sweet to them.  Birds eat the grapes when they are sweet and because of their poor toilet training habits, deposit them all over the place.

Now enter we humans who do have discerning palates, and we want the grapes with the maximum intensity and flavor for our wine and we don’t give a damn about their other siblings.   So we sacrifice the many for the few in a true aristocratic manner leaving the lucky to become the potential for the perfect wine, and the rest wasted on the ground to become raisins for whoever will forage for them.  Yes I get some volunteer grape plants, but then we need to discuss that whole thing of clones versus natural reproduction, and of course rootstock and the casual reader probably has read more than he wants to already.DSC_0450

Leaf cover management is similar.  You want to expose the grape clusters to the sun for ripening and you want to balance the leaf cover so that the plant isn’t spending too much energy maintaining its leaves.  Think of it as the woman who has great attributes but hides them under an unnecessarily gaudy wardrobe.  Remove a few pieces here and there and you have improved the whole picture.

So you want just the leaf cover that is sufficient to support the grape crop.  It is always a big game of balancing.  Balancing irrigation against water demand, balancing number of grapes against quality fruit, balancing leaf cover to fruit load, balancing hot and cool days (you have no control here).  If you get it just right, you have perfect fruit.  Generally you don’t get it right, you just luck into it depending on what Mother Nature provides and then claim credit for it.

This is the last big chore until harvest.  Now we wait and see what this season will bring besides those gluttonous birds to eat the good stuff and not even appreciate it when there are perfectly good raisins for their pleasure on the ground.

Wine: Not much to report this week.  Jared Brandt from Donkey and Goat, and his Dad were up to inspect the grapes.  I asked him what he thought and he said they looked great but that is kind of like when your wife asks if she looks fat in this dress.  The only right answer is that you never look fat honey.  He is starting his harvest on some Chardonnay in the valley, but we both think it will be another month before mine are ready.  Jared foot stomps all his grapes in the French tradition.  The theory is that crushing the grapes that way still leaves plenty of whole grapes and a soft tannin extraction for the fermentation.  I can’t argue with the result.

There is another winery up here called Narrow Gate and they do whole grape fermentation and they also produce a wonderful wine.  The point is that each style of wine making produces distinctive flavors and the fun is learning to enjoy each different style

If you are reading this on Friday, then I am off to Healdsburg and the Russian River Valley for the “great Pinot hunt” for the weekend.  I will report my findings next weekend.

Carpe Diem

Golf and Lessons in Life

I play at golf.  I am a terrible golfer, but every now and then, like all weekend golfers, I have a few good holes and hit some amazing shots, and then I think that with a little instruction I could be a really good golfer.  The next round usually cures me of that wild fantasy.  So in order to reduce the stress and really enjoy my rounds, I usually don’t keep score.  I play with a wonderful friend and we usually just laugh at politics and enjoy the day.  But no matter how hard I try, many times I come home disappointed in my game.  It’s that male thing.

Well, I went out to play last Friday with an 8 a.m. tee time and I thought I would hit a few balls on the driving range so I would be warmed up at tee time.  After working through the irons, I moved on to the woods; set the ball on the tee; and took a mighty swing with my driver.  YIPES!  Somehow I managed to pull a groin muscle.  For those of you unfamiliar with this kind of injury, think of it like a hernia repair.  You never understood how every muscle in your body could run through that lower stomach area of your body until you try to move after surgery.

So I am thinking there is no way I can play a round of golf, but I need a way to salvage the day.  After all I have already paid my green fees.  I confirm through another wave of pain that there is no way I am going to be using my woods (injury on the right leg groin area). So I think to myself, I can just ride the cart and play a short game that does not require any big swings or pivots and I can work on that part of my game.  If I hit the ball with all my weight on my forward foot (left), there is little aggravation to the injury so off I go.

I am a guy, right?  So, of course I start thinking of ways that I can even play off the tee with my injury.  So I discover that if I swing more slowly and do not drive off my back foot (and the injured groin area) I can actually hit off the tee with little pain, albeit a very soft shot.  And then things really start to surprise me.

