Friday, October 19, 2012

THE ABOMINABLE CENTER In the waning days of the American Presidential campaign, former Governor George Romney has moved toward the center by adjusting his fluid positions. The recent Conservative Party gathering in the UK had Prime Minister Cameron doing a soft-shoe dance trying to straddle the center of his party’s increasingly fractious factions. He might have had the sympathy of former Governor Romney who had sailed far right during the increasingly fractious primary campaign In both cases the Party leaders were following conventional wisdom. The middle is where the deciding vote is in all but a runaway election. The Abominable Center. Abominable because in the USA the country is saddled with a breakdown in the core concept of compromise in the political system. Democrats should neither complain nor cheer; it could just as easily by their party that plays the blocking game. Both sides with great help from a sophisticated use of legislative rules have perfected the art of gridlock. In the UK PM Cameron’s problem is not only with a gradual descent in popularity, the resulting sharks who always circle the center of power see a vulnerable PM and move in to push and pull the PM in their direction. Short of that they will eat him. The center once worked. The center worked when there was a soto voce understanding that you give it your all defending or attacking policy and legislation. When positions have been established and two or more sides recognize the arguments have gone as far as they can go, there was – more often than not – compromise. The negotiating rhythm was understood and accepted. Signals of willingness to compromise were not difficult to give. “Run it up the flagpole” was a common expression that is heard less frequently now. More often than not the song in the House of Representatives is “never”. Forget the issue, forget the merits, and forget the comity. “Never” There is only victory and defeat. In wartime that is a concept that last worked in WW II, and later in Nicaragua and Grenada. One great victory and two nonsensical wars. Increasingly military commanders go to great lengths to avoid what might be their natural inclination: fight. Fighting gets you nowhere is the lesson of the last 50 years. And fighting between the political parties is even less productive thanks to hardened positions. That leaves the center unattainable, because to get there you need compromise. Thus the Abominable Center. The result is that for Mr. Romney, whatever his real position, no one believes him anymore in any of his positions. The President has fudged so often, twisted this way and that in an effort to straddle the middle, he has little credibility and has left behind the promise that got him to the White House. And still the candidates race to the middle in the closing days of the campaign. Conundrum. Is there any other choice? Political suicide by standing on principle and speaking truth is not inviting when you throw away a billion dollars of OPM (other people’s money) who count on you to win. Yet there may be truths that are worth the risk. Had President Obama countered Governor Romney’s attack on the mishandling of the Libyan terrorist attack by saying: “We handled that poorly Governor. There were mistakes made. I take responsibility, but I assure you I was more upset than you are and I will stay that way until I can report to the American people exactly what went wrong and why and how we intend to keep it from happening again. But I can also assure you that one thing I have learned in my first four years, in a government with xxx departments and xxxxxxx workers; there are no perfect days. I don’t ever have a perfect day, perhaps you day, but I like President Truman’s approach: When I make a mistake, I recognize it and make decision to correct the mistake and keep it from happening again.” You smile. You dismiss the naïveté. You may value the idealism but you laugh at the thought of ever hearing this from any office holder. Senior executives have learned this lesson. The best of them handle their pechees in exactly this manner. They standup before we the howling mob of journalists, and admit error, take responsibility and say what they intend to do about it…including resignation when the error warrants it. The time wasted on Libya is not an honor to the four who lost their lives. The discussion continues to be a petty political game without a principle at its core, other than “if you lose, I win”. There are issues that may worth a win0lose approach, if there is a hope for compromise at the other end. Gun control, equality in all respects, racism (that no one mentions but remains alive and sick), gender issues, health, education. It is hardly a short list. But in that now-crowded middle there is a muddle, a meaningless muddle because neither candidate stands above the fray. No one believes the candidates because they do not have the courage of their claimed humanity, their flawed perfection. How many examples of personal courage are needed before politicians generally (there are sporadic examples) dismiss their attackers by saying: “You are right, I/we blew that one. Not my finest hour, but here is what I learned and why it won’t happen again.” None of this would poll well. Would focus groups buy it? We may never know because the “professionals” who shape and guide these campaigns have even less courage than the candidates. Go ahead, run the negative ads if you remain convinced they work so well, and likely they do with your vaunted base that delights in eviscerating the other side. But when you debate show your humanity, it will so shock the opposition that you might win a close one.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

