Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Solve The "Fiscal Cliff" drama Before Christmas

The “Fiscal Cliff” Drama.

This post offers a few thoughts to the leaders of Congress, and to President Obama and his team. They come from a card-carrying member of the “American People.”

As we have mentioned in our previous posts, the foundation principles that underlie the organizational excellence theory of everything apply to national governments and local government units every bit as much as they do to for profit corporations, non profits, educational institutions, etc. An organization is an organization when it comes to the question of how best to pursue excellence. Specifically, Value is maximized when the guiding mindset is outward-focused, long term and dedicated to optimizing value for each and all stakeholder groups. This last element, “optimizing” apparently can be a bit difficult to understand.

So, what in the world is going on with Congressional leaders and President Obama on this “fiscal cliff” matter? Even if one gives all the participants the benefit of the doubt in their public statements about what must be done in the near and long term to best serve the public interest, it still looks like they think the American people are an unthinking, nearly brain-dead lot! However, this writer truly believes that even Congressional leaders and the President and his staff can understand what the American people understand, across the board. The “optimizing” element of the guiding mindset, in fact, must be understood. The Congressional behavior during these last 12 years has not been guided by this mindset-based actionable wisdom.

Let’s be blunt and clear.President Obama has been re-elected. Therefore he has a mandate, period. Of course he can read too much into the mandate. He can abuse it. At the same time Congress should engage in discussions with the President, predisposed to find a mutually acceptable near and long term fiscal plan for the nation, through its government, a predisposition that recognizes the mandate really extends to Congress as well. Specifically:

1.      Quit purposely being cute with the words revenue and tax.  The Bush era tax cut on taxable income above $250 thousand should expire on 1/1/’13.  That tax rate should return to the Clinton era tax rate. All other Bush era tax rates should be extended – no increase. And, the tax code should be cleaned up to eliminate the loopholes and other taxable income-reducing language for which there is no compelling public interest.


2.      Entitlements should be on the table and addressed, not with a meat axe nor with disingenuous revisions whose purpose is to embarrass the “other side.” Rather, revisions to the huge entitlement programs that affect the near and especially long term should be made. The main criteria should be that a. the revisions be phased in, b. the revisions should not affect those who are already beneficiaries, but rather should be applicable to new beneficiaries as of a date certain. The concept here is, “keep the bargains,” and c. the annual budget deficits and accumulating long term debt must be reduced as a result of these changes.



3.      Both defense and non-defense programs should be addressed and reductions made using criteria that include a. no harm but rather improvement to our national defense (and our ability and obligation to lead around the globe where military presence is truly called for), b. reduction or elimination of programs whose public interest time has passed or has been reduced and c. the requirement that members of Congress act as trustees more than delegates in this decision process.

The Congressional leaders should rise to the courage and wisdom level voters expect from them. The President and his administration should as well. Trickery and cat and mouse games, often guided by un-elected and somewhat self-appointed opinion leaders in the form of talk show hosts and carefully selected guests must end.

The American people expect a long term, broadly embraced and actionable agreement before Christmas. It should pass societal muster, commercial muster, financial market muster and global well-being muster. If it is not done, then it might be time to start throwing the rascals out. 

So, adult up, wisdom up and reach agreement, Administration and Congress.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Obama ... by at least 10 lengths

It has been more than a month of Sundays since our last post. Been busy? Yes, but that is no excuse. Rather, like most Americans, I have been listening day in and day out to the advocacy for (and against) the incumbent, President Barack Obama, and the challenger, former Massachusetts Governor Romney.

I put “and against” in parentheses above and quotation marks here because the dominant tone of the race has been to tear the other person down. How goofed up is that?

Let’s be brief and clear: The state of the nation and the world when President Obama took office was terrible, lousy, awful.

President Obama did some things wrong and some things right. On balance, he did great.

Domestically, he has us climbing out of a bad economy into a sustainably good economy in a mere four years. Mere? Yes. The economic problems he inherited by definition had lagging economic consequences. The annual deficits and therefore the increasing national debt all was predictable, given the private sector behavior and the Bush era actions from the early 2000s through 2008. To be this far up the economic recovery curve in just four years is a small miracle. Far from being harshly criticized, his leadership should be applauded. And we must include the role of the psychologically dysfunctional House of Representatives in 2011 and 2012 as being the anchor that has prevented us from being further up the recovery curve. To be sure, this president focused strongly on health care in 2009 and 2010, while the Democrats had the majority in the House. He could and should have done more in other areas, and done it by reaching out adult to adult to both sides of the aisle in Congress. But even if he had, the underlying ideologue-induced 2011-12 gridlock would have happened.

In foreign affairs and policy, the president got it right (1) in managing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the war on terror, and (2) in developing increasingly strong, mutually respectful relationships with nations around the world. Far from the often used “apology tour” and apology behavior some label him with, he has set the globe on a course of a mutually respectful nation-to-nation and collective future and has done it without the self-serving bravado some would like to see.

In general, his tendency to be a bit aloof and a bit intellectually arrogant is softening, and his appreciation of the long-term national and global benefits that flow from a win-win-win mindset is just what we need.

Governor Romney successfully emerged from a rough Republican primary as the nominee of that party. He now presents himself as: (1) a person who knows how the business world works and, (2) a person who knows how to be successfully tough in foreign affairs, including tough in global commerce.

The Governor, though, now also clearly presents himself as he is – an imperious, self-absorbed autocratic CEO type. This condition is, in fact, not atypical in persons who have had professional experiences like his, but it is archaic, transparent, and behaviorally dna-imbedded. He can’t change it and wouldn’t if he could. Mitt Romney has unveiled himself, his true self, increasingly through the Republican primary debates and now the debates with the president. The “I’ll let you know when you can speak,” behavior and his condescending treatment toward the moderators, not to mention toward the president is not a surprise. He is reverting to form, to the autocratic, imperious CEO mindset he has. This mindset is fatal, though, for one who seeks the presidency of the United States. This office’s job description is ultimately grounded in serving at the will of the people, not the will of the Board of Directors and not in the predispositions of a Donald Trump-type self-made person.

There is a second behavior that Mitt Romney exhibits that is equally problematic. He ran to the right in the primary and now to the center in the general. Republicans do that. Democrats run to the left in primaries and to the center in generals. Governor Romney, though, has taken this to the next level. He appears to believe he can do as he wants if elected, ignoring the zealotry of the tea party ideology and Members of Congress. This would find favor with mainstream Republicans and some Democrats. But he can’t do it. He would ignore them at his peril. Further, if he acquiesces and is guided by their agenda, he almost certainly alienates mainstream Rebublicans, all Democrats, and finds himself powerless on an ideological island. Either way, his chameleonic conduct leads him to dead ends.

The upshot is that Mitt Romney has exposed himself as unfit to be president. He is the wrong person at the wrong time. AND, all this does not even take into account his misguided, myopic and clueless mistreatment of several groups of citizens, voters, people: Women, Hispanics, those going through a time of dependency in their lives, educators, and union and non-union workers. The list goes on.

President Obama, on the other hand, is positioned to break through, working with a co-equal and pro-active Congress, on the domestic front, in international trade and global commerce (indeed, he recognizes that the 21st century coincides with the transformational characteristics of technology and communication, such that while national sovereignty will remain integrally part of the world, globalization is on us – for the good of all), and in foreign policy. The United States will remain and even grow as the world’s leading power in times of peace and war. War is going to become less and less of a role player in the future, though, and the president knows what policies and philosophical grounding embraces that reality.

The choice is clear. In fact, the re-election of President Obama to a second four-year term should be by acclamation.