I am using a 4-iron off the tee and I am swinging nice and smoothly, with most of my weight on my forward, uninjured leg, and the ball just sails out there nice and straight.  In fact my whole iron game is about 15 yards shorter, but straight and accurate with every shot off the sweet spot on the club.  Finally, I crank up my courage and pull out my 3-wood.  Once again I am careful to make a nice smooth swing and not drive off the back foot and the ball just sails out there.  Then I get out the driver.  You guessed it.  It was a big mistake as I hopped around the tee saying profound things with F words inserted here and there for emphasis.

But here is the message in all of this.  I had a lovely day because I had absolutely no expectations about my game.  It turned that if I had kept score, it would have been equal to or lower than what I normally shoot without my injury.  I didn’t lose any balls, and I actually improved my swing by not trying to hit it hard and long.

All I could think of as I was driving home from a truly fun day was that if I believed in God, which I don’t (and if I did, my God would have more important things to do than concern himself with my golf game), that he had sent me a not so subtle message.  My fictitious God was thinking: “Okay, I have given him every chance and sign to slow down and relax and just appreciate the day without worrying about how far he hit the ball or the giant divots he made on 17, so now I am going to zap him with an injury to make him appreciate what he has.  Besides his swing sucks and he needs a little handicap to force him to relax and just let the club hit the ball and he is certainly not listening to me.”

Well, it worked.  With no expectations, I marveled at every improbable one foot shot.  Because I wasn’t trying to manly man the ball, I developed a little rhythm that truly improved my game and my enjoyment of it.  I came away having just enjoyed the experience and not wondering what I might have accomplished if I had just rotated my hips a little more because I couldn’t.  So if you are at the golf course and you see this guy hitting just off his front foot and every now and then hopping around, but his shots go nice and straight, it will be me.  Maybe in everything else I do I ought to just slow it down and let life do its thing and not pile on all those expectations.  I might even get a little rhythm.

The Passing of a Lion

The passing of Ted Kennedy impacted me more than I thought it would.  I have to admit I shed a few tears.  Through all the years that I have followed him, he always stood for the little guy.  He fought for education, civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights, and of course, health care for all of us.  When Bill Clinton started leaning to the right, he was unafraid to criticize him.  When the nation was rushing to war in Iraq, he was unafraid to vote no.  I am a little depressed because I am not sure there is anybody to stand up for me anymore.

I remember when it wasn’t cool to be liberal and Senator Kennedy stood up and said, “I am liberal and I am proud of it.”  He never attacked anyone personally, but he was unafraid to roar like a lion when he saw injustice in the Senate.  Where Republicans were trying to limit government, he was trying to find ways for government to help.  Where conservatives try to tell us what we can’t do, he was always imagining what we could do.

I think what he represented to many of us was a belief in shared responsibility and that we are all in this together.  For the younger generation he epitomized resurgence and all that was good about being a liberal.  He represented indefatigable striving against inequality and injustice, and most of all hope for a better tomorrow.   Losing him was like losing one of our great generals in a never ending war against little minds.  I am just not sure there is anyone to take his place. He passed the torch to Barack, but so far there has been no lion from him.   At any rate, may he rest in peace.  He damn well deserves it.

More about Mental Constipation

I am an engineer and a project manager by training.  That means I try to find solutions to problems using my training in my field (structural engineering and construction).  We are always looking for better more economical and innovative solutions to problems.  It’s in our blood.  I am not wedded to one particular technology or approach to solve a particular problem.  So what I find so amazing to me is that when we face social issues such as solving the health care problem, a fixation on ideology (analogous to technology) is driving the train.

One thing you would think we have learned in our highly innovative business and science culture is that we have to think outside the box.  We have to try different approaches and be flexible to thinking about things in different ways.  And if it doesn’t work, we should have no hesitation to discard it and try something new.  But all of the political discourse we have been witnessing is basically an argument about whether or not to try something different or to stay with what is obviously not working.  In a nutshell, Republicans think that the status quo is fine and the market place is the best way to solve all problems, and the Democrats would like to try something else.

