Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Pretend Party

Richard Burris just joined the cast of the “Oh dear me, look at what Obama is doing to our grandchildren” sitcom.  First came Mr./Governor Jyndal, with his fake Mardis Gras greeting, followed by his condemnation of those old Republicans, followed by his worn-out Republican tax cut non-solutions. Perhaps the star of the cast has been Judd Gregg, Mr. Sucker-Puncher. He’s worried also about his grandchildren and the debt we are bequeathing them.

None of these stars seemed concerned with the prior (RepubliCon) debt bequeathal machine, called George Bush II, or George Bush I, or his holiness Ronald the Reagan, all of whom contributed more to our national debt than all prior office holders in our history. Nor, do they ever mention the multi-trillion dollar deficit forced on the current Government by the stupid, criminal, and corrupt Bush Administration and his helpmates in the "Free-market" financial industry.

No, only now are they coming back to their religion of small government, fiscal discipline, “free markets” and God. How come the white collar guys who populate our prisons only come back to religion after they are caught having wrecked or corrupted the world?

We need to understand that Republican “values” are not real. They are pretend values. It’s like that children’s game, Let’s Pretend. Let’s pretend to be fiscally righteous. Let’s pretend to advocate small government. Let’s pretend we care about YOUR grandchildren—see they really do care about their grandchildren. That’s why they’re always digging into your pocket to line theirs and their friends. 

Their “free markets” aren’t “free”. They’re rigged by one side or another to benefit whoever does the rigging. Capitalism isn’t a “free market” system. It’s a system designed by one group to assure that its profit potential is protected.

They also pretend to care about morality, while routinely involving themselves in other people’s affairs—whether they are other governments, other lifestyles, or other religions. That’s immoral guys, as well as being simply disrespectful..

Once elected, they set about their tasks of reducing or eliminating anything that might remotely interfere with their buddies in big bidness, catering to their own special interests (as opposed to the Democrats’ special interests) and attempting to attack social network programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.  Oh, and for reasons I still cannot fathom, they seem opposed to quality public schooling—maybe because it is aimed at producing intelligent populations, and they prefer voters who are stupid.

I see that, so far, the public at large continues to reject their “Let’s Pretend” arguments.  But we must assume that, like periodic locust infestations, Republicans will continue to attack at every turn. They need to be relabeled from either Conservative (which they’re not)  or even Republican (Mr. Lincoln would be turning over in his grave) to the Mad Hatter Party. We need to laugh at them more. Happily, they’re the new fodder for the Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert Pretend News Shows. How fitting.

And on another front, George Will needs to shut up about global warming. He doesn’t know anything, and shows no signs of interest in actual science.  So, George, go back to what you and Ann Coulter do best—trash-mouthing liberals. Stay out of science.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Book Banning

I just received a note regarding books that are banned in various places around the USA. It’s kind of a “Where’s where” version of Who’s Who, except that, instead of celebrating accomplishments, this one lists the places where stupid people hang out. The list is amazing partly because it is a list of books banned relatively recently—like the 1990s and even more current. And I always assumed that books might be banned in places like Alabama, Florida and Mississippi, but not in places like Maryland, Wisconsin, Michigan. All wrong. Howard County. Maryland banned The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe  in 1990 because it depicts "graphic violence, mysticism, and gore." A county in Virginia banned The Diary of Anne Frank, because it’s such a downer. Yeah, that holocaust stuff is kind of depressing, huh?

Where the Sidewalk Ends, one of  Shel Silverstein’s brilliant illustrated books, was challenged at the West Milwaukee, Wisconsin school libraries in 1986 because the book "suggests drug use, the occult, suicide, death, violence, disrespect for truth, disrespect for legitimate authority, and rebellion against parents."

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was banned by an administrator in Wisconsin because it is “slanted”—he said, “if there’s a possibility that something might be controversial, then why not eliminate it?’

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was removed from a locked reference collection at the Boulder, Colorado Public Library in 1988,  where it had been placed because the librarian thought the book espoused a poor philosophy of life. Apparently chocolate (which we all know is one of the five major food groups) was thought by that person to be bad for you. Goes way beyond stupid, that.

One of my favorites was the Canton, Michigan school system's banning Of Suzuki’s Zen Buddhism, in 1987, because "this book details the teachings of the religion of Buddhism in such a way that the reader could very likely embrace its teachings and choose this as his religion." Think of that. Someone writes convincingly on some topic and we need to ban his book. Yeah, let’s show our kids only the stupid books. I should add that he certainly convinced me, so maybe that’s reason enough to ban him.

