Monday, March 29, 2010

What are Republicans thinking?

Here's New York Time Op Ed from a couple of days ago that everyone from any side of the political aisle should read.

But the laughs evaporated soon enough. There’s nothing entertaining about watching goons hurl venomous slurs at congressmen like the civil rights hero John Lewis and the openly gay Barney Frank. And as the week dragged on, and reports of death threats and vandalism stretched from Arizona to Kansas to upstate New York, the F.B.I. and the local police had to get into the act to protect members of Congress and their families.

How curious that a mob fond of likening President Obama to Hitler knows so little about history that it doesn’t recognize its own small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht. The weapon of choice for vigilante violence at Congressional offices has been a brick hurled through a window. So far.

It seems to me that America is sinking farther and farther into a political divid from which it will be harder and harder to pull out. And I don't have any good answers. I just know that if we've come to this cross roads over the matter of healthcare, I fear for the country mydaughters are growing up in.

Are these politicians so frightened of offending anyone in the Tea Party-Glenn Beck base that they would rather fall silent than call out its extremist elements and their enablers? Seemingly so, and if G.O.P. leaders of all stripes, from Romney to Mitch McConnell to Olympia Snowe to Lindsey Graham, are afraid of these forces, that’s the strongest possible indicator that the rest of us have reason to fear them too.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Leadership in Washington - Sometimes, you can actually find it!

Author's note - this is a slightly expanded version of a 6 minute talk I gave today in the opening sesion of my year-long leadership class. The assignment was a presentation on qualities of leadership I admire in a "famous leader." Being somewhat rebellious (!) I strayed away from the famous part.

When the history of the Great Recession of 2008-? is written, there will be many individual names that are associated with it – for good and bad. Henry Paulson, Timothy Geithner, George W. Bush, Barack Obama – all are sure to go down in those accounts. So too are the likes of Paul Volcker and Paul Krugman, most notably for their very public advocacy of a vastly different response then we saw from two successive Presidents.

Yet I hope that history will also add the name Elizabeth Warren to that list, for hers is the story of leadership in one of my generation’s darkest moments. Warren, a Harvard Law professor specializing in financial law, has the dubious “honor” of heading the Troubled Asset Recovery Program (or TARP) Congressional Oversight Panel. Created by Congress almost as an afterthought under significant public pressure, the Committee was expected by many to be a rubber stamp for whatever the Treasury and the Federal Reserve wanted to do to bail out the financial sector.

Ms. Warren had a radically different view: to fully implement the Committee’s chartered purpose, which is

“. . .to hold hearings, review official data, and write reports on actions taken by Treasury and financial institutions and their effect on the economy. Through regular reports, COP must:

  • Oversee Treasury’s actions
  • Assess the impact of spending to stabilize the economy
  • Evaluate market transparency,
  • Ensure effective foreclosure mitigation efforts
  • And guarantee that Treasury’s actions are in the best interest of the American people.

Lastly, Congress has instructed COP to produce a special report on regulatory reform that will analyze “the current state of the regulatory system and its effectiveness at overseeing the participants in the financial system and protecting consumers.”

To these ends, Ms. Warren and her colleagues have been busy – the nuts and bolts amount to 19 reports, 11 appearances before Congressional Committees, 18 Oversight Hearings – most in places well away from Washington, and numerous media interviews. Great you say – Ms. Warren is an unusually productive Bureaucrat who intends to leave her make by drowning the government in paper and testimony. How does that make her a leader? What is her real effectiveness?

I would ask you to consider that Ms. Warren’s leadership begins with her words. These are from the February 8, 2010 Wall Street Journal editorial which she penned:

“Banking is based on trust. The banks get our paychecks and hold our savings; they know where we spend our money and they keep it private. If we don't trust them, the whole system breaks down. Yet for years, Wall Street CEOs have thrown away customer trust like so much worthless trash.”

Or this, from the December 2009 report on TARP by the Committee she chairs:

“The evolving nature of the TARP, as well as Treasury’s failure to articulate clear goals or to provide specific measures of success for the program, make it hard to reach an overall evaluation. In its report of December 2008, the Panel called on Treasury to make both its decision-making and its actions more transparent. The Panel renews that call, as it has done with every monthly report since then.”

So Ms. Warren is being honest and forthright – as are we all on our best days. Nothing to see here you may be saying to yourself, let’s move on. But think about. When was the last time you heard a political appointee, of any political strip, speak that openly and candidly, especially about economic matters? When did someone who was “in charge” of a sector of our economy stand up and say we’re getting this wrong, and here’s why? Not thinking of anyone?

