Thursday, March 27, 2014

6 Ways to Win the 2014 Elections



Current signs point to November 4, 2014 being a terrific day for the Republican Party.  The GOP may retake the Senate for the first time since losing it in 2006, and at least maintain its margins in the House and in state governments.


Even with this wave of rosy analysis, Republicans feel a gnawing pit in their stomachs. The last four elections have seen mind boggling reversals of fortune as the GOP found amazingly creative ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  The ghosts of Aiken, Mourdock, and O’Donnell remind Republicans of their epic failures in candidate vetting and message discipline.

Last year’s Republican meltdown in Virginia was an object lesson on how ethics trumps party.  Virginia also proved that Republican candidates lose when they channel Tom├ís de Torquemada and Nathan Bedford Forrest instead of Ronald Reagan.

There are many things that Republicans should do, and should avoid, in the seven months before the next election.

OVERSIGHT!
Republicans are in a rhetorical bind.  On one hand, they berate President Obama for being weak in dismantling America’s global leadership role, and then they turn around and declare Obama to be an arrogant and aloof “Imperial President” over his expansive use of Executive Orders and recess appointments. http://freebeacon.com/politics/the-imperial-presidency/

One way Republicans can both slow-up Obama domestically and build their case against him is to conduct wall-to-wall oversight hearings. 

Every House committee and subcommittee has the legitimate responsibility to conduct hearings on the actions of executive branch departments and agencies. Some of this is already occurring:



House Republicans should do far more of it.  They need to realize that executive branch entities spend dozens of staff days preparing for each hearing.  Senior officials and political appointees may sit before the microphone, but a cadre of staff and subordinate officials sit behind them.  This diverts countless executive branch resources from taking the initiative elsewhere. 

The more hearings - the less new mischief.  The more hearings – the more opportunities to expose Administration foibles and incompetence. 

One cautionary note - Republicans need to ask questions, not make assertions.  The most potent scandals occurred when the Legislative Branch asked leading questions.  “What did the President know and when did he know it?” remains one of the best mantras from the Watergate investigation.  The moment the investigator overreaches the evidence and leaps to a public conclusion, the tables turn and the public begins challenging the investigator and the investigation itself.  The ghost of Senator Joe McCarthy hovers over every Congressional probe.

REMEMBER WHAT CENTURY YOU ARE IN!
It is doubtful there are many Republican viewing parties for “Cosmos”.

Republicans used to be the science party.  NASA was formed under Eisenhower.  Voyager was developed and launched under Nixon.  Reagan remained stalwart for space exploration in the face of the Challenger disaster.  Reagan also initiated the Human Genome Project.

For some reason, many Republicans have turned their backs on the 21st Century and marched back to the 16th.  Top Republicans fight evolution, assert the Earth is only 5,000 years old, and selectively cite Biblical passages to promote big government intervention into private lives.  William F. Buckley, Ronald Reagan, and numerous other conservative intellects, found ways to espouse traditional values and faith while hailing science and the modern world.  Why is it so hard for Republicans in 2014 to strike the same balance?

Their embrace of fundamentalist Christians (TheoCons) has trapped them in the anti-science mindsets of Martin Luther (1483-1546) and John Calvin (1509-1564). It is truly sad that so many Republicans and “conservative” pundits have enthusiastically chosen anti or pre Enlightenment Era dogma.  They could easily embrace the thinking of Benedictus de Spinoza (1632-1677) and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), who reconciled an active God with scientific discoveries. http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/Mind/17th.html

Republicans will lose large swathes of the electorate if they continue to be caught in intellectual time warps.

AVOID BAD PHOTOS AND SOUND BITES!
Republicans and conservatives have a mental block about the digital age.  They forget that everything outside of their home is fair game.  In a world of security cameras and mobile phones, everything we say and do, if it is sufficiently embarrassing or the person is sufficiently significant, will be instantaneously shared with the world. 

The existing evidence is overwhelming. In 2012, Romney assumed explaining his negative view of Americans would not go past the high roller donors in a hotel ballroom (no one thought about the catering staff in the back of the room).  This year, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) booked a huge room for a marginal issue (at least in the minds of their attendees). The visual was devastating. http://aattp.org/the-gop-threw-a-minority-outreach-party-at-cpac-nobody-showed-up/

Message discipline should be a 24-7 fixation for anyone playing in the public space.  Leaders, and leader wannabes, are always on stage, even if that stage is shopping at a Walmart. Think before tweeting.  Think before posting.  Think before entering a studio.  Think before entering a room at a public or private event. Always have your core message hard wired into your brain and make sure you fit it into every utterance – digital, audio, video, or live.

LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD!
There are as many Looney Liberals as there are Crazy Conservatives.  However, you would never realize this parity from the Internet or the news media.

Republicans also make it harder on themselves when they promote friendly fire.  The Sesquicentennial of America’s Civil War has opened the door for some conservatives to embrace Southern succession and attack Lincoln.  This bizarre revisionism of history and Republicanism reached a pop culture boiling point when libertarian pundit Andrew Napolitano first attacked Lincoln on Fox News and then double-downed with a broader anti-Lincoln, anti-Union, rant on Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show”.  Many conservatives rallied to Napolitano’s defense and collectively threw Lincoln and the founding principles of the Republican Party under the bus.