It’s dispiriting to realize that such stupid people both exist and aren’t themselves banned from places like public libraries as an inherent danger to the principles on which this Nation was founded. They belong in places like Tehran, where the Mullahs not only ban books, but issue death fatwahs against the authors. Maybe we should use part of the Stimulus Package money to issue one-way tickets to the nation’s army of book banners. Send them off to Afghanistan, or Iraq, or Iran, where they can live in caves, join the Afghani Facebook and become “friends’ with Mullah Omar and Osama.  I’m sure they’d all love the place. 

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Car Guys

So, the car guys are back again. They want a few more bucks, just to tide them over till the good times get rolling again.

I have a suggestion.

First, they should all declare bankruptcy—all three—but Chapter 11, not 7.

Second, under Chapter 11, they should “reorganize” the three into one car company. Call it, Americorps, or maybe, The Great American Car Company, Inc.

They should announce planned production of the following line of cars:

1.       A four-seater sedan, hybrid, capable of getting 75 miles per gallon.  Call it, say “scooter.” Zero to 60 in 12 seconds

2.       A mid-size conventional that gets 40 miles per gallon. The car would seat five in a pinch. It would come as a sedan, or a mini-SUV with an extra back seat enabling two more (little) passengers. It would be called the “pit bull”. Zero to sixty in 9 seconds.

3.       A full size vehicle seating five normal human beings. This one would get 30 miles per gallon. It would also come in an SUV style for people in love with trucks.  It would be called  the Maestro. Zero to 60 in 8 seconds.

4.       All vehicles produced by Americorps would employ all wheel drive as standard.

5.       A final vehicle would be produced as an off-road vehicle, meaning it could not be licensed for on-road travel—an Abrams M60 battle tank, sans guns. This one would get three gallons per mile, and would be intended for the Hummer market—the stupid people with more money than brains who buy Hummers, “just because they can.”

The CEO would be Don Rumsfeld—he after all ran both Defense and OEO in his lifetime career, so he knows something of both poverty programs, and harsh interrogation, so he would be perfect to run a large auto company—think of the possibilities if things weren’t going exactly to plan.  Board meetings and senior executive meetings would be videotaped and run on the Comedy Hour as a weekly show.

Is this a great country, or what?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Live Like People

I’m wondering. What will life be like in, say, the 25th century? Or, I don’t know, maybe even the 30th century. I remember watching Star Trek, way back in the olden days of the 20th century, and hearing Captain Picard (remember old Jean Luc?) tell someone about how they had evolved to the point where nobody was paid money any longer. There was no scrambling to obtain greater wealth than your neighbor. I know, I know, sounds suspiciously like . . . SOCIALISM. Whoooaa. Nasty word that, huh?  But that was only a little point and not much made of it. The larger message I came away with, was, they didn’t seem to have any stupid people, like we do here and now. I mean we (peoples of the Planet Earth) have almost been taken over by stupid people. The election of Barack Obama could, I guess be a move away from the Revenge of the Stupid People, or it might be just an aberration. Let's hope he represents a trend.

A family member recently informed me that the good peoples of North Dakota have recently declared that fertilized eggs have full human rights. But when I asked whether the good peoples of North Dakota also accorded Gays and Lesbians the same rights as fertilized eggs, he said, rather sadly, “no, I think not.”

And then there’s the reaction to the Stimulus. Several (Southern) Governors have declared that the Stimulus Bill is just too evil, and so they MAY not participate (as in, may not take any federal money). I was thinking when I read that, “yeah, and I’ll bet Hell has begun freezing over, and pigs are flying over the Texas capital right now.”

And then I read about this guy, Mr. Stanford, who created and ran an $8 billion investment scam, apparently with the full help and cooperation of his accountants, the same crew no doubt that helped Mr. Madoff. And all the stupid people who were supposed to be watching over this kind of thing couldn’t quite figure it all out.

So, I’m thinking, you know, maybe by the 30th century, we will have weeded out all these stupid people, Darwinism-wise. And wouldn’t it be fun to be alive then? To see people just living out there lives, without trying 24-7 to live well by harming other people? I mean, wouldn’t that just be nifty? By then we really would have figured out that professional wrestling and organized religion are both fakes, and stopped paying attention to either one.  We wouldn’t be killing people in the name of religion, or patriotism, or just simple greed. We wouldn’t be beheading people just because we didn’t like what they said, or thought, or burning people who have a different skin color.

