Tuesday, March 27, 2007

You Got to Know This!

There's a blog called Hullabaloo by Digby, who is apparently a pretty good digger or who has friends who are. I found this, by Digby, via Alternate Brain. (Are there laws about how blog authors need to be attributed? This question is for you, Dave.) At any rate, the information is as scary as just about anything in the Bush administration, excepting DICK and RUMMY, of course. So here goes:

"Last night I noted that Monica Goodling, Alberto Gonzales' senior counsel and white house liason graduated from Pat Robertson's Regent Unicersity law school. Apparently, she did her undergraduate work at someplace known as Messiah University, so it's pretty clear that this 33 year old is a dyed in the wool social conservative who was likely hired for that reason. Apparently, the Bush Emerald City hiring practices were more systemic than we thought: there are more than 150 graduates of Regent University serving in the Bush Administration."

The Attorney General of the United States has a senior counsel who is 33 years old and graduated from Regent University in 1999? Senior counsel and liason to the White House? Messiah College (not University) and Regent University? Certainly Alberto Gonzales found her to be the brightest and most seasoned professional available for this critical job, otherwise he wouldn't have hired her.

Monica got the experience that qualified her for the Gonzales job by serving the Department of Justice as Director of Public Affairs following her hiring by John Ashcroft. That's why it's so surprising that Ms. Goodling will take the Fifth Amendment when she faces the judiciary committee and is asked about details of the process that ultimately fired eight U.S. attorneys. A person with her impeccable pedigree and solid legal background should be capable of eating congressmen and senators for breakfast, don't you think?

Kinda makes you wonder how many other Kirk Sampson's and Monica Goodling's are getting potty training in this administration. Thanks, Digby!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Mutual Weakness in Washington

The United States, the most powerful country in the world, must appear hapless to those looking in from the outside. Our democracy, our pride and joy, lies hogtied by sectarian conflict, much like the fractured Iraqi society. Our sects, Republicans and Democrats, are locked in a combat of words rather than bullets, but the outcome is similar: the war of words is preventing any movement toward national reconciliation and progress.

It's at times like this that the British system of parliamentary democracy looks decidedly superior. Our president has the approval of roughly one-third of the citizenry, yet he retains the immense power of his office. The supposed oversight function of congress is emasculated by the rules of our constitution. We citizens stand on the sidelines, powerless to change the status quo.

In my view, the current situation is dangerous for our country. The executive branch, weighed down by a history of misjudgments, lies, and imperial hubris, has little credibility and less political capital. Its reaction time is slowed by the need to convince the people that it has actionable facts and a plan not overly influenced by politics. The legislative branch is so fractured and focused on 2008 that it has no interest in the now.

Why is the current situation dangerous? Because those who are interested in overtaking the economic and political power of the U.S. are not constrained as we currently are. Every year that we fail to deal with our own internal issues makes them relatively stronger. For example, the baby steps being taken in the name of "national energy policy" are music to the ears of our offshore petroleum suppliers. Our competitors love it when our own system creates weakness in our country and reduces our influence on world affairs. Unfortunately, that's what we have today - mutual weakness in Washington.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Go Away, Hillary and John!

I'm sick and tired of royal political families, I'm sick and tired of the far right and far left's incessant feces-throwing, and I'm sick and tired of our government's having no plans to deal with the unavoidable crises that face our nation. It's time for some major adjustments to our political choices, driven by the now-not-so-silent majority in the middle.

Everyone knows we've had enough of the Bush's. Some of us voted (once) for the incumbent idiot, remembering that his father ran a pretty good administration. We've learned our lesson, I hope. There are too many entanglements in that family - business interests, foreign connections, Texas politics, Sunday-school religion. Jeb could be the next incarnation of God and not be elected president.

But we've probably had enough of the Clinton's as well. Bill did a reasonable job, considering his minority in congress and his sexual adventures. But Hillary has too much baggage, too much connection to that divisive period, to be effective. She should give it up, perhaps simply because her husband was president. We don't need any more royal families.

And McCain, he's too old and too vacillating. Right now it seems like the "Straight Talk Express" has morphed into a cow-towing parade as old John pays homage to such carrion as Jerry Falwell. Old John is figuring he's got one last chance and has to pull out all the stops to get the nomination. And we don't have nearly enough soldiers to staff the overwhelming force he envisions for Iraq... Americans will not pay any attention to him.

So, what should the now-not-so-silent majority do? Walk away. Tell these worn out politicians that their time has passed. Turn off the strident, no-compromise voices of the radicals on both sides. Wait for a new set of candidates, Democrats and Republicans, to surface during the next 18 months. Open our ears to arguments about the facts of our society today, alternatives for the direction of our country, statements about what we want to stand for, and hopes for the world we want for our grandchildren. There have got to be a few good men and women who can stand up and make themselves be heard because, simply, people feel they are smart enough and honest enough lead us out of the ugly political morass we read and hear about every day.