My friend and former colleagues from our CBS News days Robbie Vorhaus sold his successful PR company and now enjoys the challenge of commentary that often appears on the Huffington Report. Robbie recently sent me the following contribution (with a link to the full text). He was clearly moved by the rhetoric at both nominating conventions. So was I. Here's Robbie's contribution and my response. cheers peter Good Morning, Peter, After watching both political conventions, I thought it would take real guts, and garner real votes, to give this speech: Click here: Here are is an excerpt of what I wrote in the HuffingtonPost: Dear President Obama and/or Governor Romney: I will vote for you, and work tirelessly in support of your campaign, if you were to say this: Dear friend and fellow co-occupant of our glorious planet, and citizen of the great United States of America, My opponent is a good man with honorable intentions. I respect him, and I encourage you to do the same. He, like us, loves his family, is devoted to a higher power, cherishes his liberties, and is a powerful advocate for democracy and the values we as Americans hold dear. Although our ultimate goal is very similar, our ideas, plans, strategy, and tactics to deliver those results differ. Allow me this opportunity to now discuss with you my specific, straightforward, constructive, and attainable action plan, which I, along with my team, believe will achieve measurable results in the areas of the economy, health care, our national debt, education, taxes, government reform, energy and the environment, social security, homeland security and defense, the current state of politics, immigration, woman's issues, crime and justice, campaign finance, endowments to the arts, and other important issues influencing our national, international, and global success and sustainability. Then, on the morning of November 7, 2012, the day after the election, regardless who wins this race for the most humbling job in the world, the president of the United States, we will work together to heal our divisions, inspire all Americans to join together, and despite any differences, as our founding fathers wrote, "form a more perfect union." Would you like hearing a speech like this, too? As always, I love hearing your thoughts, or if you want others to see, leave your comments under the post. Hope to see you soon and all the best, Robbie On Sat, Sep 8, 2012 at 8:48 AM, peter m herford wrote: 1. You have to stop smoking those funny cigarettes! 2. Your suggested speech reminds me of a great routine the comedian/ad guy of 30-40 years ago did around the recording of a new soap commercial. "Bloopers soap is real good." That was it. A radio ad. The announcer reads it and it sounds fine. Click from the control room. "Ah the client would like you to hit the product a little bit harder." "OK, take two." "BLOOPERS soap is real good." Click from the control room. "Ah, the client thinks it might help if you added "soap" to the juice you put behind BLOOPERS." "Sure, here goes: 'BLOOPERS SOAP is real good." You get the point, the final take has the announcer screaming into the mike. The client loved it. Now the serious part. I don't like your suggested speech because it does just what the US doesn't need: you obscure the differences under a veil of politesse. Bill Clinton had a good line when he said: I don't have to hate the opposition to disagree with them." The worst of the right wing hates anyone who disagrees with them. As the shrink would say: Get that out on the table and deal with it. The USA has a lot of anger inside. Yes, much of it can be attributed to tense economic times (made more tense by vicious rhetoric). But politesse only makes it worse. From Passive-Aggressive to taking to the guns, the solution is not found by papering over the anger. Nail the SOB who opposes you with facts. Not fudged facts, but facts that will stand up to scrutiny. Not "if my opponent gets his/her way then the consequences will be.." But a graph like this: "40% of the USA is undereducated and illiterate. 20% of Americans are absolutely illiterate, can't read or write; the highest rate in the developed world by far. 20% of Americans are functionally illiterate. Can't read a simple how-to manual (and who writes those monstrosities anyway?). Guess what folks. That evil Communist Fidel Castro took an island of illiterates and has achieved 99% literacy. It will take (research the figure) to give the USA what it has lost, the best free secondary ed system in the world. And I emphasize free. I don't want any child missing the first step on the ladder to success because his parents cannot afford it." I have sections on public transportation, infrastructure, to say nothing of health care, and the defense budget that go the same way. Not "my system is better than your system" (Read length of penis.) But the bold facts, day after day, each day a new reality and what I will do about it, and how much it will cost and what you the voter will sacrifice. Its called social responsibility. various gods teach it, yet instead we fight religious wars. OK, I think benevolent authoritarianism is worth a try. One of two outcomes. Election by acclamation, defeat by acclamation. In the latter case there is a solution: its called Canada, which ain't perfect but a damned site better in public policy Climate tends to suck though. Cheers peter

Friday, August 31, 2012

Representative Paul Ryan's speech to the Republican Nominating Convention has many commentators up in arms over playing fast and loose with facts. Amazing. A politician playing fast and loose with facts, and at a moment of highest drama in his political life. Many columns and commentaries point out that it is SOP. Others suggest a turning point in journalism and politics because there are now the tools to instantly correct factual errors or twists. The inflated rhetoric of the political season plus the cacophony of so many voices competing for attention has caused a general inflation of reactions. Politicians routinely lie. They always have and it is tempting to say they always will, but "always" like "never" are words best avoided even in science where the weight of evidence is much more convincing than in politics. My reading of Mr. Ryan was more taken with what I sensed was nervousness and an odd level of verbal discomfort for a man accustomed to campaigns and campaigning. The old-fashioned word is stage fright. He had a