We might be just enjoying the blessed thing we call life.  The giggle of a baby, the smell of a rose on its branch, the sight of the sun rising early in the morning, or in its courtly dance with the night, painting the sky red and orange, so as to take your breath away.

And, maybe by then we wouldn’t go to bed at night worried sick that some financial wizard somewhere was plotting to eliminate all your money and your ability to survive, just because he could. Because, we would have weeded out all those sickos, and we could just live like people.

I look forward to that happening—Living Like People . . . everybody, now, say it . . . let’s all live like people . . . everyone.

Beam me up Scotty . . .

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Dumb & Dumber: Bank of New York Mellon

Apropos of nothing at all, I thought you might be amused about a recent correspondence from BNY Mellon Shareowner Services. They wrote to request that we verify our "new" address at 67 Edgewood, et al. Their prior address for us, apparently didn't work any more (5631 Knollwood et al, in Bethesda). Think of that, it's only been 9 years since we left that address. That pesky post office really needs to continue forwarding for at least ten years, don't you think?

But to continue, they asked me to update their records, otherwise we might be listed as a "lost shareholder." Wouldn't want that now, would we? So, I tried logging on to their web site, but of course, I didn't have a pin number to sign on and, after three tries to establish one, I gave up and decided to call them.

So, I called. I finally got to speak with someone and after a fairly brief conversation, she told me that I needed to call a different number, since I was dealing with Alcatel-Lucent (I knew that all along).

So, I called the second number and after explaining that I was calling about a change of address, one that had occurred 9 years ago, I was just wondering . . . what this was all about. I mean, how much potentially lost stock were we talking about?

Well, guess what? We are talking about a zero balance account.

"Excuse me? You wrote to me, using up a $0.42 stamp, asked me to log onto your web site, and then requiring me to call you twice to verify an address change on a ten year old residence change, all for no money, as in zero balance?? Why would you do such a thing?

"Well, I'm sorry sir, but even after accounts are closed, we try to keep track of addressees"

"Uh, why?"

"I don't know sir. Can I help you with anything else sir?"

"Uh, no, I guess not."

And people (generally Republican people) wonder why the Government is so inefficient.

Gee, think our government could possibly be any dumber than BNY Mellon?

 And now, the postscript:

We just received in the mail from the Bank of New York, Mellon, a check for $0.05. Yes, you read that correctly. The Bank of NY Mellon sent us a check for FIVE CENTS.

And how much is the Bank of New York Mellon slated to receive from the federal Bailout Fund?  Couldn’t let guys like this go bankrupt, now could we?

Oh, oh, I know, maybe this is our share of the Republican tax cuts.


Brighter Days Ahead

The dark days of February, when winter rules the land and Republicans dream of those sunnier days, when they sat atop the world’s gold supply (i.e., the Nation's mint). Everyone seems in a funk; heavens, even that right winger Lindsay Graham is suggesting that we need to nationalize our banks—“we’ve thrown more money at Bank of America ($45 billion) than it’s worth ($23 billion). That’s not nationalization; that’s stupid.”

Yes, Lindsay, I suppose that, in the immortal words of Forrest Gump, “Stupid is as Stupid does.” The problem is that the Lindsay’s of the Nation are just caught in a perpetual hissy fit, regardless of what anyone (but them) does. He whines that we are wasting money on the stimulus, and that we’re making government too big; then he wants to go about nationalizing things. What’s next cars?

I have it. Why not organize a giant global Ponzi scheme? See, we get people like the Indians, the Chinese (you know the folks who actually have money) to “invest” in our economy, on promises that we will pay them large returns on their investment; then we pay them with the money we get from other investors, like . . . oh, like . . . oh, yeah, nobody else has any money do they? How about Bernie (as in Madoff)? He must have 30 or 40 billion tucked in a mattress somewhere.

But, these dark days of February will surely pass. And then Spring, and Hope, and Change will surely emerge, as Republicans, like the groundhog, return to their caves.

And elsewhere, Helen and Margaret ( are actually reading Ann Coulter’s latest book.

Helen, an obvious practitioner of Zen, asks:

“If Ann Coulter falls in the forest and nobody hears her… can we just leave her there?

