Archive for November 2013

Black Friday

I checked my email this morning and I noted that my local outfitter store (I live in a rural mountain area) is having a sale on guns on Friday. Gee, if I could just find some liquor sales it would be a perfect holiday. Guns and liquor, what could be better? See you in the emergency room.

Some Miscellaneous Thoughts Before Thanksgiving

I read where we may have new tensions with China as two B-52s flew through newly claimed China airspace over some disputed islands between China and Japan. This is most probably really about oil and gas not some territorial disputes that goes back to the dark ages. But what really struck me about this incident is not the new tensions, but B-52s. When I left the Air Force in 1979, 34 years ago, I was a radar navigator in a B-52 (the guy who dropped the bombs and targeted the missiles). And I remember being on alert (nuclear armed) and meeting retired guys who flew the airplane in their youth. We got our money’s worth out of this baby. I wonder what their avionics and navigation systems look like today. I bet it is still noisy and stinks in there. Hope they got a better urnal.

The fixation on the moment is driving me crazy. Of course most things drive me crazy these days. By that I mean the total fixation by the news media on reporting the moment than taking the broader long term view. Instantaneous polls are an example. Who is up and who is down in the 2016 presidential campaign as though 2016 will even be worrying about the same stuff we are worrying about today. Even 2014 is another life away and the hope by Republicans that they can run on Obamacare is a foolish pipedream. And when it works what will they have to run on, their failure to have any policies at all except the repeal of Obamacare? I mean let’s face it, Iran could be working out splendidly, we could finally be leaving Afghanistan, and the economy could be on an upswing. Then Republicans really are screwed. Just think where we could have been if they just didn’t block everything.

There are a couple of other things Republicans should be worried about next year. The first is screaming Wall Street hitting new highs while the middle class languishes. I listened to Paul Ryan explain how he is for helping poor people, but not with income redistribution. Huh? What does he think low taxes on the wealthing, a measly capital gains tax, and cutting government programs is? It is the government subsidizing corporations and the wealthy. Everyone knows that Republican steadfast belief in flow down has not worked and they have nothing else. Let’s face it, we are all socialists, it just depends on who the government is subsidizing that earns the label capitalist or socialist.

Then there is the woman is a second class citizen thing. Their attack on a woman’s right to choose has woken up most women. But what will pile on is the Supreme Court test of whether corporations can claim a religious exemption to also disenfranchise women. It really is not about the rights of corporations, but sex as Linda Greenhouse opined in the NYT this morning:

The religious-based challenges that have flooded the federal courts from coast to coast – more than 70 of them, of which the Supreme Court agreed on Tuesday to hear two – aren’t about the day-in, day-out stuff of jurisprudence under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause: Sabbath observance, employment rights, tax exemptions. They are about sex.

As such, the cases open a new front in an old war. I don’t mean the overblown “war on religion” that some Catholic leaders have accused the Obama administration of waging. Nor do I mean the “war on women” that was such an effective charge last year against a bevy of egregiously foot-in-mouth Republican politicians.

I mean that this is the culture war redux – a war not on religion or on women but on modernity

Looking ahead to the elections in 2014 and 2016 trapped in today’s issues just gives a very warped view. What they are really going to be about is change and as Linda said, modernity. And you know which side the Republicans are on. They may become an endangered species. That would make my day and give me something to be thankful for.

Set Corporations Free!

Well the Supreme has taken up whether corporations can have religious convictions that trump federal law and we will find out if this Supreme Court really is just a political tool or common sense prevails. I wouldn’t hold out much help after the corporations have free speech ruling (Citizens United) that basically said money is free speech and the more you have, the louder your speech can be.

This one truly is mindless. Obamacare said medical plans must provide contraception. Note that 26 states already require this so the big deal is that the name Obama is in Obamacare so it is just another way to stifle the plan. But let’s think about this. If corporations are religious, whose religion? Since Corporations separate the people from the corporate entity, how can their religion be imbued in the corporation? And think about that. If corporations can ignore federal/state requirements based upon religious grounds, what is a religion and what is a legitimate religious belief assuming a corporation can have religion? Remember Peyote and the Indians?

What if the corporation believes gayness is evil and it is against their beliefs to provide insurance for treatment of HIV. What if, as many Christian Scientists believe, blood transfusions are against their religion so you are not covered for blood transfusions? Where does it stop.

