Monday, February 22, 2010

Leadership In Washington V 2.0 - or why the Tea Party and Republicans are wrong about the role and necessity of government

When one reads about the Toyota recall debacle, or the push by Tea Party “activists” to eliminate the federal government, one has to wonder where these people are getting their reality from:

"Did regulators do their due diligence once problems were brought to their attention? Did Toyota raise potential safety problems with regulators as soon as they knew a problem existed?," said Kurt Bardella, spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the committee's ranking minority member. "But there are also questions involving what happened in between and whether Toyota was lobbying for less rigid actions from regulators to protect their bottom line. If anything but the safety of America's drivers influenced the decision-making process, the entire purpose of NHTSA will be undermined."

You see, Mr. Issa needs to read Mr. Pyle’s commentary, because if he did, he would have read this (emphasis mine):

A properly run business, especially a company that is owned by stockholders rather than by a family or proprietor who actually deals with his customers every day, exists for one purpose and one purpose only — to take your money away from you and give it to its stockholders. If it does anything — anything — that is destructive of those ends, it is the right of the stockholders to alter or abolish it.

If the managers of a big business put decency, morality, the environment, the workers or even the customers ahead of the interests of the stockholders — which by definition is often a short-term, profit-taking interest—they have broken their promise, failed to carry out their fiduciary responsibilities and opened themselves up not only to being fired but to being sued by their own stockholders.

What’s wrong with that? Nothing. As long as we face the facts.

That being the case, the answer to Mr. Issa is simple – Toyota put short term profits ahead of driver safety. They did their fiduciary duty, just as Enron did; just at Lehmann did; just as BofA did. They did not do their civic duty, and if the small government neocons succeed there will be no mechanisms to prevent Toyota, or BofA, or any other publicly held company from doing it again.

And that is the real reason government needs to both exist, and have robust leadership. Too bad we’re in a climate where neither is seen as the good and necessary thing it is.

Climate Crisis writings - the Washington Post editorializes

In today's online edition, the Washington Post editorializes on climate change, and the need to act:

THE EARTH is warming. A chief cause is the increase in greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere. Humans are at least in part responsible, because the oil, gas and coal that we burn releases these gases. If current trends persist, it's likely that in coming decades the globe's climate will change with potentially devastating effects for billions of people.

Contrary to what you may have read lately, there are few reputable scientists who would disagree with anything in that first paragraph. Yet suddenly we're hearing that climate change is in doubt and that action to combat it is unlikely. What's going on?

What indeed? The Psot actually makes a series of cogent arguments about why, even wth scientific uncertainty and recent "scandals" regarding sceintific integrity, we as a Nation need to act. While I can't say I'm surprised to see this from the Post (they are, afterall, a "LIBERAL" media outlet - wink wink, nudge nudge), I am surprised that it took SO LONG for the editorial board to write these words.

Here's hoping that D.C.'s paper of record motivates some on Capitol Hill to deal with this crisis in a more realistic, more science based fashion. I also hope that my climate science colleagues will recoginize this editorial for what it is - an open door through which they can walk with a good story that's based on appeals to emotion, instead of slavish defense of facts.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Leadership Matters in Modern America - why DC is failing American Citizens

As a blogger, I have fallen into the trap of just amping and repeating what other have written, and I have leapt down that rat hole more often the I care to admit. I do it because 1) someone else writes something that's far more coherent then I can on an issue; 2) they are paid to do it, where as I have to shoe horn this thing in when and where I can; 3) I am, sometimes, intellectually lazy.

Hopefully that admission won't dissuade you from reading this latest missive from the Washington Post's Steven Pearlstein (emphasis mine):

This Presidents' Day week, we celebrate the leadership of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, who confronted far worse division and dissent in their times. The reason we remember them as great presidents is that they threw off the yoke of party loyalty, defied popular opinion and used the full weight of their office to do what had to be done. They understood, or came to understand, an important truth: that only after they had demonstrated that they were willing to lead, and lead boldly, were the people willing to follow and drag Congress along with them.

It turns out that successful political leadership is not about this strategy or that tactic or where you place yourself on the left-right ideological spectrum. What it's mostly about is character.
You see, a lack of genuine leadership is why the Republicans lost first their majority in Congress in 2006, and the White House in 2008. That same lack of real leadership will be, as my friend Mike rightly notes, why the Democrats MAY loose their Congressional majority in 2010. Sadly, that lack of leadership is NOT just about what politicians do or don't do in D.C. - its also about we, as citizens do or don't do in the heartland.

And while we're at it, how do you show leadership by RUNNING AWAY from a public confession of the commission of a war crime?

Dick Cheney went on ABC News this weekend and boasted of the role he played in ordering the waterboarding of detainees. Andrew Sullivan has written several posts accurately describing this statement as a "confession of committing a war crime on national television." Harper's Scott Horton identifies the specific criminal statute Cheney confessed he violated, makes clear that -- as the Attorney General himself previously said -- there is no reasonable debate possible regarding the criminality of waterboarding under U.S. and international law (notwithstanding the efforts of Politico and friends to pretend otherwise), and then asks: "What prosecutor can look away when a perpetrator mocks the law itself and revels in his role in violating it?"

I've written before about a clear and reasonable "laymans" interpretation of the law on this issue - and I still think the Obama Administration engaging in criminal "aiding and abetting" behavior here. We, as Americans, need to stand up to this moral outrage, or Mr. Bin Laden wins, in that the America he loathes will have destroyed itself from the inside.