Or, even more profound:

“Margaret, I ask you,  if a book falls in the forest and doesn’t make any sense, is it really a book?  And if it’s not really a book then the monkey who wrote it really isn’t an author… right?  I guess what I am trying to say is this -  if Ann Coulter makes up a lot of crap and puts it on a piece of paper how is that any different than what I do with a  roll of Charmin after my morning bran muffin?

Friday, February 13, 2009


Maybe Republicans grew tired of being outclassed by Obama. So, they decided to make him look foolish. Judd Gregg basically sucker-punched the President. He may protest, “No, I just changed my mind.” Yeah, right. And maybe he was confused, thinking that perhaps Obama was really John McCain in black-face.

For Gregg to approach Obama with an offer to join the team, allow that concept to percolate for a couple of weeks in the press, with all that feel-good stuff about a bipartisan team, and then abruptly withdraw, refusing to sign onto the stimulus package, is just too calculated.

So, maybe it really is time to stop making nice to republicans. They seem too much like Hamas—you know that bunch in the Middle East that keeps lobbing rockets at Israel every time Israel tries to make nice? Yeah, that’s the Republicans. Make nice to them, turn around to smile, and they’ll sucker-punch you every time. Nice guys that bunch.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Bipartisan Chimera

So, is he giving away the store in fond hope of gaining bipartisan cooperation in the future? Dems increased the amount set aside for tax cuts, and decreased the amount for state aid and for school construction, a form of local aid.  All this, apparently, in an attempt to bring on board at least a few Republicans. The hard core, of course, will never follow. They are now slavishly following their new leader, the dopehead bigot Rush.  They are lost for all time. I wonder how Michael Steele, the Neo-Con nominal Black, feels now, having been crowned and then deposed virtually all within the week. And now A-Rod confesses to using illicit substances in his pursuit of athletic perfection. Perhaps he’s running for an important Republican leadership post, just behind Rush. I mean, why not?

But I digress.

I’m beginning to feel that Obama is being misled down some side alley to oblivion in his quest for bipartisanship. And I’m not really sure why he wants it so bad. He won one of the nastier elections on record, defeating this crowd that is now mocking him, the crowd lest we forget, that unleashed this hellish financial storm on the Nation. And now he wants their support? Why?

Does he think he will need it to gain approval in his other great quest, to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan? I’m guessing they will stiff him there also.  Our President needs to listen carefully to the new leader of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh. Rush said it succinctly. “I want him to fail.” That is the new Republican mantra. “Fail, baby, fail.” How would one expect to gain their cooperation? If he succeeds, they fail. They’re playing a zero-sum game.

So, dear President, pay attention. We elected you to recreate our Nation, to return it to that wonderful place we used to have before the Republicans ascended to the throne. Do not, please, be led down some blind alley in this fruitless quest. The Republicans can either cooperate, get out of the way, or get run over. Their choice.

So, come back to the people, and dance with the folks whut brung you. Let’s treat this foolishness as a minor hiccup and begin again pursuing the mission for which we elected you. 

Monday, February 9, 2009

Reinventing Government Redux

President Obama promises to change the effectiveness of government. Al Gore promised to "reinvent" government. I offer below a letter I sent to VP Gore in 1993.  Maybe President Obama will take it more seriously than VP Gore did. As you read. kindly remember this letter was sent in 1993.

June 20, 1993 

Vice President Albert Gore

The White House

Washington DC 20006

 Dear Vice President Gore:

             I would like to thank you for giving an hour of your time to the Council for Excellence in Government last week. I assist the Council periodically and was privileged to be present during your hour with them. While such exchanges are not normally heavy on substance, your discussion was impressive, your responses thoughtful and your knowledge of the issues substantial.  

          Much of your talk seemed right on target, including especially your discussion about decentralizing authority and accountability for performance.  My fears, having worked in government for eight years, is that they will take the delegated authority without accepting the responsibility.  I noted, for example, the current debacle pending in HUD, in which we the taxpayers will be stuck for a multibillion dollar bill.  My question is, will the group in HUD responsible be held accountable??  Will people be fired for misfeasance?  Will SESers (Senior Executive Service)still get performance bonuses??  I expect fully that the blame will be placed on former political executives who are now safely out of reach. 