Republicans need to honor their roots and their heroic Presidents.  Democrats and liberals always have preprogrammed accolades for every Democrat who made it into the White House, as well as a preprogrammed defense or dismissal of anything negative about their Presidents.  Republicans, on the other hand, find it easier to generate negatives rather than positives about their political ancestors.  The only exception is their fixation with venerating the Bush dynasty (more on that later).

Republicans are also at a disadvantage because many of their crazies love publicity and attract ovations and accolades within the conservatives’ incestuous media echo-chamber. It is hard to label crazies as “outliers” when they keynote political functions and are feted on talk shows.

Republicans not only need to silence or marginalize their crazies, they must strategically reposition the lunatics on the Left.  On any given day there are stories about corrupt Democrats and over-reaching liberal loonies, but they remain buried in local news stories or conservative social media sites.

Here are some examples:

Democratic Pennsylvania State officials accepting bribes:


In Hawaii, Democratic Legislators are defending the slaughter of dogs and cats for meat.  Why is that not fodder for Fox News and conservative talk radio?

A Long Island School banned footballs and other athletic equipment to reduce injuries.  Supposedly, Nurf balls are okay. 

Republicans need to establish a daily drumbeat of stories that force Democrats and liberals to confront their own outliers.

UP YOUR GROUND GAME!
In 2012, the Democrats’ NARWAL get-out-the-vote program ate the Republicans’ ORCA get-out-the-vote program.

ORCA was an embarrassing joke from its inception, but local Republican leaders were afraid to speak up or bought into the hype.  Underlying this abject failure is the collapse of Republican grassroots precinct capabilities.

In the 1950s, Eisenhower Republicans built the golden age of precinct operations.  The basics of, “identifying your voters”; “motivating your voters”; “getting your voters to the polls” were perfected by legions of stay at home moms, retirees, and eager College and Young Republicans.  Reagan conservatives reinvigorated local voter operations in the 1980s. Then things fell apart. 

Mass mailings, robocalls, and ultimately the Internet, eviscerated precinct operations.  Everything was top down, nationalized, and driven by huge amounts of money.  The era of dedicated volunteer precinct captains being a civic “welcome wagon” for new voters ended.

Republicans also refused to embrace new voter behaviors.  They fought or dismissed early voting.  Instead of using this opportunity to mobilize working families to vote on weekends they asserted, “Our voters come out only on election day”. In 2012, millions of Republican votes were lost to this obtuse myopia. Thankfully, others are finally calling for a return to electoral basics. http://m.washingtonexaminer.com/article/2545990

Republicans also lost credibility with their ill-conceived and poorly positioned voter ID programs.  Anyone who has contested elections knows that voter fraud occurs either in the initial registration or in the final counting, NOT when voters cast their ballots in polling places.  Republicans focused on the one part of the voting process that works.  The result was embarrassing laws, rhetoric, the taint of voter suppression, and charges of racism.

STOP BEING HYPOCRITES!
Ultimately, to win in 2014, Republicans need to regain the rhetorical high ground on a wide range of public issues.  The only way they will achieve this is to stop being such blatant hypocrites.

- Republicans cannot oppose government intrusion into business conduct, while pushing legislation expanding government intrusion into personal conduct.

- Republicans cannot keep “cherry picking” budget cuts.  Waste is waste no matter which agency or program is to blame.

- Republicans cannot oppose all tax increases.  There are outrageous government subsidies that only exist because lobbyists gave money or favors to public officials.  It is in the best interest of America to expose and end these revenue boondoggles.

- Republicans cannot cheer on George W. Bush’s and the Republican Congress’ spending binge of 2001-2006 and then rail against the Democrats current spending spree.

- Republicans cannot attack President Obama’s over-use of surveillance when the over reaching laws, processes, and technology were developed by President Bush and enthusiastically supported by “conservatives” in Congress and the media.

The other problem Republicans face is the Diaspora of Bush Administration functionaries who permeate the Washington media and its think tanks.  The Diaspora’s primary purpose is to unquestioningly defend every utterance, policy, and action of the Bush era. 

There has been much discussion about leaving Reagan behind in order to redefine and reposition conservativism and Republicanism in the 21st Century.  Many of those promoting this are Bush alumni who only want to supplant one time warp with their own.  Only by sanctifying Bush 41, Bush 43, and future permutations of the Bush dynasty, can they look in the mirror every morning and ignore their epic mistakes that ruined America at home and abroad and wrecked havoc on the Republican and conservative movements.

To win big in 2014, and lay the ground work for victory in 2016, Republicans must tell voters that they will reverse the last 14 years of mistakes not just the last six.

Republicans have a huge challenge and an equally large opportunity.  Obama’s countless missteps and lies opened an historic electoral door.  Much work needs to be done before Republicans can walk through the portal.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

ETERNAL BULLYING



“There’s an App for that” has become a common phrase as the possibilities of our digital age are limited only by our imagination.

