Archive for October, 2009

The Right Goal

October 21, 2009

I have commented to friends and family on my frustration with the general lack of creativity in the arts. I was watching the AMC series “Mad Men.” It is an exception. It really is as good as the critics say it is. It occurred to me that AMC most likely took a different approach to their first dramatic series than the networks do. I am guessing the decision-makers saw a need for quality drama and figured the best way to do that was to get talented writers, directors and actors and let them do their thing. The premise is that if you make a quality product that people want, the money will naturally follow.

In contrast, I see the opposite from network television… and the music industry… and the studio movie industry. Their goal isn’t to create a quality product and serve their customers. Their goal is to make as much money as they can. Working backward from that goal, you look at patterns of success in the past and you come up with formulaic television, predictable movie plots and manufactured music. In short, they forgot to do their job. Their job isn’t to make money. Their job is to facilitate the channel for creative expression. In their misguided goal, they have essentially killed the goose that laid the golden egg. The money goal can work for a while, but typically, in the process you eat your young and doom your future.

So, what does this have to do with politics?

I think many of our elected officials have forgotten what their job is. Their job is to look at current problems and work toward a pragmatic solution to them. Their job is to anticipate potential future threats, like global warming or loose nukes, and to put pragmatic policies in effect to both try to avoid undesirable outcomes and to put plans in place to ameliorate the effect should the threat manifest itself. It is a forward-thinking approach to problem solving. It starts with an assertion of a concern. You then do the research to understand the context of the situation and finally you work toward a plan to resolve the concern. It is in effect the scientific principle.

For some, the goal appears to be getting re-elected, getting campaign donations or making their political opponents look bad. For others, it is trying to co-opt the country through legislation, to adhere to their particular ideology. It’s not about problem solving. If you start with a misguided and selfish goal and work backward, your actions can look out of place – silly, really. That’s how we get national discourse on death panels and socialism. It’s why some jeer when our President, and by some extension, our country gets a notable recognition – deserved or not. It’s why some cheer when the President fails to get something good for our country, like the Olympics in Chicago. They aren’t interested in doing their job. They are interested in attaining their own self-centered goals or proliferating their own ideology.

Elected officials have a constituency – customers really – that deserve to get their tax money’s worth. While ideological and self-centered politics can work for a while, ultimately the elected and their party is held accountable for their efficacy. The party that fails to do their job of problem solving will ultimately fall out of favor, eat their young and doom their future.

I challenge you to judge those who are or could be our elected leaders of either party, using a measure of their tendency toward selfless problem solving over ideology and self-aggrandizement.


And the Answer Is…

October 10, 2009

I got criticized by one of my friends – justifiably so – for cherry-picking quotes in my weblog entry regarding the Nobel Prize awarded to President Obama. It was a result of frustration that Republicans are just incapable of supporting anything that Obama does, even when it is a positive for America. So how did my snarky prediction turn out?

But first, a response from President Obama, which showed up in my inbox:

To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize — men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace…I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations and all peoples to confront the common challenges of the 21st century.

… and now a response from the Chairmain of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele.

I’m sure you’ve heard the news — Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It’s a stunning, if not truly surprising, indication of just how meaningless a once honorable and respected award has become.

What has President Obama actually accomplished? It is unfortunate that the president’s star power has outshined tireless advocates who have made real achievements working towards peace and human rights.

I don’t know about you, but my parents taught me to be gracious back when I was in elementary school. That means being polite when you disagree with someone. It means congratulating someone on their accomplishments, even if you think it was undeserved.

Kanye West was resoundingly and justifiably criticized when he jumped on stage at the VH-1 music awards and stole the limelight from Taylor Swift, suggesting that Beyonce deserved the award more. It was immature and self-centered.  Michael Steele just did the same thing in his e-mail to me. He deserves the same criticism.

Democracies are most effective when people with ideas on policy engage in constructive debate. I don’t want an America in the vision of Nancy Pelosi any more than I want an America molded in the vision of Grover Norquist, but both have ideas that should be debated on their merit by adults.

I am still waiting for the Republicans to show up at the adult table.

The Peace Prize

October 9, 2009

Well, we all know what the top political story of the day will be today.

Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize.  In the citation, the Nobel Committee stated, “Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.” The committee went on to say, “Obama has as president created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play.