The alternative is to let the current candidates' money and old alliances keep us down in the stagnant streams of business as usual. We've been fooled too many times, been promised substance and gotten hidden agendas, been taken to war for no reason. Time to put all the old politicians out to pasture!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Could Ben Bova Be Right?

The Good Witch and I have been sitting quietly, reading. I steal a glance at the basketball game from time to time - will Villanova or Kentucky prevail? Then I arrive at this paragraph in Ben Bova's book "Titan" which I have modified only slightly.

The wise character says: "The real reason we have elections is to allow the people to vent some political steam. Elections are a safety valve, you see. They give people the illusion that they have some degree of control over their government. Without elections, who knows what kind of protests and outright rebellions we might get - even from these lazy, non-involved citizens. They're slackers and nonconformists, no doubt, but if they feel government is not sensitive to their needs, they will hunt for a way to change the government. Elections are better than revolts."

Watching our government in action - Republicans and Democrats alike - makes me wonder whether what goes on inside the beltway is simply a charade, political shadow-boxing, much ado about nothing purporting to be government. What exactly have our representatives accomplished in the two months since the new congress convened? What are their plans for this year? Kinda makes me wonder why they're there in the first place. Could Ben Bova be right?

What did that guy say about "hunting for a way to change the government"? Slackers and nonconformists, unite!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

I'm Wrong Again!

Take my advice. If I make a prediction, bet against it. You'll make some cash.

In the euphoria following the democrat's victory in the November elections, I held out great hope that both the democrats and the republicans needed to do important things for the country in preparation for the 2008 elections. Wrong.

Instead of doing important things, the democrats are gleefully pursuing political hearings and constructing meaningless resolutions concerning the war in Iraq.

Do you really think we need hearings to determine that the firing of selected federal procecutors was political? Do we need more proof that Bush's staff can't tell the truth? Not.

Do you really think that the republican minority in the senate will let the democrats manage the war? Why can't the democrats just make a statement of their views and go on?

The president wants comprehensive immigration reform, and most democrats agree with him. What's preventing them from putting a negotiated bill on the floor of both houses?

I haven't heard a democrat talk about Social Security or Medicare since November 5th, 2006. I must have missed the news that those entitlements are now funded for the forseeable future.

Yes, I admit it. I'm an incurable optimist. I know that great things can be done by people who are committed to making things better. The sad truth is that both parties have that objective pretty far down their agendas - the old horses just keep circling the same old track.

I've officially given up on this bunch, and I'm thinking about 2008. The big question now is "Will Obama need to become a whore to get elected?" He's the only face with any class, at least for now.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

How To Stay Out of Trouble

This week it's Alberto Gonzales and his juvenile assistant Kyle Sampson, and Peter Pace. Gonzales & Co. caught in another web of lies to congress, Pace adding "Chief Morality Arbitor" to his role as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The hapless Sampson is history, Gonzales and Pace are under fire. The events of this week almost prompted me to write a sequel to my "You Are Who You Hire" post of last week, but that would be just more of the same sad story - Bush just can't resist hiring sub-standard people who will get him in trouble.

And speaking of trouble, it's a good thing to stay out of. An important question for politicians, managers, and individuals is, "How do I stay out of trouble?" If we have a good answer to this question, our lives and our jobs will certainly be more pleasant.

But before we can answer this question we need to understand what "trouble" is. Trouble is what happens when a non-trivial error of commission or omission becomes public. Criticism ensues. Explanations are demanded. Careers or relationships are at risk. Being in trouble is not fun. Before it's over, an episode of "trouble" usually results in the truth of the situation becoming known, for better or worse.

My experience has taught me that it's always best to react quickly and honestly to any sign of trouble. Get the exact facts of what happened. Understand why the act of commission or omission occurred. Communicate the truth, promptly and non-emotionally to all who have some power in the situation. Maybe this will involve "eating some crow". Maybe the facts will make the trouble go away. But timeliness and honesty always score points and, at the least, prevent the initial "trouble" from spawning another "trouble" concerning the disclosure process.

But those who have ever been in real "trouble" know it's best not to be there in the first place. So, here's the test that works best to keep one from getting in trouble in the first place. Ask "Would I feel comfortable having this conduct, or this research, or this decision, truthfully explained on the front page of the New York Times?" If you're not sure about the answer, don't do whatever it is. Restrain the action, do more research, re-consider the decision. Time almost always clarifies a potentially troublesome situation and permits the appropriate solution to rise out of the uncertainty.