Unfortunately, those who wish to do harm also have unlimited ways to pervert and abuse technology.  The latest opportunity for abuse is Yik Yak. http://yikyakapp.com/

Yik Yak was developed to provide college students with a highly localized way to handle lost & found and Yelp type reviews of on and off campus services [only the first 500 hundred nearby users connect through GPS tracking on their phones].  It makes sense.  The cyber world does not need to be cluttered by someone looking for their lost book bag at a small college.

Yik Yak has already attracted 100,000 users, and is now in the top 100 most popular Apps on Apple’s App Store.  The downside is the App is becoming a favorite of Cyber Bullies.  In Mobile County, Alabama, a 16-year-old and 14-year-old were arrested after three schools had to shut down for a day because of their posting threats on Yik Yak.

Similar Yik Yak threat posts led to evacuations of a high school in Marblehead, Massachusetts, and the lockdown of a high school in San Clemente, California. Officials at several Chicago area high schools have warned parents about Yik Yak. 

So far the response to Yik Yak has been to ban the App or block its reception. 

Bullying has been around as long as humans felt the need to establish “pecking orders”.  There will always be Apps to enable abusive behavior.  The challenge is creating cultures and processes to prevent or quickly eradicate this behavior.

I was bullied relentlessly in school.  My underlying identifier was being a “nerd”.  Add to that the Trifecta of glasses, being a “late bloomer” in terms of height, and “buck teeth” that led to braces.  Play ground taunts in 6th through 8th grade were bad enough, but the worst came in 9th grade gym class. 

A group of boys were called “F Troop” after the TV show about dysfunctional soldiers.  They were the ones who got the lowest grades and the detention [my school had no minorities - this was among whites in an upper middle class suburb].  They used gym class to harass those of us who were smarter, but less physically developed.  I dreaded every moment.  Harassment escalated.  Once, I was socked in the stomach so hard I passed out.  The gym teacher, a former Marine, refused to get involved or even call the nurse.  He just told me, then age 14, to “be a man” and work things out myself.  When a hunting knife was brandished at me I went to the school counselors.

The counselors worked with me to review the entire situation.  I agreed that singling out current offenders would probably lead to others in “F Troop” taking their revenge.  After some research a solution emerged.  There were four groups of 9th grade boys for the purposes of scheduling gym, study halls, and some elective courses.  The “jock” group was matched with another group of “nerds”. The counselors agreed to place the jocks with “F Troop” and the two nerd groups together.   The jocks were on equal physical footing with “F Troop” so the bullying ended.

Or did it?  In 2002, Rachel Simmons published her detailed research on how bullying impacts young women throughout their lives http://www.rachelsimmons.com/books-and-tv/ . Last year, Paul Meshanko, published his ground breaking analysis on how disrespect fundamentally alters brain chemistry http://respecteffectbook.com/ .

At my 20th high school reunion very few of the “F Troop” attended.  Many were either in jail or dead (drugs or violence).  One “F Troop” alumnus had served in Vietnam and became an airline pilot, proving that people can change given the right circumstance. For most of “F Troop”, once labeled by school officials, they continued on their destructive paths.  My personal trauma in gym class led to a life long ambivalence to sports and sports’ figures.

Bullying has become more pervasive because our digital age follows us 24-7.  When I was growing up, I could return home to a loving family and friends of my choosing.  There were no bullying posts on Facebook, Twitter, Snap Chat, or Yik Yak to haunt me outside of school.

Today’s digital “echo chamber” makes it imperative that school officials remain vigilant and pro-active to bullying.  Blocking technology abuse can certainly help, but finding ways to prevent or diffuse situations and build anti-bullying values throughout their school’s culture will save lives and improve others.

Respect and anti-bullying is about more than technology – it is about behavior and values.


[Scot Faulkner is a Senior Advisor to Legacy Business Cultures.  He served as the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives and was a Member of the White House Staff.  He attended Wayzata Junior High School in a Minneapolis, Minnesota suburb.]

Sunday, January 26, 2014

REBOOT THE STATE OF THE UNION

Published on http://hnn.us/article/154543 

It is time to rethink the State of the Union Address.

On January 28, Americans will once again endure the pointless spectacle of yet another State of the Union Address.  The President will enter the chamber like a reigning monarch with all branches of government in polite attendance.  Many promises will be made, of which few will be kept.  Many cheap applause lines will be given so that everyone in the Chamber, except the Supreme Court Justices, will rise in ovation.  An array of symbolic guests will be seated next to the First Lady and be used as props at key junctures in the speech. 

Whether Republican or Democrat, Presidents use the State of the Union address to annually reboot their agenda.  It is a huge waste of time for everyone involved.  It creates the visage of an imperial President holding the co-equal branches of government hostage to the vanity of one person.  The only people longing for this annual rite are the pundits who get to spend a week speculating on the speech and another week analyzing it.  It is the Super Bowl for politicians.  The only difference is the cheerleading occurs afterward in Statuary Hall and the pre-game tailgate parties are held at expensive clubs and restaurants.

Why is there a State of the Union speech?

There is no official reason for the speech. There is not even a requirement for it to be annual. Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution only requires the President to make a report:

He shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.