But the discussion is never an honest consideration of the efficacy of the approach, but becomes a faith-based test of ideology.  Think of it in my analogy about being not wedded to a technology to solve a structural engineering problem.  If I were wedded to a particular technology, say concrete, then everything I designed would be concrete.  But in some environments, concrete structures are neither economical nor functional.  So I would ask my Republican friends, why do you think only market based solutions work?  There certainly is enough evidence out there to say they don’t and you continue to ignore it.

The arguments about trying a different approach are frozen in an ideological wasteland.  It can’t possibly work because it is not according to my ideology.  My favorite is, “It will destroy democracy as we know it.”  Here is where I think you will find a major difference between Democrats and Republicans.  Democrats have no problem with market-based solutions if they work.  Republicans will never accept government anything.  A case in point is the cash for clunkers.  Here we have a government program that actually was highly successful at what it was intended to do.  So they tried to kill it.  Was it embarrassing them?  Another is torture.  We are finding out that not only was it inhumane, immoral, and cruel, it was ineffective.  But we still have Republicans arguing just the opposite.  Their ideology blinds them to the facts.

Most Democrats know that while market based solutions are working very well for a few, the majority of the middle class has been losing ground.  Maybe the stock market is not the end all of finance and a measure of success, and we need to help our economy restructure so that more might participate in the bounty.  Republicans know that  government anything is bad, therefore they are against it.  But the engineer in me says, why not try a new approach, especially if the old one is not working.  Apparently it is not working except for the already rich so let’s try something different.

How about a bench test?  Bench tests in the world of engineering are small scale projects to test out the feasibility of the concept.  Republicans will adamantly object.  Why?  Because if it works their ideology has to be examined.  You would think in this day and age with the problems we are facing a little re-examination might be in order.  It is no wonder we call them the party of no.

The prime example of this ideological constipation is the health care debate.  As the problems of our health care system become more and more apparent, the first thing you hear from those defenders of doing nothing is denial that there is a problem.  I wonder how many times I have heard “we have the best damn system in the world”?  Hope they never lose their jobs.

Left of the lefties like me would like a pure single payer system paid for by our taxes, everybody covered.  Republicans want no change or minor tweaking on an employer and market based system that most of us think is the problem. Because they believe anything government does is bad, there can be no government involvement.

Okay, I will meet you half way.  Let’s try a bench test called a public option and see if it works.  They are all opposed to it.  Why?  Why not try something different and if it fails we will get rid of it.  They won’t try it because they are terrified it will succeed.  So they invent the death panels and government bureaucrats between you and your doctor scare tactics for the weak minds in Red Land.  This should tell everything you want to know about ideological constipation.  If they were free to really think, then they could debate these issues on the real substance of the proposal instead of inventing false ones.

Here is my point:  Democrats as a group are much more flexible to change and trying new things than are Republicans.  They are much more likely to lead us to a new and better future.  Unlike Republicans, if a particular system or policy is not working (market based medicine), they are much more likely to admit it is not working and try something different.   I never thought that mental constipation would become a requirement for political affiliation but that is where we have arrived.  You will hear all kinds of arguments as to why we can’t try something different, but the real reason is that they can’t afford to be proven wrong.  Hopefully our future is not in the hands of those who have to create a false reality to be against something, but in those who are willing to sacrifice and try something new.

The Torture Chronicles

Well the other shoe has dropped.  I hear the wailing now.  “We need to look ahead, not focus on our past.”  “This kind of an investigation could demoralize our intelligence community.”  And from the left of the left (that would be me), “It doesn’t go nearly far enough.”  Let me take them on one at a time since our media, as usual, is so far missing the point.  In short, we can’t move forward until we resolve the past; it will only demoralize those who grossly abused their power and position; and once you start digging, the finger pointing will begin and those fingers will point up the chain.

President Obama’s view and the political conventional wisdom quoted by Chuck Todd last week on the Bill Maher show is that an investigation will simply cause a political food fight (as though business as usual isn’t one already) and the President’s agenda will get mired down in this misdirection.  Sadly this overly simplified conclusion is actually counterproductive.