Having said this, I can hear the cries of my readers: "Yeah, sure, always wait until you have perfect information and clarity, and you won't ever make a bad choice! Sorry, pal, but that just isn't the way the world works." And you are right. We all have to make choices based on incomplete information.

The way around this problem is to qualify choices at the time we make them. Admit potential information gaps and explain them at the time the choice is made. Let those who are affected by your choice understand your decision-making process prior to, or at least concurrent with, the action being taken. Get the concerns out at the earliest possible time, so that agreement or acquiescence or opposition will surface and clarify whatever the next steps should be. As someone once said, "Information is power". I say, "Providing information to others gives one power". Our penchant for providing incomplete information to others often results in our own failure to use pertinent information to determine our own actions. In other words, when we try to kid others we often kid ourselves as well. "Open kimona" is the best policy.

That's it. The secret to staying out of trouble is to assume that everything concerning an action will eventually come out. Once we understand that, we consider our decisions for as long as we can, we provide information that qualifies our choices, and we deal with fallout honestly and promptly with as little emotion as possible. Mr. Gonzales, does this make sense to you in light of this week's events? There's never a better time than the present to turn over a new leaf.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Update on "The Great Courses"

The Good Witch and I have now viewed 13 30-minute lectures on "The History of Western Civilization", offered by The Learning Company and taught by Professor Thomas F.X. Noble, a department chair at Notre Dame University.

We started at about 10,000 B.C. in Mesopotamia - the Neolithic Period, and we've very rapidly time-traveled to the Greek Classical Period of approximately 400 B.C. Along the way we've learned about the great cultures of Sumer, the Israelites, the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Cretans, and the ancient Greeks. Most recently we've been exposed to the Persian Wars, Homer, the birth of history, Greek architecture, art, and drama, and Socrates/Plato.

Professor Noble talks fast and covers a lot of ground. It's hard to lose interest in what he's saying, because everything he discusses is important. He sticks to the main theme, which is "let's discuss the who, what, and where of the fundamental characteristics of Western civilization. Fascinating. He knows a whole lot about a whole lot, and you quickly realize that you are merely getting a taste. But it's a taste of the right stuff, and sometimes you rush to your laptop immediately after he finishes, anxious to Google something that was particularly interesting.

I Googled Socrates tonight, and I learned he was a war hero whose sense of honor precluded him from fleeing Athens after his conviction for dissing the Gods and being anti-democratic. He didn't like democracy, but he accepted the hemlock rather than be perceived as a coward in his home town. His belief in an afterlife probably gave him courage. His idea of always questioning our perceptions, and his focus on living a moral life enlightened by knowledge of "what is good", have become embedded in our culture. I probably knew all that a long time ago, but now I know it again.

It would be hard for me to travel to South Bend and wangle myself into Professor Noble's classroom. It's a pleasure to have him spend a half hour with us each night after dinner.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

You Are Who You Hire

"Scooter" Libby's conviction today reminded me of an old lesson I learned in the business world. If you want to understand the true motivations of another manager, look at the people this person has hired or retained on their staff - especially the key people.

Do you see a cadre of intimidated "yes-people"? Do you see a bunch of bullies, or workaholics? Do you see people who have little respect for truth or the "rules of the game"? Or, do you see people who work with others to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes? Do you see people who give you time or expertise when there is little or no benefit to their organization but obvious value to the corporation? Do you see people who reward their subordinates for showing creativity? Whatever you see, it will be the characteristics that are valued by the leader, because the leader will give higher value to people like him or her.

"Loyalty" is the one word we hear more than any other when Bush's own team talks about their culture. If you stay with the party line, you are in. If not, you are out. Intellectual independence and initiative make you persona non grata, but loyalty might get you hired to run FEMA or be appointed as the new attorney general. It's right out there in the open.

So, what price loyalty? Colin Powell walked one kind of plank to stay on the team - he buried his doubts on weapons and his convictions about needing overwhelming force to win. "Scooter" walked another - he buried his integrity. Bush's succession of press secretaries, while very different personalities, have all been unabashed "stonewallers"; no matter how obvious the problems, they've denied them with straight faces. Rumsfeld will go down in history for his comment about "just a bunch of dead-enders" when truth in the form of dead Americans began to appear. Do the current White House staff members still think loyalty will work out for them?

But, back to the main point. The buck does stop at the top. Bush doesn't leash Cheney because Bush likes Cheney's snarling, sarcastic style just like Bush appreciated Rumsfeld's smiling, sarcastic style. Bush gives people nicknames to reduce them and ensure they understand their subservient status, not to honor them. Just go down the list of cabinet members...who among them will be remembered for anything other than obedience to a failed president? Can anyone name Bush's chief of staff? Cogs in a wheel, going nowhere because the leader is going nowhere.