But here is the real kicker. if a corporation can refuse to cover birth control, then depending upon your own financial means, they may be forcing their religious beliefs on you. In other words if it is against their beliefs to provide something and you can’t provide it on your own, their beliefs are forced on you. On the other hand, and this is the big difference, if it is provided in the coverage, it is your choice whether to use it or not. One denies you choice and the other allows you choice. So where is the real tyranny here? I could say the same about religious organizations that are exempt, but Obama has already rolled over on that one.

So Supreme Court, do what you did last time and free corporations to decide for the rest of us what we should get for medical insurance. Why should us peons be allowed to choose what is best for us medically. Oh, and for many women contraception is truly a health issue that treats other conditions than just preventing conception and you are letting corporations decide their fate. Death Panels anyone?

Foreign Affairs

I am talking about the Middle East like there is any other foreign affairs news. Now that in itself should be enlightening. We are totally focused on 6th century theocracies because that is where all the trouble is. The other day in my blog, Failure of Leadership, I listed all the domestic reasons why I think President Obama will not go down as a great president, mostly due to his lack of real passion for progressive change, or really any basic principles that he seems to be operating from. But when it comes to his approach to the Middle East, we are seeing some real changes. His approach to finding diplomatic solutions, recognizing after Iraq and Afghanistan that we really can’t control the Arab destiny with military brute force, is real change.

Now we have Iran, which I opined about yesterday, which is a real start to developing a dialogue about not just nuclear weapons, but bringing them back into the world community. The real stumbling block, and that goes for all the Middle East, is their radical conservative Muslim beliefs that is antithetical to much of modern society. The hope is that as we engage and their economic situation improves, the people themselves will wrest power from religious leaders (old men) and pull themselves into the 21st century. If any country over there can do that, that would be Iran. We have a chance and the fact that President Obama is willing to seize it in the face of neocon thinking from the Republican Party (Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran) and hawkish Democrats is a real sign of leadership. Of course looking at it from my perspective, it is either that or future war, so what is the choice, but that is lost on many Americans.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan, I was very disappointed to see an agreement to stay there after 2014. I am not surprised. Having worked to propose on many of the large bases we built over there, it should be no surprise that we were planning to stay (runways 747 capable). But I think the Taliban have it right when one of their commanders said (Daily Beast):

“I was thinking that if all foreign troops left Afghanistan I would seriously consider laying down my weapons and place my hopes in peace,” the commander, who declines to be quoted by name, tells The Daily Beast. “But now I will fight on and never disarm as long as there is a presence of infidel forces in my country. Any hope I had for peace is now dead.”

I think the basic fact that in their world we will always be the infidel invader makes a lasting presence counterproductive. It is as though we still think we can nation build over there. It is their country and their future to secure, and they are going to have to be left to do it on their own. Shoring up Karzai and the puppet government just delays how the real conflict will play out. The argument that if we leave lets them developed a base for al Qaeda I don’t think holds water. One, all these countries left to their own devices are xenophobic, and secondly, we showed in the initial phase of the Afghan war just how we could handle any real threat without troops on the ground. The really good news is that the Karzai government may reject the agreement and we would be out by 2014. That in my mind is the best outcome. Like the Republicans on the grand bargain President Obama offered them, the Karzai rejection my just save us from our foolishness.

Finally we have the Israeli anger, and the Saudi’s ire at our negotiations with Iran. Neither, I think should be surprising or troubling. As Lawrence O’Donnell pointed out on the Last Word last night, the Israeli saber rattling may be our best friend in playing good cop/bad cop with the Iranians whether intentional or not. As far as the Saudis go, this thing in the Middle East really comes down to Shiites and Sunnis, and we don’t want to get inbetween. And as a culture, Saudi Arabia is not my ideal of a country we should help enslave women and empower rich emirates. The Middle East really has to come into the 21st Century and to do that, we need to quit setting ourselves up to be the whipping boy for all that ails them instead of a conservative Muslim culture that as stifled change.

So maybe with some real leadership on Iran, and some dumb luck in Afghanistan if they throw us out, we may be headed in the right direction.