On a slightly different, but very much related track, Ezra Klein blogs about Senator Evan Bayh's latest missive to the New York Times. Two things stand out for me - first, that Mr. Bayh is making a reasoned, rational response to the childish. leadership-les Senate, and second, he waited to do so until AFTER he announced his resignation. Actually, that second point makes Mr. Bayh's essay all the more sad - if the Senate is so broken that he can't say this while remaining inside the chamber, how in the world can we the people expect it to do our business?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Duke's latest Ph.D. - David Lowry!

Over at the Intersection, one of Duke University's newest Ph.D.'s is getting his dues. David is a colleague, a friend, and, since he and Miss Sheril are about to be married (!), a roomie by extension (really long story). On top of that, Sheril is right that David IS a great scientist, and I have been thrilled to have him in both my professional and personal circles since he was smart enough to ask Sheril out.

So please join me in Congratulating David on completing his Ph.D. No matter your field, its a lot of work, and I hope this is just the beginning of great things to come.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A citizen's response to Citizens United: Send this Letter now

Friends, as you know I am not a fan of the SCOTUS and their recent Citizens United decision. So today I ran across a post on Barry Sussman's blog at Neiman Watchdog that got me thinking . . . which then got me writing my Congressman, and both Senators. I've pasted the text of my letter below, and I urge you to take that text add to it, and send it in to your own Congressional delegation. If enough of us do so, we may just see some change.

Mr. {Congressman Name HERE},

I am writing to ask you to introduce legislation in this Congress to answer the recent Supreme Court decision known as Citizens United. As you are no doubt aware, the SCOTUS handed down a ruling that removed decades of prior precedent, and now allows corporations (as legal "persons") to engage in political speech.

As it stands now, corporations will be able to engage in all sorts of political advertising and "speech" at economies of scale that will give them an unfair advantage in the political arena when compared to average citizens. To address this issue, I am asking you to draft and introduce legislation that meets the outline proposed by Barry Sussman ( in his recent blog:

“Because the Court ruled that a corporation’s free speech is so important in being able to present its position, we need legislation to make sure that such expenditures do represent the views of the board of directors by requiring a public vote of the board on any such expenditures. It will be hard for the Republicans to oppose such legislation, although they will. But that should be part of a concerted effort to show how the Republicans are for the rich and powerful and why they are opposing every reform that is brought before Congress.

“Boards are supposed to represent the interests of the shareholders, not just management. If they oppose the provision, it’s clear whom they represent. I would also focus on the intellectual bankruptcy of the Court’s decision. For example, Antonin Scalia divined the founding fathers’ original intent as protecting corporate free speech, even though they didn’t have modern corporations in those days and Jefferson warned against such concentrations of power.”

This legislation need not be complicated - the general outline is presented above. By adding this to the federal regulations governing corporate existence and practice, you and your colleagues can ensure that American Corporations are held to a high standard of conduct in the corporate arena.

Thank you for your consideration of this important legislation.

Philip L. H

Don't Ask Don't Tell is still discrimination - and a Marine shouldn't defend that

California Republican Duncan Hunter, an ex-Marine now serving in Congress is, plainly put, a bigot. He is engaged in the last “safe” form of bigotry in this country, open discrimination against Gay and Lesbian Americans. Don’t think so; well read this from NPR’s All Things Considered yesterday (emphasis mine):

This week, were going to hear a variety of perspectives on what to do with dont ask, dont tell. Tomorrow, well hear from someone who wants to repeal the policy and allow gays to serve openly. Today, we turn to California Congressman Duncan Hunter. He is a Republican and a former U.S. Marine who served both in Afghanistan and Iraq. Congressman Hunter, welcome to the program.

Representative DUNCAN HUNTER (Republican, California): Hey, great to be with you.

BLOCK: You are not in favor of a repeal of dont ask, dont tell. Why not?

Rep. HUNTER: No, because I think that its bad for the cohesiveness and the unity of the military units, especially those that are in close combat, that are in close quarters in country right now. Its not the time to do it. I think its - the military is not civilian life. And I think the folks who have been in the military that have been in these very close situations with each other, there has to be a special bond there. And I think that bond is broken if you open up the military to transgenders, to hermaphrodites, to gays and lesbians.

BLOCK: Transgenders and hermaphrodites.

Rep. HUNTER: Yeah, thats going to be part of this whole thing. Its not just gays and lesbians. Its a whole gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual community. If you're going to let anybody no matter what preference - what sexual preference they have that means the military is going to probably let everybody in. Its going to be like civilian life and the I think that that would be detrimental for the military.

Where to begin? First, while Rep. Hunter does acknowledge, later on, that there are gay men and lesbian women serving in the military already, he just can’t seem to square that circle with these statements. Second, Rep. Hunter is correct that the military doesn’t represent real life – there are no Kristol’s on O’Hanlon’s currently serving. Third, what does ones gender identity – which is what being transsexual and or hermaphrodidic is all about – have to do with one’s sexual expression? For that matter, what does either of those things have to do with being able to pull the trigger and kill another human being in the face of combat?

The answer of course is that one’s sexual practices have nothing to do with ones ability to defend our Nation, just as one’s racial or ethnic origin, language skills, and educational level have nothing to do with it either. Two generations ago the same things were said about African Americans in the military (and to a lesser extend Naative Americans, Asians and Hispanics) – yet I suspect no one now looks at the service record of Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell as being something that diminished readiness or combat cohesiveness. So if Blacks didn’t break the military why would gay men and lesbian women? They won’t, and if our nation wants to continue the role of ethics standard bearer to the world, we need to head the words of Admiral Mike Mullen, who has been in combat and lead men and women into combat:

"No matter how I look at the issue," Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen said, "I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens."

The Admiral is a man of courage and conviction – Rep. Hunter is a coward hiding behind old, tired tripe to lash out in the worst, most inhuman, most unchristian way at his fellow citizens. Californians deserves better, as do our men and women in uniform.