That’s because Ms. Warren is living and breathing what Michael DeRosia of the Minnesota City Management Association calls the Five Core Values of Public Administration – Transparency, Accountability, Ethics, Professionalism and Leadership. The Transparency is easy to spot – just look at the quotes above - and in my view, of higher quality then we often hear from federal agencies that have been around much longer. As to Accountability, Ms. Warren has repeatedly accepted the responsibility for her Committee’s failures, while making it clear that others (like Treasury) also bear responsibility for her not meeting expectations. Her Ethics and Professionalism are never discussed publicly, which I believes speaks to her high standards in these areas, and her Leadership is such that her oversight panel may well go down as being effective – even if it can’t get other agencies to live up to her standards.

Elizabeth Warren, academic turned bureaucrat, has set a leadership example that we can all draw from. In so doing, she has become a solid voice that Americans can listen to in a complex set of issue that threatens our Nation. Each of us would do well to aspire to her level of Transparency, Accountability, Ethics, Professionalism and Leadership.

“I've spent my time and my research on economic death and rebirth. And much of that was about what happened to America's middle class, how we have hollowed out America's middle class. It will not save us if a handful of Wall Street banks prosper and the rest of America fails. Our focus, our energy, our heart has to be on the rest of America.”

Friday, March 19, 2010

Leadership in Washington: Spinelessness is a bipartisan Issue

My fellow blogger Glenn Greenwald is at it again - pointing out obvious fallacies in the positions of politicians who seem to think they don't need to hold themselves accountable to their own standards:

Whatever else is true, the American Right is now openly siding with a foreign government against their own, and bitterly Blaming America for these problems. They're protecting this foreign government's actions even though our top Generals say those actions undermine our war effort and directly endanger American troops. They're advocating policies -- such as the Israeli bombing of Iran -- which America's Joint Chiefs Chairman has gravely warned will seriously impede our wars and lead to the deaths of our soldiers. They're demeaning the top American General with command responsibility for two theaters of war. And, in a Time of War, they're attacking the President of the United States, the Commander-in-Chief -- and relentlessly depicting him as weak and inept -- all because he's prioritizing American interests over those of a foreign country. All of that seems to severely breach the standards of Patriotism they have long advocated and which have long prevailed, to put that rather mildly.

I leave you to read Glenn's well reasoned derivation of how we got to this point, and why its bad for us, but I'll add a few thoughts from a Leadership perspective.

Leading people requires integrity - your words and actions need to match, and when they diverge you better have a really good explanation for it. I think Congressman Dennis Kuchinich's statement about why he is voting for the healthcare bill is a great example of that integrity at work (though Glenn is right - it will make it hard for Washington to take Progressives seriously)

Unfortunately, far-Right Neocons are violating this cardinal rule of leadership, and further exposing why so many Americans will, I hope, continue to give them the short shaft. If the President does something right when he's in your Party, that thing is still right when the President of the opposing Party does it. Ditto for an American general who is trying to fight a war that no one but neocon hawks still wants America to be involved in (never mind the lying to get into it in the first place).

Bottom line - what you say does matter, especially when you come off as an opportunist, when you were for something before you were against it (!); when you promise to enact a Public Option when you are campaigning and then work behind closed doors to kill it after you get elected. That's not integrity - its political opportunism, and it turns my stomach.

Are you listening Mr. President?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Charlie Rangel Steps Down - and the MSM gets the framing wrong is reporting (via the AP) that Congressman Charles Rangel has stepped down (at least temporarily) from his post as Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. This is a good thing, because the House Ethics Committee may actually do its job and refer him for prosecution after finding that he may well have violated rules regarding gifts from lobbyists.

Of course, the MSN story - like most MSM stories about these sorts of things - is trying to frame this as a set-back from Democrats, and thus another nail in the mid-term election coffin:

The 79-year-old Rangel's decision was another jarring setback for President Barack Obama and majority Democrats in Congress, coming at a time when the party is scrambling to save sweeping health care overhaul legislation that has been pending on Capitol Hill for well over a year and still assessing a surging anti-incumbent fervor among the voters.

OR voters could look at this as the Democratic leadership FINALLY living up to its promise in 2006 to run a more ethical shop then their predecessors. After all, it's not like Mr. Rangel is the ONLY senior Democrat in the House who can lead negotiations.

But the MSM has published it, so their narrative MUST be right . . .