Yes the Republicans will throw up every roadblock possible to hide what occurred under their watch, but once the true extent of this is exposed, it is very unlikely that their super patriotic excuses will ever be believed again.  If the American people are kept in the dark about what really happened, then it is way too easy to say it worked, it was worth it, and on we go with the “24” fantasy.  Just think about what has happened with health care and the Republican’s false claims about what is in the plan mainly because we don’t have a plan yet to examine.

This is the difference between short term gains and long term gains.  In the short term the Republicans will throw a hissy fit with lies and misdirection that will complicate the Democrat’s agenda.  But in the long term as the facts come out, it will be clear that this program was a dismal failure, run by incompetents, and destroyed our moral fabric.  Then those who defend it will be forever tarnished and the Democratic agenda will have even more momentum.  It is the difference between the Sarah Palins of the world and real intellectual curiosity.  If you have intellectual curiosity you can learn from your mistakes.  If you are a Sarah Palin, you can continue to believe fiction about what is effective for our future and promote obvious lies.

Jane Mayer wrote the definitive book on what really happened (The Dark Side) and there were CIA officials who did unconscionable acts even when they had every reason to believe the person they were torturing was innocent.  There were levels of unprofessionalism and downright amateurism that became criminal.  These need to come out and the people involved need to be identified and punished.  And this goes directly to the second argument against these investigations, that it will demoralize hard working and patriotic intelligence professionals.

The real “hard working and patriotic” intelligence professionals were appalled by what was going on, especially in light of the failure of most of these programs and the lack of experienced professionals in the CIA to carry it out.  Political operatives and opportunists in the CIA were feeding the Bush Administration what they wanted to hear and ignoring the real professionals who saw through this program.  It will actually strengthen professionalism to go after those that abused the system getting information their supervisors wanted to hear instead of allowing real professional dissent to counter political pressure.  The rules and real professionalism have to be more important than political power and opportunity.

As for not going far enough and those at the top will not be exposed in this investigation, the devil is in the details.  Clearly the investigation can be limited to the more egregious offenders, those that went beyond the already egregious standards set by the Bush White House.  But when accusations are made, those accused will start pointing fingers.  In my mind there were facilitators up and down the system, or as I called them, political opportunists, who wanted to serve the political purposes of the White House and either facilitated these illegal interrogations, or turned a blind eye.  Either way they are just as culpable and will be identified in any real investigation.  As for those actually in the White House who originally authorized torture, from the Vice President and his Chief of Staff, David Addington, to John Yu and the other legal sycophants who rendered whatever legal opinion was requested, that is a very different issue.

This investigation only involves going beyond those despicable limits and therefore their actions will not be challenged.  But we are still waiting the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility recommendations on what should be done about these highly unprofessional legal opinions that later had to be withdrawn.  Disbarment might be the appropriate action

This is going to be a long torturous (no pun intended) process to get to all the facts.  But each day more and more of our scandalous and immoral behavior is being exposed and once there is a crack in the wall, it will slowly expand.  Thank goodness.

Related Post:  The Conventional Wisdom and Enforcing the Law

Obama Anger

I am not talking about conservative anger here, I am talking about progressive anger.  President Obama is a wonderful man, intelligent, thoughtful, and very, very likable.  He has a wonderful family, which is a testament to the parenting provided by he and his beautiful wife.  So it is hard to be really angry at him, but many of us are.  It is not just the waffling on health care or all the other promises he has yet to keep.  Need I remind you that “Don’t ask, Don’t Tell” is still ruining lives and the State Secrets Act is still being used to keep us from finding out what really happened during the Bush years.  It is so much more fundamental than that and Paul Krugman hit on it so elegantly in his column this Monday morning in the New York Times (All the President’s Zombies). 

When we won the election in 2008 we thought that the era of Ronald Reagan and big government is bad was finally put to rest.  As Paul points out, the Reagan philosophy of low taxes, emasculated government, and little regulation which was put into full force in the Bush years, proved the fallacy of this philosophy as our economy faltered except for the very rich.  More basic to this whole philosophy is the idea that self-aggrandizement is good and that sacrifice is for suckers and losers.  The whole idea of government not having an important role to play in our lives, we thought, was finally over with the election of Barack Obama and the progressive agenda.