Republicans and Iran

I am watching the Republican reaction to the potential 6 month trial period treaty with the Iranians and I find them oh so consistent. If it is from President Obama, it will stifle life as we know it. I listened to Eric Canter respond by telling us the only acceptable solution is for them to totally dismantle their nuclear program. This is very similar to their approach to Democratic anything, my way or the highway. There is a level of arrogance and simple mindedness that explains completely how we got Iraq so wrong.

Oh, sure there are Democrats who are expressing dismay, but judge the source. Do they have a large jewish hawkish contingent? Now in the real world, you look for common interests not capitulation and shame from the other side. This is a foot in the door and we ought to pursue it. What have we got to lose, nuclear war? It takes time to build trust and get a real solution and what we hear from most Republicans is don’t try it, it will kill you. It is very similar to their approach on everything else. Let’s just stay the course and maybe things will get better. I got mine.

And by the way, if I am Iranian, I would be very nervous about an Israel with nukes and no counterforce. No we do not want nuclear proliferation, but we could, maybe in an atmosphere of trust, provide them with some security against what I see as an ever menacing Israel. And quite frankly why shouldn’t they be able to enrich uranium for their nuclear power plants. If someone told us we couldn’t do that, it would be an act of war.

No, this is a first step which may falter, but it is a chance. How many people go through life regretting the chances they did not take because they were afraid of the unKnown? Oh, and you know it is probably a good idea when Fox News starts making things up about it like it is to distract us from Obamacare, which boys and girls, is highly successful so far in my state. Of course we did not try to sabotage it like the red states.

The False Republican Governor Story Line

It is all the rage within pundit land. “Republicans in Washington have shown their inability to do anything, but those Republican governors out in the states are getting things done and are now the great white hope.” It is also complete nonsense. It started with the Chris Christie thing, but has grown and is the talking point at the Republican Governor’s Association. See, as the story goes, governors are the CEO’s of states that actually has to produce results. As far as I know the only journalist who took this apart was Karen Finney on her MSNBC show Disrupt and she did a fairly good job of it. Oh, and just as an aside, the CEO class in my mind is not exactly who I want leading the nation. Government is not a business, but that is a blog for another day.

What is required to evaluate this claim is a close look at what the accomplished and what people actually voted for last time around. I have already exposed the Chris Christie lie in New Jersey, but here is a summary for you too timid to click: He looked good and he hugged the President after Sandy, but the actual results of the cleanup have not yet been really been examined and they are not a pretty picture. Most things he pushed for were mellowed by a Democratic legislature and his stand on teacher’s wages, same sex marriage, unions, more tax cuts, and real policies for job growth are counter to what most people want. In other words, the New Jersey Miracle does not translate to the nation.

The rest of the Republican governors that are being touted as popular or effective have major issues. Some have balanced budgets, but it has been by cutting what helps the 99%, schools, teachers, pension plans, you know, all that frivolous stuff. They are basically effective, if you define effective as passing legislation that disenfranchises others, because they have Republican controlled legislatures, and the most common thing passed in those states are restrictions to women’s choice. They look for tax cuts for the wealthy while finding ways to pay for it by cutting social programs. Sooner or later those people are going to vote. Generally speaking, they have fought Obamacare and disenfranchised their poor by denying Medicaid. They are socially conservative and have fought against equal rights for gays. Oh, and let’s not forget all the disenfranchising voter stuff they have passed.

So one might ask, where exactly is the national appeal in a nation that I see as moving more populist? Only in the imaginations of pundits who see form over substance. Dangle a bangle in front of them and they are transfixed. Prime example is their crowning Chis Christie the leading big white hope for the Republicans in 2016 and not really examining his record or understanding the uniqueness of New Jersey or that the nation is moving on. It may be quite possible that they could win the Republican nomination simply because the Republican primaries are controlled by the know-nothings, but in a general election, the truth will come out.

Oh, and one other thing to ponder while everyone is touting these wonderful Republican governors. In California we elected a Democratic one, and gave him a legislature that would work with him through reforming our redistricting and primary elections, and we raised taxes and will have a surplus this year that will probably not be given away in tax cuts, but put away for a rainy day. We are protecting, not restricting women’s rights, and economically things are looking up. But of course the media must focus on all those midwest white boys because they are the future. Really?