             I have never been a great fan of SES performance bonuses.  I managed a three-year evaluation of the Civil Service Reform Act and saw no evidence that the bonuses could affect performance, even in theory.  I argued that group performance payments at least offered some prospect of affecting performance.  I could not get a reasonable hearing, because the people to whom I made the arguments benefited from the current arrangement.  My own outrage at huge payments made to private sector executives in the face of unprofitable performances by their companies continues. At least in the private sector, though, there is some risk that bankruptcy looms if performance falls too far.  In government, there should be some equivalent to bankruptcy.  HUD, the Department of Education and perhaps others would be bankrupt now were there such a status.  Then, executives could be moved out and the departments reorganized under some Chapter 11 system--perhaps under a special unit of OMB (at last, something for the "M" side to do!). 

             During your visit to the Council, you mentioned the unanimous opinion among government workers and managers that the system needed to be changed regarding their ability to fire people for cause.  As someone who supervised an office in which we fired someone for cause, I can tell you that the problem is real, but irrelevant.  We succeeded in getting rid of a problem employee, but such people are not the cause of government performance problems.  If you could fire at will for the next ten years, government would perform no better.  One of the reasons it is so difficult to fire non-performers is that the system by which normal performance is judged is grossly inadequate.  As an exercise you should personally read  a set of merit pay and SES performance plans--perhaps 100 plans selected at random.  I know it would be burdensome, but it would also be revealing to you.  Then, read the plans of at least 50 SESers who received performance bonuses--not the distinguished and meritorious awards, but the regular bonus awards.  You will learn why it is hard to distinguish good from mediocre performance and why many people object to SES bonuses.  With so many national problems so clearly in front of us, we award bonuses for coordination of budget and legislative plans.  We reward people for giving out grants.  Most of our executives would shy away from accepting responsibility for solving a national problem.  If the President will be held to a standard of performance dealing with the deficit and resolution of the health insurance crisis, why should we not hold our senior career executives accountable for reducing infant mortality, solving the homeless problem, getting health care professionals to locate where they are needed . . .?  If bonuses were paid for solving such national problems, I would applaud the bonus payments--in fact I would argue that even higher bonuses would be due.  Until that time, bonuses will always look like payments for at best ordinary performance.  We need organizational performance plans with important achievable objectives, not just individual plans.  I am not arguing that we try to force achievement goals where they are not possible--we do not know how to reduce breast cancer, or cure AIDS.  But we surely do know how to reduce infant mortality and we surely do know how to keep people from having to sleep on the streets, and we surely do know how to get health care workers to redistribute themselves.  We lack the will, and, thanks to Reagan the wallet.  But we need to at least get these issues into our accountability systems.

              I hope you look seriously at this issue of real accountability for performance.  The rhetoric of "reinventing government" will be absorbed slickly by our government execs, who are quite good at such absorption tricks.  Every where I go now in government I hear about how "we are into reinventing government", as though that statement explained something.  We need to go way beyond such rhetorical tricks.  Good luck in you review.  we need your intelligence desperately.


Richard E. Schmidt

Saturday, February 7, 2009



A recent commentator wonders why President Obama seems to be pursuing a war strategy, given that he strongly opposed the war during his campaign. A fascinating question, that.


·         President Johnson initiates and vastly expands the war in Vietnam, on the advice of his brilliant strategists.

·         Nixon chooses to extend the war for another five years, after promising to end it through his “Plan to end the war.” After that five years, the war ends the same way it might have, had Johnson never begun, or Nixon never continued the war, except . . . 50,000 Americans and a million Vietnamese lost their lives.

·         Carter, when faced with a hostile takeover of Americans in Iran, negotiates for their release, instead of directing bombers to begin bombing Iran.

·         Reagan observes the release of the hostages, remarkably quickly after his inauguration. Result: no war, no one is killed.

·         Bush ignores warnings of an imminent attack, observes an attack resulting in the deaths of 3,000 Americans. Bush directs the start of a war against the wrong country. Eight years later, thousands of Americans and probably hundreds of thousands of Iraqis are dead, with an uncertain end in sight. The initial culprits remain in hiding in the country that harbored them initially.

·         Obama wins an election based partly on his promise to end the war in Iraq. Obama now looks to continue and perhaps expand the forgotten war in Afghanistan. The “war” in Afghanistan looks like Vietnam. Will Obama follow Johnson and Nixon down a similar rathole? Stay tuned.

In the meantime, ex-Veep Cheney is out there snarling, promising really, that an attack of great magnitude will occur. He is desperate to prove that he was right and Obama and the triumphant Democrats are wrong. He wants us to continue torturing and continue bombing.