It is also not required that Congress grant the President the use of their Chamber for a ritualized infomercial. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives must formally vote on a Joint Resolution to convene a Joint Session of Congress. At any time, one or both Chambers could bring an end to this tedium by simply refusing to approve the resolution.

President George Washington delivered the first State of the Union speech in person before a Joint Session of Congress on January 8, 1790.  Since then, there have been 223 opportunities for Presidents to deliver their report.  Presidents have delivered their report as a speech before a Joint Session of Congress only 98 times.  The other 125 times were through written communication.

George Washington and John Adams delivered their State of the Union reports as speeches, but Thomas Jefferson let his written word suffice.  For 113 years, no other President delivered a State of the Union speech until Woodrow Wilson on December 2, 1913.  President Warren Harding continued this new practice as did Calvin Coolidge, once.

For ten years, Congress did not have to arrange a Joint Session for the State of the Union Address.  Then Franklin Roosevelt asked for the forum in 1934. In 1946, President Harry Truman opted out of a formal speech because, during the previous nine months, there had been five Joint Sessions of Congress relating to the end of World War II.  In 1956, President Eisenhower opted out of a speech because he was still recovering from his September 24, 1955 heart attack.

America seems to have survived the absence of Presidential vanity 125 times.  Congress still operated.  Legislative business continued.  The President issues a detailed Budget Message a few weeks after the speech, which is a far more tangible communication of the Administration’s priorities. So why, in the 21st Century, must we put up with this annual charade, which everyone knows is totally meaningless?  A simple reading of the President’s Budget executive summary from the Oval Office would more than meet the Constitutional requirement. The last memorable line from a State of the Union Address was President George W. Bush’s description of an “Axis of Evil” on January 29, 2002.  That did not end well.

Since Bush’s 2002 flourish viewership of State of the Union Addresses has plummeted.  In 2003, 62 million watched.  By 2013, only 33.4 million viewed the festivities.  Even if you factor in alternative viewing modes offered by digital media, the audience has substantially declined.  It seems that most Americans, unlike politicians and pundits, are tuning out this outdated and superficial display of Washington excess. Imagine any State of the Union address without the pomp and pageantry and without countless interruptions for orchestrated applause.  The words would be even more empty and meaningless than they are already.  

Sunday, January 19, 2014

SPRINT STUMBLES


Sprint’s latest advertising slogan is “Everything is Important”.  Unfortunately, their new customers are not part of this world.

It all started when a family member offered to add my wife and me to their existing Sprint account.  This was to save money and improve service.  Instead, it opened a rift in time, space, and my money.

Step One was my paying a $200.00 security deposit on October 22. The new Sprint phones arrived on October 26, but they could not be “activated” until the family member drove into Maryland to set-up the phones within a Sprint zone (activation could not be done in a roaming environment).  I had already noticed that my Sprint Android was an older and clunkier model than my existing Verizon phone.

It just took two days for me to be totally dismayed with Sprint, its phones, and its service.  So I phoned my family member and arranged for us to shut down the account on October 30, after just three days of usage.

Step Two.  The Sprint website listed their office in Martinsburg, West Virginia as a full service facility where all transactions can occur.  The staff at the Martinsburg Sprint store clarified that they were an “affiliate” and could not handle our issue.  They shrugged and stated, “The Sprint website is wrong”.

Step Three. A forty minute drive to the Sprint Store in Frederick, Maryland allowed me to shut down the account and return both phones.  My wife had never unwrapped her iPhone, so it sat pristinely in its factory packaging.  “Faith” at the Frederick store happily cancelled my account, but asked for $70.00.  She pointed out that the shipping statement stated, “a restocking fee of $35 per device may apply”.  I pointed out that “may” allowed for local discretion.  She asserted they always charged the fee, even for phones never unwrapped.  I asked about a refund for my deposit.  She explained that the first bill would close-out the account and adjust for any offsets.

Step Four. On October 27 my Sprint bill arrived.  I was charged $269.98!

Step Five. I call the Sprint customer service line. After a 30 minute wait, “Natasha” answers and admits there was a mistake, that everything would be sorted out, and she gives me a case number.  On November 27 a new adjusted bill arrived.  They cancelled my balance due and sent me a check for $64.71.

Step Six.  I call the Sprint customer service line again.  After a 40 minute wait, “Maria” answers and, after reviewing my statement and consulting her supervisor, she admits I am due an additional $69.71. She also admits that the Frederick store acted arbitrarily on the return fee, but she was powerless to make any adjustment.

Step Seven.  No second check materializes.  I call the Sprint customer service line.  After a 35 minute wait, “Alex” answers and asserts that “Maria” and her supervisor were wrong and that I was not owed any more money.  I explained that I had been charged $205.29 for three days of substandard service.  “Alex” basically said it was not his problem and rang off.

Sprint’s shipping statement declares, “Your complete satisfaction is important to us”.  Clearly these are empty words.  I returned to Verizon.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Congressional Kairos: The Time Has Fully Come


Guest Columnist: Donald G. Mutersbaugh, Sr.