Television Writing that Drives me Crackers

I watch a lot of what I would call entertainment SyFi because it gets me through a workout on my elliptical or stationary spinning bike. I usually watch news when I weight lift for the anger factor and increased strength through adrenalin rushes when somebody says something that makes me want to strangle them. So anyway I record these shows so I can skip through the commercials and distract myself from my cardio work. So here are some of the things that drive me crazy in the plots and see if you can relate:

  • Beauty and the Beast – Kat loves him, Kat distrusts him, Kat trusts him, Kat distrusts him. Kat hunts for months focused on finding him because they have this connection and then has all these doubts. She finds her father who is a jerk and all of a sudden she wants to bond? This is one screwed up lady
  • Person of Interest – Mr. Kung Fu macho man did not see the shooting of his Detective Carter love interest coming? Talk about not being aware of your surroundings. Oh, and the machine will talk to a pyschopath, but not its creator?
  • Arrow – Please, shoot to kill so we don’t have to deal with repeat villains because they keep escaping. Arrow’s one endearing quality was his decisiveness and now he is a bleeding heart liberal?
  • Grimm – Okay, I could suspend my disbelief, but if half the population is some kind of weird creature, wouldn’t we have noticed by now, and are they acting out creature problems just in the Seattle area? Maybe it is the coffee.
  • Hostage – Okay again, things get bad and then they just get worse. How does anybody come out of this a good guy? They did get politicians right though and they all are scum
  • Blacklist – Elizabeth Keen knows she is adopted but never wonders about why Red takes such an interest in her. Has she heard of DNA testing? Oh, and talk about being oblivious about her hubby. Red has never lied to her. For a profiler, she sucks. Also she lets a lot of people escape. She doesn’t shoot them when she should and shoots them when she shouldn’t. Oh and on most of these cop shows when they are rushing to the scene, do they ever think about calling the local police who might be closer?
  • Mentalist – Anybody sick of Red John yet? And when Patrick feigns giving up, well haven’t we done that before. Oh, and Lisbon, when you go into a dangerous situation, call for backup. It is standard police procedure.
  • Revolution – Anybody besides me want to slap the sniveling Aaron? In reality he would have been dead a long time ago. He runs from everything, doesn’t want to ask obvious questions, and generally is useless. The nanites in the atmosphere who Aaron created, are so confused by his confusion, they showed good judgement and desert him when he wants them to kill the people who killed his love, instead of restoring her to life. Discerning little creatures. He rejects the one force who could make them safe and maybe restore the power. For someone who is supposed to think logically and write algorithms, this guy could not use logic to open a door. Just about everyone else has situational morality and it is really a downer
  • Haven – This one does not even pass the sniff test, but Audrey is really fun to look at.

Of course, you could just suggest that I read a good book, but they are also getting harder and harder to find.

Failure of Leadership

Dylan Matthews had a Wonkblog post that basically said Americans think John F. Kennedy was one of our geatests presidents. He wasn’t. I took issue with his opinion based upon his objective measure of his accomplishments in an email he will never read. Basically my point was that he had all his facts correct, but his conclusion missed the real greatness. That geatness was his leadership that got us all thinking of the big things this country could do and our hope for the futue. The accomplishments of Lyndon Johnson were achieved in a America that was still basking in the afterglow of Kennedy’s vision of hope, greatness, and doing the hard things because sacrifice is our duty.

Well you can agree or disagree with me on this one, but when I apply that same measure to President Obama, he comes up lacking. Let me be clear, I don’t think the only measure of a President is by the legislative success he has had, but how he changed the course of the nation’s thinking so that real change could occur in the future. So let’s evaluate what President Obama really accomplished against that measure.

Let’s start with 2009 and the financial/banking crisis. Here was a real chance to change the whole dynamic of the financial markets and what happened was that all the usual suspects were brought in to advise, and what we have today is way way too big to fail. The banks are bigger. We solved nothing. So what happened? I don’t think he had a vision or understanding of what was wrong and how we got here. So he called in the status quo to restore the status quo, not with a look to the future, but with a backward glance at the past. While banks got bailed out, home owners got left holding the bag (and still are). And the real problem, economic inequality never got addressed.

Now comes the stimulus and restarting our economy. One can argue that faced with the Republican opposition, he got what he could get, which we now know was clearly way too small and some economists at the time were telling us just that. But his failure of leadership here was not in getting what he could get, but in selling to the American people that that is all that was needed. Had he change the argument to it is too small, but it is all I can get now, the playing field would be different today in that we would be poised to push for more stimulus and not have the sequester. So what happened?