But as Paul points out, those zombies never die and President Obama with his philosophy of appeasement may have just given it a new life, to rise up again, and once again destroy our dreams for the future as the country stagnates under this failed philosophy.  This to many of us is unforgiveable.  President Obama has the chance to put the final stake in the heart of our failed past and he has failed to rise to that challenge.  Oh, we saw glimmers when he fought back early in the health care wars when he asked what was it about the public plan that conservatives were so afraid of, competition?  But then he fell back into his old accommodating style of not actively engaging with Republicans to refute their attacks on his plan.

What many of us are so angry about is that he is accommodating a failed philosophy and giving it new life.  The Republican Party today does not represent any viable option for our future and it is time to quit pandering to them, and put them out of their misery.  Instead, by trying to find common ground with failed ideas, he may just set us back many more years and give conservatives a chance to do much more damage to our country.   It is time to pull the plug on them  Mr. President.  To do that you need to actively attack these failed ideas and lead the way instead of pandering in the false hope of bipartisanship.  They have nothing to offer and we have nothing to gain by listening to them.  Please don’t let Reaganism rise up again.  That Mr. President, would be unforgivable.

Democracy Means Never Having to be in the Minority

On Meet the Press Yesterday, David Gregory was conducting an interview with Tavis Smiley and Joe Scarborough and he ran a clip of the Senator from Oklahoma, Tom Coburn, on his show last week making a statement about the virulence we were seeing in the Town Hall Meetings:

SEN. TOM COBURN (R-OK):  Well, I’m, I’m troubled any time when we stop having confidence in, in our government.  But we’ve earned it.  You know, this debate isn’t about health care.  Health care’s the symptom.  The debate is an uncontrolled federal government that’s going to run–50 percent of everything we’re spending this year we’re borrowing from the next generation.

MR. GREGORY:  That’s what–wait, hold on, I want to stop you there.  I’m talking about the tone.  I am talking about violence against the government. That’s what this is synonymous with.

SEN. COBURN:  But the, but the, but the tone is based on fear of loss of control of their own government.

(End videotape)

Then David then asked Tavis Smiley to comment:

MR. GREGORY:  Fear of loss of control over their own government.

MR. SMILEY:  This is…

MR. GREGORY:  Is that what’s out there?

MR. SMILEY:  No.  This is not about angst, this is not about anger, this is about hate.  There is a, there is, there’s a set of folk in this country–thankfully not, not, not everybody–but there is a group in this country that does not, will not accept a legitimate Democratic presidency, Joe, under any condition.

Here, I think, caught in a blinding flash, is the whole crux of the radical right’s thinking from the birthers to the screamers at Town Hall Meetings.  They are unwilling to participate in a democracy if they are in the minority.  In other words they do not believe in the implicit contract that the majority rules if they are not the majority.

Remember the woman wailing I want my country back?  I  thought I had just got my country back after the 2008 election and her attitude was that if the liberals won the election then it is time for revolution because they are having none of that.  This in embodied in the “I am going to wear my assault rifle on my shoulder to their Town Hall meetings so they are intimidated.  These people have no intention of accepting majority rule or leadership by progressives even though progressives won the election.

I always said the Republicans and the conservative philosophy was anti-democratic.  I just never though they would be so blatant about it.

The Failure of the Obama Health Care Reform Strategy

What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Cool Hand Luke, 1967.  In Luke’s case this was the last thing he ever said before Boss Godfrey responds by shooting him and ending his life.  In the Obama Administration’s case, it may be the root cause of why they failed to bring about real reform.  The other major contributor may be that they failed to understand the Republicans or the political environment from day one.  This may also be their biggest and most fatal failure.  Here is my rendition of what they did wrong and how they failed us in the most important of important debates:

  • Failure to have am effective strategy for making the case for the underlying  reason to reform health care – Only now is the Obama Administration taking the moral approach in trying to show that it is immoral for a government to not provide adequate health care for all its citizens, that we are the only advance industrialized nation that doesn’t.  They had no aggressive strategy for demonstrating the abuses of the Health Care Industry or to mobilize those who have already been disenfranchised, maybe because they had already negotiated that approach away.  Finally they had no aggressive plan to show that the status quo will rapidly degenerate so that just staying with the current system is not sustainable.  These three elements are the basis for the argument to reform health care.  Many today still don’t understand this and think they can continue on our present course.
  • Failure to define the details of a plan based upon minimum requirements for health care success instead of focusing on a political success – Is a public option critical or not?  Does the President think so or is he willing to jettison it for a political success.  If he does, will the plan fail?  These are important questions and we are left in a vacuum of leadership to figure it out.  The President has sent mixed signals.  Leadership and consistent communications have been lacking.  How do you argue for the specifics of a plan if you haven’t made a case for what is the baseline for success?
  • Failure to craft the reform package in enough detail that the Democrats (real not blue) in Congress  and their supporters could get behind it –  Do you know what is in the Obama health care package?  Me either.  So just how is his net-root base going to get behind something they don’t know have the foggiest idea what it is?  This left a huge vacuum for the Republicans to fill with lies and miss-direction.  Worse, there was a level of arrogance assuming the net-root base would just follow their lead.  They ignored what that base really wanted in an attempt for a political win, a score for legislation.
  • Failure to recognize that there is no bipartisan resolution – You would have thought they would have learned something from the stimulus debate.  Republicans then as now “negotiated” and then withdrew to reject the package.  Why wouldn’t they negotiate now to weaken any reform, then withdraw to claim victory when it failed?  The current Republican Party is ideologically against government action.  What part of that don’t they get?  My own frustration here is that if we learned anything over the last 30 years, it is that conservative philosophy in most cases has proven to be bankrupt.  So why do we keep trying to cater to that which is proven to be ineffective?
  • Failure to understanding that the real problem of health care and the real war was with the Medical Industrial Complex; the Republicans are just their storm troopers, albeit highly paid storm troopers – Maybe they did understand since it is becoming apparent that deals were made to gain support that effectively guts the necessary ability of the government to negotiate to reduce costs.  Apparently they thought they needed these concessions to have a political success, but were laying the foundation for the failure of the ability of health care reform to control costs which is its ultimate goal.  I guess they thought they could get enough controls in later to control these behemoths, but they gave away the farm on day one.
  • Failure to be realistic about its costs and based upon a moral commitment to health care, asking everyone to share in paying for it – President Obama continues to repeat the error of the Bush years and not ask for sacrifice from any of us.  Somehow this cost will be hung on only those making more than $250,000 or through other cuts and savings.  You could drive a truck through this hole in their logic.  Once again it is a political calculation, not a practical one.  Their best argument is that health care is a moral responsibility and we must all share the burden.  Leadership is noticeably lacking here.
  • Failure to understand the politics of the Senate, leaving  conservative Democrats representing 2.7% of our population, and Republicans in charge of drafting a plan in the Senate – Maybe this is an extenuation of the failure of the bipartisan approach, but this group was from the start highly unlikely to present a plan that would work even if it were politically feasible.  What is the point in that?  This should have been anticipated with another approach to bipass the Senate Finance Committee.  Having a bipartisan solution that does not solve the basic problem is worse than no solution at all and will lead down the road to the demise of the Democrats as being ineffective.
  • Failure to Fight Fire with Fire – When Republicans started to really trash the plans being considered in Congress with total lies, and conservative lobbyists starting packing Town Hall Meetings with the misinformed and lunatic fringe, President Obama and the White House stayed in the conciliatory mode letting many of these outrageous claims stand unchallenged, lending credence to their claims.  By not vigorously fighting back and letting these false claims be repeated over and over again, they put these proponents in the drivers seat with the media, and themselves on the defensive.  Barney Frank showed them the way forward.  Hopefully they will take a page from his book.
  • Failure to understand their base, and the people who fought hard to get them elected – The people who came out and put President Obama over the top want real change.  In both the stimulus package and now the health care bill what they have seen is a President in a position of power, negotiate away his position without putting up a strong fight for what they believe in, in this case a real public option or even stronger, a single payer system.  As noted earlier, there was an arrogance that took this support for granted.
  • Failure of the President to take a strong position and lead – Nobody said this was going to be easy, but out here in the hinterlands it looks like President Obama turned it over to Congress instead of leading even if that might make the approach more risky.  Then he spent his energy in the defensive mode.  Real change requires real leadership and so far most of us don’t see a President who will fight for that change.  He seems more interested in cooperation and agreement as an end in itself than in getting a plan that will really work.  He looks weak and his continually having to clarify his position is neutering his communications skills.