[Editor’s Note: The 2014 Elections should be very straight forward as history favors the opposition party during off-year elections in a President’s second term. Some trends already point in that direction: http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/195889-expanded-2014-senate-map-boosts-gop-confidence. However, Republicans have seized defeat from the jaws of victory in both 2010 and 2012 with “kooky” Senate candidates and highly divisive primaries. The GOP is already proving its own worst enemy http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140119/OPINION01/301190003. As usual, Don’s article is a thoughtful assessment of the current situation.]

This is going to be a tough pill to swallow. I believe that the Republican Party does not stand a chance of winning any seats in the upcoming Senate elections – unless it makes substantial changes – soon. I will just present excerpts from a variety of articles and sources. Does anyone else see trouble if there is no change?

As of December 31, 2013 a Real Clear Politics poll – an average of seven other national polls – show that 13.1% approve of Congress and 81.0% disapprove. Good or bad for Republicans? You be the judge. http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/other/congressional_job_approval-903.html

From Gallup Politics dated December 11, 2013: “Americans continue to see the Democratic and Republican parties unfavorably, as a year marred by high-profile policy failures for both parties comes to a close. The Republican Party's favorability has improved slightly to 32% from an all-time low of 28% in October during the government shutdown, while 61% now view the GOP unfavorably. The Democratic Party -- on the defensive recently for the flawed rollout of the healthcare website -- maintains a favorable rating of 42%. But a majority of Americans, 53%, now see the party unfavorably, up from 49% in October.” http://www.gallup.com/poll/166202/democratic-party-maintains-favorability-edge-gop.aspx

From Gallup Politics dated January 8, 2014: “Forty-two percent of Americans, on average, identified as political independents in 2013, the highest Gallup has measured since it began conducting interviews by telephone 25 years ago. Meanwhile, Republican identification fell to 25%, the lowest over that time span. At 31%, Democratic identification is unchanged from the last four years but down from 36% in 2008.” http://www.gallup.com/poll/166763/record-high-americans-identify-independents.aspx 

The article continues in the next two paragraphs:
“Americans are increasingly declaring independence from the political parties. It is not uncommon for the percentage of independents to rise in a non-election year, as 2013 was. Still, the general trend in recent years, including the 2012 election year, has been toward greater percentages of Americans identifying with neither the Republican Party nor the Democratic Party, although most still admit to leaning toward one of the parties.” 

And,“The increased independence adds a greater level of unpredictability to this year's congressional midterm elections. Because U.S. voters are less anchored to the parties than ever before, it's not clear what kind of appeals may be most effective to winning votes. But with Americans increasingly eschewing party labels for themselves, candidates who are less closely aligned to their party or its prevailing doctrine may benefit.”

From the Center for Responsive Politics: Let's look at Senate reelection rates. In 2008 it was 83%; 2010 it was 84%; in 2012 it was 91%. “Senate races still overwhelmingly favor the incumbent, but not by as reliable a margin as House races. Big swings in the national mood can sometimes topple long time office-holders, as happened with the Reagan revolution in 1980. Even so, years like that are an exception.” http://www.opensecrets.org/bigpicture/reelect.php?cycle=2012

This analysis, done by Larry J. Sabato, for Politico Magazine, highlights my concerns:
“Ultimately, the 2014 battle for the Senate, which Democrats now hold 55-45, is close. It will be an enormous shock if Republicans do not gain seats and at least reduce the margin of Democratic control. If the GOP can restrain its cannibalistic instincts and tendency to nominate flawed candidates[emphasis mine], then to retake the Senate it need only match the post-World War II average gain of six seats for the party out of power in the White House in the sixth year of two-term administrations. At this point, I’d set the over/under on Republican gains in the Senate at 3.5, and I’d take the over—meaning a net gain of four or more Senate seats for the GOP. If Republicans end up dipping under, they will have had their third consecutive underperformance in Senate contests. On the contrary, if even a modest-sized wave develops for Republicans next fall, the third time could be the charm for the GOP’s goal of a Senate takeover.

“The ebb and flow of politics is one of the few constants throughout American history, and 2014 will be no exception. The GOP fared well in 2002 and 2004, then it was the Democrats’ turn in 2006 and 2008. Since then, the back-and-forth cycle has speeded up, with Republicans winning handsomely in 2010 and Democrats in 2012. In the quick “surge and decline” politics of our highly polarized era, the early bet has to be on Republicans to do well in 2014—despite themselves [emphasis mine].” http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/01/midterm-elections-republicans-really-could-win-2014-101802.html#ixzz2pqQqq03b

From a previous post by me on Citizen Oversight on February 25, 2013 on the statistical possibility of a Republican takeover of the Senate: “Now, to the interesting part; consider the following statistics. When there is a Democratic President and a Republican Senate, the Republicans controlled 52 seats and the Democrats controlled 47 seats (vacancies cause the unequal numbers). When there is a Republican President and a Democratic Senate, the Democrats controlled 55 seats and the Republicans controlled 43 seats. In the 113th Congress (2013- 2015), with a Democratic President and a Democratic Senate, the Republicans control 45 seats and the Democrats control 55 seats (the two independents are considered Democrats for this analysis). But this brings up an interesting question: since the Republicans are statistically projected to win in 2014, how will this occur since they will need to keep the existing numbers and win at least six more seats?