As one would expect, leaders of our allied countries were quick to congratulate the President.  Italian President Silvio Berlusconi commented that his cabinet had “applauded vigorously” on the announcement. “An award well-deserved” was the comment from Gloria Arroyo, president of the Philippines. [2] Past Nobel Prize winner, Desmond Tutu of South Africa, stated that the prize is a “wonderful recognition of Obama’s effort to reach out to the Arab world after years of hostility.

Of course, not all of the responses were praise. Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri stated “Obama only made promises and did not contribute any substance to world peace. And he has not done anything to ensure justice for the sake of Arab and Muslim causes.” [1]. The militant leader of Islamic Jihad, Khaled Al-Batsh condemned the award asserting that it “shows these prizes are political, not governed by the principles of credibility, values and morals.

I wonder who conservatives will sound more like today, our allies or Islamic Jihad?




Louisiana-Style Health Care

October 8, 2009

I was working out at the gym and noticed that Bobby Jindal was on Fox News, talking about his opinion article[1] in that bastion of liberal mainstream media, the Wall Street Journal. In his article, he repeats a lot of the misconceptions that are coming out of the right wing and summarizes seven points for which he feels there can be bipartisan support. As a side note, those seven points somehow became the 10-point plan on Fox News [2]. Do those guys even have fact-checkers?

These ideas sound good on the surface, but they leave some unanswered questions.  His points are:

  • Consumer choice guided by transparency. That’s a great concept. The idea is for medical professionals to adopt best-practices – which is in the Democrat’s plan – and to publish pricing and outcome on the Internet. There are a couple of issues. First (and I make this mistake, too), not all people have access to the Internet. More important is the missing element of governance. Would we expect the medical professionals to accurately report on their failures?
  • Aligned customer interests. People should have health savings plans, lower premiums, etc. Well, HSAs – Health Savings Accounts – already exist. We agree on lower premiums, but he fails to mention how that is to be accomplished.
  • Medical lawsuit reform. I agree with this in concept, too. The challenge here is to come up with a mechanism that ensures people maintain their lawful right to seek remuneration for the malfeasance of others while also ensuring that juries do not rule pity awards for issues that are simply bad fortune. Of course, Jindal doesn’t address how to accomplish those goals. That is a difficult problem of governance.
  • Insurance reform. There should be rules for policy portability. I guess there are regulations about insuring across state lines. I would like to know the history of that ruling before I make a final judgment, but my initial reaction is to agree. Jindal states there should be “more coverage” for pre-existing conditions, but apparently doesn’t think it should be eliminated. Eliminating pre-existing conditions is, in my opinion, the number one issue for health insurance reform.
  • Pooling insurance purchases for small business. I completely agree with this. It doesn’t solve the big problems with health insurance, of course.
  • Pay for performance and not care. The ideal that Jindal floats here is that somehow coordinating care of chronic illness and emphasizing prevention is going to take care of something. He doesn’t elaborate on how this reduces cost, or how to construct a policy that governs and monetizes “pay for performance.”
  • Refundable tax credits. This is probably the most ignorant idea of them all. The Republicans have become a one-trick-pony for policy decisions – reducing taxes. The problem is that they apparently haven’t made the connection between taxes, government revenue, budgets and deficits. Since taxes are the revenue stream for government activity, if we reduce taxes, we have to reduce expenses or deficit-spend.

Like the health care “plan” floated by Michael Steele in his fundraising e-mail a few weeks ago, there is nothing of substance in Jindal’s ideas. There is no analysis of the costs, both to the government and the savings supposedly made available to consumers. There is no approach to solve the problems of lower-income Americans. Tax credits and Health Savings Plans aren’t effective for low-income Americans. That’s why they are already uninsured.

It is much easier to criticize than to solve problems. The modern G.O.P has indicated repeatedly that it doesn’t think the government can solve problems, but for some reason, they still want to govern.

Bobby Jindal uses an example that is close to home for him. From Jindal’s article, “For all of us who have seen the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to hurricanes, this contention [that government involvement won’t diminish quality] is laughable on its face.”  He seems to have forgotten recent history. FEMA responses to natural disasters under the Clinton Administration and past Republican administrations were very effective. The failure under the Bush Administration was due, in part, to the belief by the Republicans that governance isn’t part of the role of government. If we elect people who don’t want to govern, government will most certainly fail.

I will state it again. The Republicans are not interesting in solving difficult problems. They simply aren’t serious about effective policy or governance.