When you look back at it, it could not have been done more ineptly.  I don’t know, but I am just an old project manager and negotiator, and it seems to me that they apparently violated everything we have learned in those disciplines about successful management of a project, in this case health care reform and negotiations in general.  First, where was there a clear definition of their goal?  Oh, I know that the Administration will argue that they have laid out basic guidelines, but were those guidelines really tested to see if they were too loose to define a successful plan? Was there real debate and criticism before they rolled out this plan?  Probably not in group-think land because if they had, many of these weaknesses would have been identified.

Did they define what real health care reform success would look like or were they focused on just getting a legislative success?   In other words, we will take what we can get.   What was their bottom-line negotiating position that if they could not achieve, they would walk away from?  It would appear to date that is a moving target and that is a fatal flaw in negotiations.  You are continually seen as backing up in a defensive position of weakness.  You have put the opposition in the driver’s seat and from where I sit that is actually what is going on.

Here to me is one of their biggest mistakes:  The Obama candidacy brought out a whole new generation of voters with great expectations.  The Administration entered into this process without understanding this voting block’s bottom line.  If they alienate this group, any hope for change is doomed.  They needed and still need these voters to come out and fight for the plan, but they have given them no reason to do that as they arrogantly failed to defined a plan that these voters are willing to fight for.

Is there still time?  Maybe, but I have not seen a real fighter yet in this Administration. After the election, President Obama’s passion, like real change, has floated away.  If he cannot see that the conservative philosophy has gotten us into the fix we are in and it is now time to take a strong leadership position in another direction, then we are doomed to more disasters in the future.  Hopefully he will see that if the Republicans will not follow, leave them behind.  Nothing will turn around this nation more than a strong leader who can communicate a vision for our future and then take us there.  Compromising with failure will just end in disaster and a lost opportunity, maybe our last opportunity.

Finally where was the analysis of the risk of trying to work with the Republicans opposition and others who would throw up roadblocks(blue dog Democrats and the Medical Industrial Complex)?  Would it not be obvious that the Republicans had no intention of allowing health care reform?  Who would think the Medical Industrial Complex would roll over to real reform?  And even if you didn’t believe that, where was the risk analysis and mitigation plan to deal with such a possibility or any other tactics?  Where was the plan to deal with the misinformation campaign?  I can’t believe they didn’t see that coming?  This is basic project management 101.  Instead they have been backpedaling ever since they rolled out their “plan”.

Summing up I would say these are the critical errors:

  1. Failure to make the case for the need for change in unequivocal terms.
  2. Failure to identify in clear details the minimum requirements for successful reform, the bottom line if you will.
  3. Failure to define the plan in enough detail to ensure real health care reform and energize your supporters around a plan they understand and support.
  4. Failure to do risk and mitigation planning to anticipate Republican/Medical Industrial Complex opposition and be ready to respond on the offense, not the defensive and passive.  This is not entirely true.  Apparently one of their mitigation strategies was to roll over to the health industry demands which muted some Industry opposition, but gave up the goal. Had they done number 2 above, they would have understood this.
  5. Failure to provide the aggressive leadership to push this plan through Congress and take on the Republicans every step of the way.

Have President Obama and the Democrats learned anything?  We will see.  There are rumblings in Congress that they may have a backbone, but they have disappointed us before after some minor posturing.  I feel as many “left of the left” feel:  Better to fail with a real plan than succeed with a failed plan.