“To answer this question, I did some research and found the following discussion of extreme interest: Twenty-one of the 35 seats up for election are now held by Democrats. Moreover, most [sic] the states that will be casting ballots for the Senate in 2014 are Republican leaning: 7 of the 21 Democratic-held seats are in states carried by the former Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, while just one of the Republican seats is in a state won by President Obama.

“I would encourage everyone to read the complete analysis by Nate Silver. It is excellent! He continues:
“Are the conditions favorable enough to make Republicans odds-on favorites to gain six seats and win the Senate majority? Not quite. Six seats are a lot to gain, and Republicans are at risk of nominating subpar candidates in a number of races. But it would not take all that much to tip the balance toward them….

“Summing up the possibilities across all 35 Senate races yields a net gain of four to five seats for Republicans, just short of the six they would need to win back the majority.

“However, the margin of error on the calculation is very high at this early stage…. If Republicans swept all the “lean” and “tossup” races, they would gain a net of eight seats from Democrats, giving them a 53-to-47 majority in the 114th Congress. If Democrats swept instead, they would lose just one seat and would hold a 54-to-46 majority. Considering the uncertainty in the landscape, estimates from betting markets that Democrats have about a 63 percent chance of holding their majority appear to be roughly reasonable.


“It is more than just a little bit exciting to see Political Hysteresis at work projecting a 53 to 47 Republican majority when one of the greatest American statisticians and psephologists, Nate Silver, opens the door to the possibility of a Republican win in 2014 – by the same numbers!”
[The Cook Political Report published this chart on December 19, 2013: http://cookpolitical.com/senate/charts/race-ratings for specific projections.]

I really do not like opening my analysis with so many quotes from other sources, but the facts are the facts; and after reading several articles, the above analysis prevailed in all of them. The conservative base is necessary for the survival of the Republican Party; trying to broaden the Party’s image by changing the messaging further dilutes the Democratic-Republican differentiation that exists now. These and other issues are dividing the Party; but how can the Party ever hope to win elections when it can’t even agree on the critical platform planks that the Republican candidates need to promote and defend?

Given this scenario, to bring all of the groups into a big tent coalition without alienating the conservative core of the Republican Party will be a very difficult task. I would even go so far as to say that it could not occur before the election season begins. So from my perspective, I would like to suggest the following: the Republican Party needs a big ticket, one that all Americans can agree on; and an issue so great that it would transcend all political positions. May I suggest term limits for Congress?

The Heritage Foundation states: “Term Limits: The Only Way to Clean Up Congress”: “Such substantial public support suggests widespread distaste for careerism in politics, as well as a conviction that continual infusion of fresh blood into the federal legislature will be good for both the Congress and the country. 

Support for term limits extends to significant majorities of diverse demographic groups: polls show that majorities of men, women, blacks, whites, Republicans, Democrats, and Independents all favor term limits, typically by 60 percent or better…. Term limits are a vital political reform that would bring new perspectives to Congress, mandate frequent legislative turnover, and diminish incentives for wasteful election-related federal spending that currently flourish in a careerist congressional culture.” 

I would suggest that the Republican Party reframe the debate to not say “What is good for the Republican Party?” Rather, what the message should say is “What is good for the American people?” The Republicans should have this as their central theme for each of their candidates: “If elected, I will bring all of the powers of this office into play to enact legislation that will create term limits for Congress.” If presented sincerely, I cannot help to believe that it would attract voters from all political spectrums, thereby marginalizing the debate on some other issues where the Republican Party is viewed unfavorably.

It is inevitable that term limits will be implemented. If it is not legislated as an amendment, it is inevitable that an Article V Constitutional convention will be called. Wikipedia summarizes this as follows: “Depending upon whether or not rescissions between 1988 and 2010 in some of states that had previously petitioned for such a Convention during the 1970s and 1980s are in fact valid, then Ohio's 2013 petition is either the 19th or the 33rd. If Ohio's 2013 petition is deemed to be the 33rd, then the Nation is currently again just one state shy of an Article V Convention being triggered.” 

Why not take the initiative and do term limits now? If a full-blown Article V Convention is called, Pandora's Box will be reopened – and I'm sure that the Law of Unintended Consequences will prevail if the entire Constitution is put on the drawing board to be reworked.

I would recommend that everybody read The Heritage Foundation article cited above. It was written in 1994; but the analysis and conclusions reached then – are even more obvious today. The author's conclusion from this study: “It is difficult to overstate the extent to which term limits would change Congress. They are supported by large majorities of most American demographic groups; they are opposed primarily by incumbent politicians and the special interest groups which depend on them. Term limits would ameliorate many of America's most serious political problems by counterbalancing incumbent advantages, ensuring congressional turnover, securing independent congressional judgment, and reducing election-related incentives for wasteful government spending. Perhaps most important, Congress would acquire a sense of its own fragility and temporariness, possibly even coming to learn that it would acquire more legitimacy as an institution by doing better work on fewer tasks.” [Ibid]

The idea that the RNC will have as its centerpiece campaign slogans which are anti-Obamacare, and the advertisements will probably work – but not all the way. People are tired of the negativity that the Republican Party pushes; but by this fall, we, the people, will have “read” and “lived” through this monstrosity. So provide a constant reminder of its failure; but provide some original thinking so the electorate can see that we want to build as well as tear down. I would be very surprised if embracing term limits did not electrify the electorate and cause that tremendous, independent base to gravitate towards the Republicans.