Well, what happened is what will be a theme here, there is no there there. It is clear, and will be repeated in this analysis, President Obama doesn’t seem to have a well thought out economic policy approach. He gathered flatland economists around him who have shunned Keynes and went with their consensus opinion. There were economists out there warning that this was too little, but he bought into the conservative, looking backward (just not far enough backward to the Great Depression) and trying to restore the status quo. He seems to think that the experts that got us to where we were, had the best solutions for the future, without his own vision of the future and how to get there.

Next up is healthcare reform. And once again, he seems to have no vision for where we want to go. Instead he choses a consensus approach (Romney Care) that is a market based approach the Republicans might buy. He is underestimating Republican hatred of him. Now once again one could accuately argue that this is what was politically possible. But there was a moment when he could pushed for an option for Medicare for everyone. He could have said let’s see if the market place can compete with that. But he let the progressives in Congress die on their swords instead of at least giving us a vision of the future. He is looking for a consensus solution, not the optimal solution. I don’t think he has a vision of the optimal solution.

Now we get the real ball drop that defines the rest of his Presidency, the pivot from jobs to the debt. The Republicans framed the economy’s problems in government spending and debt. The framing is wrong, the debt solutions are counterproductive, yet he pivoted to their framing and we are stuck in a never ending cycle of cuts with Republicans wanting big ones, and Democrats fighting for damage control. So what happened? This one is the same problem, he has no basic economic philosophy that will allow him to see that this is the wrong solution. All of what Paul Krugman calls Very Serious People (VSP) are repeating the debt mantra, not based on an economic model or data, and Barack is held in their sway.

This becomes even more evident when he starts looking for the grand bargain with all the wrong solutions, including cutting entitlements. His offering up of the chained CPI told you everything you need to know about his buy-in to the Republican framing of the problem. There is a movement now in both houses of the Congress (Democrats of course) to raise Social Secuity benefits recognizing the changed circumstances in our country in regard to pensions and personal savings for the 99%. It is called leadership and what President Obama lacks. A vision for our future. He was saved from his giant mistake (The Grand Bargain) by intransigent Republicans who refuse to do a deal with him even if it was a win for them. Then we get the Sequester which is austerity on steroids which everybody now sees as a huge mistake.

Okay, once again, you can argue that nobody thought the Republicans would actually stand for those severe cuts even to the Defense Department. I would argue that is another failure of leadership to not understand who the Republican Party has become and how much they hate anything that might help the country and make President Obama look effective.

Next up are drone strikes and the massive surveilance state we have constructed. Here we have a “Constitutional professor” authorizing drone strikes and the largest expansion of domestic surveilance in our history. So what happened? Well, once again, no there there. The military and the CIA were loving the success they were having with drones. The counter argument that collaterial damage was creating a greater threat than the removal of high level terrorists was not part of the VSP discussion. Nor was the respect for our constitutional protections and underlying philosophy when it comes to terrorism being examined. Some reporting indicates that the Obama Administration is again late to the party to even recognize the collaterial damage. So he went with the military because he has no real experience with them, just like his surge in Afghanistan that accomplished nothing, it was not thought through (Note, I can argue that our plan to stay in Afghanistan is just as mindless).

On the surveilance thing, first we would not know about it without Edward Snowden so let’s hunt him down like a dog and crush him under our boot of justice. Second, when thoughtful Americans who understand the need for heightened surveillance, asked for more visibility to the FISA court decisions, President Obama assured us there was oversight. By whom exactly if not by the people? Trust me? There is a whole level of no there there is this attitude. I could also attack his failure to go after the torturers and expose the whole sordid mess in the Bush Administration, but we are looking forward, not backward, so sometime in the future this will happen again as Republicans reinvent history.

Now this will be where someone will bring up the banishment of Don’t Ask, Don’t, and the repeal of the Defense of Marriage act, but that was not leadership. It was happening all arould him and he was late to even recognize same sex marriage. It was the courts and the states that were showing leadership and he just saw the flow (unlike Republicans) and went with it.