Meanwhile, Hamas continues lobbing rockets at Israel, and Israel continues dropping bombs on Gaza. 

Meanwhile, the Taliban continue to blow up villages, roads, trucks and people, anything and anyone that gets in their way of becoming the world’s first drug superpower.  Afghan warlord-drug mobsters are living the good life.

So, what is our president to do?

It occurs to me that we (the US of A) has not won a war since WW II.  All other “wars” declared and undeclared have either continued without abating, or we have simply, flat out lost.  We cut a deal in Korea, lost in Vietnam, and are somewhere in between in Iraq. Afghanistan looks unpromising. Also, I am reminded, the “war” on cancer, and the “war” on poverty were either lost somewhere in the dim past or wrestled to a draw—you choose.

So, maybe, I am thinking, “war” is a bad choice of terms to describe what we are doing in the Middle East. First, it forces you to adopt a military approach—bombing, tanks, shooting people wholesale. Second, it reduces the options you are allowed to consider.

Maybe in this ninth year of the 21st millennium, we need to do something completely different. Maybe we need to call a halt, even a temporary one might be good, and we need to begin some conversations about what the various actors want. Since war clearly will not deliver any results worth having, maybe thinking and talking might produce a totally different strategy for the world.

Couldn’t hurt.

A little “out-of-the-box” thinking guys, please.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Daschle Blessing

So maybe it’s a blessing in disguise, the Tom Daschle debacle. It may force some new thinking on who they want to run the Department of Health and Human Services, and why. Here’s my choice:

David Kessler. Dr. Kessler was born in New York in 1951. He graduated Amherst College in 1973, and then went on to earn a degree from Harvard Medical School (1973-1979). While at Harvard Dr. Kessler obtained a law degree from the University of Chicago (1977). From 1981 to 1984 he served as a consultant for the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, and from 1982 to 1984 he was special assistant to the president of Montefiore Medical Center in New York. Dr. Kessler then went on to serve as medical director of the Hospital of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine from 1984 until President Bush appointed him as FDA commissioner in December of 1990. It is important to note that Dr. Kessler continued to serve as FDA Commissioner under President Clinton.

Dr. Kessler was one of the best FDA Commissioners we have seen in that post. As such, he knows intimately the issues facing the Nation in the areas of both drugs and food safety. He would command respect from the health care and health research scientific communities, a necessary ingredient in success there. But, further, he would bring both intelligence and firm management to a Federal department sorely in need of both.

But, could he both manage this vast department and transform the US health care system? I would submit, not.

Under the Clintons, an opportunity to transform our health care system was lost, partly due to Clinton mismanagement, and partly due to Republican demagoguery. It has been clear for some time that Republicans do not wish to give the Democrats another Medicare, or Social Security system. Those two programs have rightly been regarded as triumphs. Republicans desperately do not wish to give Democrats another such triumph. Thus, under Clinton, Republicans argued that the proposal being developed by the Clintons was too costly, too complicated, and, this is important, unnecessary—they argued that there was no health care crisis, thus no reform was needed. The Clintons failed to respond to this challenge. They continued to develop their system and then aborted it before it came to full term. Republicans had their own triumph, of sorts, albeit one for which Americans are still paying the price.

Now, we have another opportunity. I would argue that a second person is needed to manage this vast enterprise—transforming the US health care system so that it is responsive to the needs of the people, cost-effective, and efficient.  We need a single payer system, but before we leap to such a conclusion, we need to know why. Thus, I believe an initial effort, probably requiring six to 12 months, is needed to examine in detail and bring into the light of day, both the benefits and the flaws of the current system of care.  There is no question we have a magnificent system of care, for those who can afford to participate. But the system by which we pay for care is broken, and getting more ineffective daily. An employment-based insurance system can no longer be afforded or tolerated.

So, we need to detail all the features of the current system, including:

·         The system by which we pay for care;

·         The systems by which we deliver care;

·         The systems by which we attract and train the best and the brightest people into health care, and the approaches we use to compensate those people—that system is also broken, as we pay too much to specialists and not enough to our primary care practitioners. We are losing people out of primary care at the point where we need more, not fewer practitioners.

·         The systems by which drugs are developed and the companies compensated.