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Donald G. Mutersbaugh, Sr. earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Maryland and his Master of Business Administration degree from Mary Washington College. He is the former Associate Administrator of Information Resources for the U.S House of Representatives under Speaker Newt Gingrich.

Monday, January 6, 2014

THE NUMBER GAMES

                       
 Published in http://hnn.us/article/154391

Quality guru Dr. W. Edwards Demming always asserted, “You can't manage what you can't measure.” America is suffering from this ailment as facts and numbers become increasingly politicized. Everyone cherry picks statistics to build their case. They ignore or assail numbers that challenge their case. We are at a point where rational political discourse has evaporated along with objective facts and figures. Few are willing to stipulate to anything. Our ability to achieve reasonable middle ground fades by the day.

There are three areas where this numbers’ crisis is harming our nation and the Republican Party in particular.

THE REAL ECONOMY

Every pundit pounces on economic indicators. America’s economy has something for everybody. The stock market is at a record high and the economic recovery continues, although at a tepid pace. However, outside of the “top 1%” of income earners things are far from rosy.

The most accurate figures are being generated by Gallup. They show the unemployment rate at 7.4%. However, under-employment – people who are taking lower paying jobs to make ends meet - remains stuck at around 17% for the last three years. Wage earners, as a percentage of the U.S. population, are stuck at around 43% during this same period. The “Labor Participation Rate”, those employable in core earning years (ages 25-64), continues to lag at record lows (82%).

Congress reconvenes to face the future of unemployment benefits. Many families are at risk because unemployment insurance benefits ended on December 28, 2013. What no one is discussing is the fact that there are many Americans who have not been able to qualify for unemployment benefits. Unemployment insurance is partially funded by deductions when a person is employed. When a person is laid-off they qualify for benefits if they paid into unemployment insurance at least two quarters during the previous eighteen months (known as the base period). This only occurs if the person was employed as a W2 worker. Consulting work (1099) does not count because these are fees not wages. Therefore, an unemployed person who has worked as an independent contractor is not eligible for benefits.

Currently, 34.4 million Americans work as contractors or part-time without benefits. When they get laid-off, and cannot find follow-on opportunities, they become a large element without unemployment benefits. Media stories, and Congressional angst, are rare regarding Americans barely hanging on – not poor enough for welfare, but not being able to make ends meet. This is the real hole in our safety net.


FISCAL FLIM FLAMS

Once again the clock is ticking toward raising the debt ceiling. Congress is also sparring over how to fund unemployment benefits through spending offsets. The liberal chorus for taxation to ease the pain of the Sequester can also be heard on a daily basis.

These false deadlines and balance sheet fictions are designed to avoid real facts and serious decisions. There is over $680 billion lying around unused and unobligated in countless accounts throughout the Federal Government. Obama is the only recent president who has not conducted a “budget sweep” to retrieve these funds. A memo from either the U.S. Treasury or OMB would sweep this money back into a general fund to stave-off the national debt ceiling for a full year. Alternatively, an across the board hiring freeze of federal employees would save $350 billion a year. This would solve the debt problem for nearly six months. Still another option is to save $650 billion by annually implementing the 9,000 Inspector General and Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports.

Congress and the White House won’t admit there are real opportunities to balance the Federal budget. They are adrift in a sea of sham.


PURITY PURGES

In a world where “Duck Dynasty’s” Phil Robertson has replaced “Firing Line’s” William F. Buckley as the intellectual symbol of conservatism, numbers still matter.

The Republican Party, like the Democratic Party, is an amalgam of interests gathered around a set of philosophical concepts. In order to win elections, and therefore to govern, political parties must expand beyond their comfort zone to attract candidates and voters who don’t always adhere to these core concepts. Expand too far and party labels are meaningless. Restrict too much and the party is sent into the political wilderness.

A key test for striking the right balance comes when a Party disciplines one of their elected officials for being too wayward. At some point being useful for “organizational purposes” is undermined by a pattern of votes that threaten Party integrity. In 1970, Republicans ended the political career of Senator Charles Goodell (R-NY) because he was voting less than 50% of the time with his Party and taking the lead in sponsoring ultra-liberal legislation. As Goodell had been appointed to fill the vacancy left by the death of Robert Kennedy in 1968, his bid for a full term was the ideal opportunity to make an example. James Buckley, brother of William F. Buckley, ran on the Conservative Party ticket against Goodell. Goodell was made a “poster child” for disloyalty. Buckley crushed Goodell by nearly 2-1.

It is one thing to purge disloyalty at the 50% or less threshold. It is quite another to launch primary challenges at the 100% or less threshold. That is what is happening across the Republican Party as it enters the 2014 election cycle. For example, the Texas Tea Party has declared Rep. Pete Sessions (TX-32) an “under performer” for his American Conservative Union rating of 97%, and is fielding candidates against him.