bit of stage fright but soldiered on and did his duty. He had me when he juxtaposed President Obama's promise to save the auto industry and its jobs during his first campaign with what Ryan said was what appeared to be the post-election, post-bailout closing of his hometown GM plant. And I should know better. My antenna should have been up and with the internet at my command I could easily have checked this fact. Damned fool, believing a politician - and its not a party-exclusive trait to bend or mutilate facts, or just lie. But then I contented myself with the knowledge that Vice Presidential candidate Ryan was not speaking to me. He was energizing his base and bases are often united in their willingness to believe everything good about their leaders and everything bad about their political foes. The ruckus caused among journalists about "our role" in correcting errors, the range and frequency of comments from citizen commentators is still underway, but it will not last. We will be distracted by Presidential Candidate Romney's "all important" speech, that will be forgotten (unless he makes a mighty gaffe and is bludgeoned with it for the rest of the campaign) when the Democrats have their day next week. In turn both conventions will recede rapidly from attention and memory. The political guns of October will fill the air with salvos of claims and accusations that will reduce Candidate Ryan's fact game to child's play. Every election cycle is proclaimed to be the dirtiest, the most vicious, the lowest, and the cry of will-it-never-end will be heard around the land. Journalists are the ones who will writing this and saying this, again and again. If we don't know better we should. 20th and 21st century campaigns cannot begin to match the viciousness of the earlier days of the Republic. But then we would have to know history to understand the differences. The partisan nature of some cable channels and certain newspapers is decried as if the craft of news had hit new lows. Not by a long shot. When newspapers circulated by the thousands instead of hundreds of thousands and there was no broadcasting; when politicians went from town to town to deliver themselves of political hyperbole, the lies abounded, but they rarely made it from one town to the next. There were no multipliers to turn a misspeak or an outright lie into a national, if not international, kerfuffle. The fact is, thus far, this campaign has been notable for only one reason that characterizes every Presidential campaign in the last two decades: increasingly expensive. There's the rot in the system.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Time I got back to this blog. A colleague recently sent me a piece from the NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, a review of a new book by Michael Spence: THE FUTURE OF ECONOMIC GROWTH. I have only read the excerpts dealing with China in the NY REVIEW piece. But that set me off on a favorite subject that I offer here: I'm not running out to buy this. Spence is fairly typical of the perspective seen through what he knows: the Euro/US filter. He treats China and India as if there were analogies he assumes to western development and development patterns. He asks whether "this time will things be different"? Things have been different from the beginning of China's entry back into the world. One danger traveling academics and others face and almost invariably leads them astray is the view of "modern China" that looks so much like home. So they never stop to think that Beijing and Shanghai are not China. That because the US is a big powerful country they know something about big powerful countries. "Gee its so modern". Yes, but the rice farmer down the road is still plowing with a water buffalo while the high speed train passes nearby, while the farmer pauses to call his wife on his smartphone to tell her "honey, I'll be late for dinner." Right, its all very familiar. Just like home. T'ain't so McGhee. Spence is not so much wrong, he isn't. Much of what he says is correct in an isolated and theoretical way. I will spare you a somnambulant inducing diatribe with a short version. China is doing something no other country on earth has ever done. Every economist will tell you that there is no theory that includes the ability for a country of any size to grow at between 8-10% a year for 30+ years. Remember cycles from econ 101? Not here baby. Does that mean the Chinese are on to a secret new form of economics? Balderdash. They invent as they go. The principle of Party control remains in force. That is as close to a philosophy as they have. Marxism/Leninism be damned. The task is simple. Make sure there are 22 million new jobs every year; that is what China needs to satisfy the turnover, them what gets turned over into the earth and them what retires. That requires 8% growth. Simple formula. The best way to insure the growth is keep as much of the big economy in the hands of the Party; banking, steel, coal, power transportation. Its a command economy behind a scrim that looks a lot like capitalism. Thus far it has worked. Will it keep working? Beats me, and I am convinced it beats them to. They, the top leadership, wakes up every morning thanking someone that they made it through the previous day. Now make a world econ theory out of that with the Spencelike approach to mixing analysis of what has passed (and that can be debated long and hard) to the near-useless attempt to predict future paths. Might as well throw darts at a target you can't see. It depresses me the extent to which the speculators all include the military option fairly high in their agendas. Damned alpha males waving their dicks at each other. Where is it writ we gotta to war or they have to go to war with us? Oh yes, its always happened therefore its gotta happen again? Now there is a deep thinking. Has someone conveniently forgotten where we have come to. Nuke's baby, hydrogen nukes. Like the end of the world if you use that stuff. Get real. The challenge is not to end the world. Ending it is easy. just follow your dick. Further questions?