Bush will be remembered for the characteristics of those he hired - men of bluff and bluster, just like him, the grinning chimpmeister of "Bring 'em on" fame. And when the next president is inaugurated, we only need to look at those surrounding him or her to get a really good idea about what we should should expect in the next four years. You are who you hire.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Recommending "Maisie Dobbs"

I always have a book in progress, and it could be anything - history, biography, science, science fiction, adventure novel (rarely), religion, philosophy, you name it. I will tackle a tough one occasionally, like "A Short History of Time" (actually read it all!), but generally I just like a book that is well written and teaches me something about anything. That's why I'm recommending Jacqueline Winspear's series of books about the character "Maisie Dobbs".

Without giving away anything important, I can tell you that Maisie is a commoner girl whose talent, pluck, and good luck allow her to join the small middle class in post-WWI London as a professional "investigator and psychologist". She solves some interesting mysteries, but they are not what have kept my interest. What has kept my interest is the faithful representation of English culture during this period, especially with respect to the impact of WWI on post-war England. If you have a prejudice against war, Winspear will deepen it and give you a far more "gut-level" understanding of why war is a last resort. If you like war, Winspear will make you think again.

In the fourth novel of the series, Maisie and a veteran are conversing about the war and the recruiting effort that provided the fighters. The veteran says, "Old men always tell the young to do their bit, and half the time it isn't anything they want to do themselves." Needless to say, the image of Bush and his neocon team of draft evaders came to mind immediately.

But politics don't often come up in these books, so don't worry about being preached to. Maisie is a wonderful character, and I hope you get to meet her. The books are relatively quick reads, so grab the first one - entitled "Maisie Dobbs" - and give her a try. A very bright member of Rochester's only commune, the Rochester Folk Art Guild, recommended it to me. I'm grateful.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Ramblings About Jobs and Education

Ad hominem comments are very telling about those who make them. Generally, one should avoid people who attack messengers, no matter how nuts they think the messengers are. There are better ways to deal with differences of opinion.

I have two engineer friends, one in middle age one at retirement age. Both were laid off in the past couple years after long careers at a very large company. Both got good jobs in the engineering field very quickly. They both have wonderful personalities and are easy to work with, which is why I think they got jobs so quickly.

My early-30's daughter in law was phi beta kappa in psychology, but she got her first job as a contractor trainer in Microsoft end user programs. One of her customer companies hired her into their training systems area. Soon she was a manager, then a manager of a larger group. This week she leaves that company, after eight years, for a far better job at a company whose software she successfully implemented. Now she'll manage projects all over the U.S. from her home. Not bad for someone with no formal IS training.

For every person who's having trouble finding a job, I can find someone who's doing well. The question is, what are the characteristics of the successful people versus the unsuccessful ones?

I'm very familiar with EDS. A large group of EDS people once supported my organization, and I believe I had about 16 systems projects going at the time I retired. EDS has always been a pretty hard-headed company, highly structured and not paternalistic. But it operates in a world of rapidly changing technology and requirements, which requires it to adjust constantly. People who work for EDS had better stay current on technology and be capable of working successfully in small groups, or they are history. EDS employees need to understand that from the get-go.

When I was a manager I often took on bright people who were failing in other organizations. In most cases they became sought-after people within a couple years, and they accepted promotions out of my area. These employees became very attractive when they learned how to interact successfully with their customers. Just being smart didn't cut it. Lots of people still don't understand this simple fact of work life.

Yes, I'm embarassed that George Bush has an MBA. He obviously got by on his legacy status, and his job performance has been consistently crappy. But it's a mistake to judge the bushel on the one bad apple. Some people of every educational background are out of touch with reality.

I'm an optimist. I'm excited by all the challenges that we face, from global warming to religious conflict to foreign competition. It will take a lot of effective people, working hard, to tackle these issues and make the world a better place. I love it when I see somebody or some group come up with a better idea and make it happen. And I really enjoy being part of something really new and cool, like yesterday when we proposed an idea to Habitat for Humanity that they think is going to solve a big problem and make them much more capable of accomplishing their mission.

I was one of those people who took physics and "got through it". I appreciate it but I'm not good at it. Another one of my classmates got a PhD in nuclear physics in five years afer high school. We're all different. But I'm glad I was exposed to physics. It was not wasted time, nor was the time my genius friend spent taking English composition. Educated people know something about almost everything (even physics and economics), and that (along with shared ethical values) allows people with varied talents to work together and do great things.

So, I need to get busy working for one of the three non-profits where I volunteer. Later this afternoon I'll read to some kids in the inner city - it's National Reading Day! I hope they enjoy "Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile", which is about a very nice crocodile who overcomes others' prejudices about him and is ultimately embraced by those who persecuted him.