So we are where we are today and I wonder, what is the plan? The Senate, also very late to the party, has done away with the filibuster for judicial nominees and executive appointments so where are the meetings with Democrats and the White House to see what we can get done? Where is the combined campaign and strategic plan? President Obama does not seem to be a detail guy and the devil really is in the details. Like Obamacae website rollout, if it is important you have to be on top of it. He leaves the details to others and again it is a reflection of no there, there.

So I will just sum this up like this. I think President Obama faced incredible challenges as the first black president. He is smart, well meaning man who came to the White House without a clear agenda except to get both sides to work together and in those compromises would be good policy. Not only was the assumption that out of compromise we get good policy wrong, but the idea that this new Republican Party would work with him was terribly flawed and was late to recognize both. I think he now understands the nature of Republicans, but without a there there, he is very late to the party of staking out our new direction. That was his fatal flaw. I am not sure he knows what that direction is with the confidence to fight for it as his most important legacy. He is getting better, but I think the American people are getting it as they are starting to become more populist. Maybe he can tag along.

Some Project Manager Thoughts

I was reading this morning the article in the NYT about the tension and flaws before the October 1 date on the design and management of the Obamacare website, and it reads like a list of everything you should not do to either manage a contract or to make a project successful. For the uninitiated those two things, managing a contract and making a project a success are two entirely different things.

To make a long story short, here was the government banging its fist on the table demanding that the contractors meet their deadlines (contract management) and contractors demanding that the government was changing requirements and making critical requirement decisions late in the process making it impossible to succeed (project). Both absolutely true. It is a story of people who should not be managing anything complex, being in charge of a large, complex, and extermely important endeavor.

In my experience in government contracting, and for that matter also working on the contractor side, there are really very few good managers who know how to team to solve problems. And the adversarial nature of firm fixed price contracts makes that doubly impossible. I have to laugh when I watch TV shows that depict leadership as the chief yelling at his subordinates to do something as though they weren’t trying before and somehow his anger is going to help them focus and problem solve. Sadly that is more representative of real life than you can imagine. And it is just as counterproductive.

The answer of course is that government and contractor have to become partners in this kind of endeavor. Yet the terms and conditions of their contract vehicle and the lack of understanding and leadership from the government side made that impossible. It started in the formulation stage when the government failed to perceive the magnitude of the task or the challenge. So it selected the wrong type of contract vehicle to start with. Then when the requirements were changing (red states refusing to develop their own exchanges), the government failed to then work with the contractors to realize the terms and conditions of the contract were changing and how to develop realistic expectations.

Now everyone is hiding behind those terms and conditions and shooting at the other. Everyone is protecting their turf when the blame assignment starts to grow in this politically charged project. And the real failure was at the very top. Everything that happened was so predictable. One good project manager who could speak truth to power, and more critically, had access to power, and this could have been prevented. I don’t doubt that there were good PMs along the way, just no access to the guy at the top. At that is the guy at the top’s fault. Here is his most important policy achievement and he has no clue to pay attention and put someone in direct line with him to keep this thing on track. Just politicos who are fools. They are about image, not reality. Leadership, as he has shown us all along, is not his forte. Just inspiring speeches.

Had I been handed this thing, I probably would have walked away from it. It would be like being the project manager to the Titanic to manage the iceberg crash. Can you come up with a more smooth and less troublesome journey to the bottom of the ocean? The only way this thing might have worked is that the President went out and found a real project manager and then empowered him to succeed. Trouble is, the government acquisition system does not lend itself to the flexibility required, and I don’t think the President knows a real PM when he sees one.

Who Said It Best, The President and Ezra Klein

On the end of the filibuster for judicial nominees and political appointments (sans Supreme Court Justices):

President Obama: A deliberate and determined effort to obstruct everything, no matter what the merits, just to refight the result of an election is not normal. And for the sake of future generations we can’t let it become normal. The American people deserve better than politicians who run for election telling them how how terrible government is and then devoting their time in elected office to try to make government not work as often as possible.

Ezra Klein: Today the political system changed its rules to work more smoothly in an age of sharply polarized parties. If American politics is to avoid collapsing into complete dysfunction in the years to come, more changes like this one will likely be needed.

That about sums it up. The kids broke into the candy shop and were abusing their access, so it had to be taken away from them. Republicans should be terrified because there is a real chance government will work and they will never again hold office.