There are more issues than I can list here, but the point is that an analysis of the current system is complicated and must precede any design of a new system. The public must be brought to an understanding of why the current system is neither viable, nor especially effective (our current infant mortality rates are a disgrace). Once the public is made aware of the flaws in our system, they will be ready for a new system. It is also the case, that the new system can be shown more easily to fix those flaws, i.e., the design process can be made transparent to the public. This way, Republicans can argue their case, but they will be unable to demagogue the proposed approach.

I repeat, though, that this process is too complex and too time consuming for one person. The Department of Health and Human Services desperately needs competent leadership. It cannot await completion of the health care reform initiative.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bombing Civilians

Watching the Bill Moyers Journal last evening was a scary proposition. The subject: bombing civilians, and why that never, ever works. The bombing campaign at issue is the Afghan-Pakistan border, where our President has apparently authorized continued bombing of “terrorist” hideouts in that wild region not governed by anyone, except maybe the Taliban. The point of the discussion was that, all the evidence we have, dating back at least to WW I, is that bombing of civilians never works to bring the civilian population to its knees. Specifically, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, when the Nazis were busily bombing London and other major population centers in England, that “we will fight them >>> everywhere” suggests that not every population could be cowed by heavy bombing. Churchill, in fact, failed to heed his own admonition, by ordering the same type of heavy bombardment of German cities.

President Johnson ordered continuous bombing of North Vietnam population centers, on McNamara’s recommendation. That resulted, eventually, in America being discharged from the Vietnamese peninsula, returning home with its tail between its legs, but not before we lost some 50,000 brave young men and women.

In the Middle East, our bombing campaigns seem to have actually expanded the roster of Islamic “terrorists” willing to blow themselves up in order to kill Americans and their allies. Whole organizations now exist that never existed before we intervened—Qaida in Iraq, Taliban in Pakistan are newbies, thanks to our campaigns.

But what gave me the greatest pause was the thought that President Obama is now committing himself, and us by the way, to an expansion of a war in Afghanistan and maybe Pakistan, that we cannot win-- Vietnam Redux. We are talking 60,000 more troops. The Soviets had three times that many and were summarily dismissed from Afghanistan. We seem to be embarking on a redo of Vietnam, only this time under Obama’s watch. I think he’s too smart for that, but he may be too smart by half. Sometimes, smart people cannot believe that they will fail to succeed where others have indeed failed.  We are being sucked into this spider web, and we may soon be unable to extricate ourselves. Given that we have a few other problems, like a collapsed global economy, it seems sensible to me that we might reconsider our course of action.

Maybe it is time for President Obama to call a halt to military actions in that region and call for some kind of global discussion on what it is we are trying to accomplish, and whether that goal is achievable. Maybe, we need to go beyond our current crop of military advisers to being in some fresh brains, i.e., brains not already corrupted by the Bush doctrines.

Couldn’t hurt.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Political Silliness

So it’s Ground Hog Day, and we await news from a rodent somewhere in the wilds of Pennsylvania as to our near-term weather forecast. Wonder what it’s like to be a weatherman and listen to people argue/debate about Phil’s relative accuracy in forecasting.  And he doesn’t even consult Doppler Radar.

And elsewhere, in our Nation’s Capitol, Republican Mitch McConnell utters pronouncements on the relative soundness of planned expenditures under Obama’s version of Bush’s version of a fiscal stimulus package. McConnell:”We need to lower taxes. That’s the way out of this mess (that we created). Oh, and let’s get rid of any spending on those nasty condoms. Eeeewwwwww. Nasty things.”

Republicans continue to demonstrate why they’re a party in decline. They are holding fast to their lifeline—right wing zealots, who want to return us to the 19th century, those glorious days of the Robber Barons. They hate Gays, cling to 12th century religious views, practice bigotry whenever they get the chance, and work hard to slow down public education. “Keep the people ignorant and us in power” is their mantra. What a group. Is this a great country or what?

And just when I thought the Dems had bought themselves some cleverness, with the planned appointment of Judd Gregg as Secretary of Commerce, giving the Democratic Governor of New Hampshire a shot at appointing a Democratic successor, thereby giving the Dems a 60 vote majority, we learn that he will appoint a Republican.  Just to be fair. Does anyone in the universe think that Republicans, given a similar chance, would appoint a Democrat, just to be fair?  Silly people.

Ahhh well, as the world turns, and it does continue to turn, whether we like it or not . . .

Stay tuned to the world of American Leadership.