Incumbent re-election rates are always over 85% and are many times over 90%. Open seats are another matter as are divisive primaries. In these circumstances the incumbent party retention rate, depending on state, can plummet to 50%. Thanks to multiple cycles of gerrymandering, individual Congressional districts have skewed more partisan. However, Republicans make up a third or less of registered voters in most states. In order to win Senate seats, Governorships, and other statewide races, Republicans need to appeal to Independents and open-minded Democrats. As Ronald Reagan once said, “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20 percent traitor.”

Tea Party purity purges play well on conservative talk radio, but the only way to govern is to control the government.

Monday, December 23, 2013

2013 IN PERSPECTIVE


2013 was like any other year. We found new ways to be humane and inhumane. The frontiers of knowledge advanced both in discovery and dissemination. Creative genius existed next to odd people and events that were undeserving our attention.

Throughout these past twelve months, there were also patterns and trends that appeared or expanded into our lives. These will shape our existence in 2014 and merit further discussion.

SOURCE VERSUS SUBSTANCE
The quality of civil discourse declined along with its quantity. Rational thought, critical thinking, and reasoned engagement all declined sharply among politicians and pundits. Save for rare instances of good governance at state and local levels, hyper-partisanship reined supreme. The continued collapse of functional democracy was on vivid display in Washington, DC. To the credit of Americans, trust in Congress sank to historic lows and support for President Obama fell to his lowest ebb.

Incompetence, corruption, and deceit played their roles in the deterioration of our civic culture. However, the biggest factor was the expanding inability of people from across the political spectrum to keep an open mind when encountering opposing views. Who was saying something trumped what was being said. Even the old adage that “a stopped clock is still right twice a day” was discarded.

Shutting out differing viewpoints closes the mind to new ideas and prevents everyone from obtaining important “reality checks” for their actions. On a good day, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow provides cogent and insightful analysis. On any day, Fox’s Charles Krauthammer is the most knowledgeable and articulate pundit on an amazing range of topics. We need to return to a time when no one should have to pass a litmus test prior to pulling a fire alarm in a burning building.

CORE VERSUS FRINGE BELIEFS
Pope Francis was named Time’s “Man of the Year” for many good reasons. His most universal contribution was returning to the core message of his church – anyone seeking salvation will be granted it. Communicating and embodying the Catholic Church’s core message immediately welcomed back those wishing to return to its faith and opened a dialogue with all others desiring a caring and tolerant world. In one masterful leap, Pope Francis made his church relevant in the 21st Century.

Pope Francis’ accomplishment should be embraced by the Republican Party. A movement of faith or policy is not the sum of its parts. Its core values and beliefs inform and guide its parts. Specific issues will come and go, but its core should remain timeless. Transient passengers should not be allowed to steer the ship.

WASHINGTON VERSUS AMERICA
Our traditional concerns over government over-reach, and our dismay over its incompetence, were joined by a new and disturbing issue – fairness. “Crony capitalism” moved to the forefront of America’s psyche. The record disparity in wealth has made increasing numbers of Americans wonder if the “America Dream” has been hijacked by a well-connected oligarchy.

These fairness concerns are not about depriving productive people their well earned rewards. It is about those in power rigging the game for everyone else. Special interest tax breaks, regulatory waivers, and program funding have created an undemocratic oligarchy constructing a public trough from which they devour the spoils. This has worsened as large companies and banks continue to get away with wanton abuses, as long as they pay a small percentage of their “ill gotten” gains to complicit overseers.

One of the great missed opportunities for real change occurred when political powers did everything possible to keep the Tea Party from allying with Occupy Wall Street. Both groups arose out of a deep mistrust of established power and concern over unaccountable and incestuous elites perverting America. Such an alliance was the one true chance of a third party challenging the status quo.

In the wake of Washington dysfunction, corporate statism, and consumer exploitation, Americans are growing more restive. The latest Gallup Poll reported that seventy-two percent of Americans say big government the greatest threat to the U.S., a record high in the nearly 50-year history of this question. Unfortunately, Americans are disengaging from activism, even voting, feeling that little can be done. Opting out is a recipe for civic decline.

AMERICA VERSUS THE WORLD
America continues to suffer from not having a global strategy since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Our “war of terror” fixated on misdiagnosing symptoms in one region of the world. America’s role in the world, it competing with 200 other countries for economic well-being, and preventing slippage back to 18th Century amoral adventurism have been absent from meaningful dialogues.

The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) are willingly filling the void. These nations view 18th Century style power politics as their salvation from their respective internal failings. America’s missteps and miscues are being exploited to the detriment of global stability and morality. A world dominated by any country other than America will be nasty and brutish.

America remains the most parochial world power in history. Only a third of Americans currently hold passports (that’s fifteen times more than in 1970) . Only 19% of Americans travel outside the U.S. and most of them go to North American destinations. Americans consistently score near the bottom among developed nations on geographic knowledge. Much of this is based on the fact that America’s imperialism occurred within what is now its own borders. While European armies, traders, and missionaries spanned the global, Americans conquered our own continent. Except for the Spanish-American War, America’s overseas military activism was not acquisitive. Certainly, American brands and culture remain the top influencers of world consumption, but only a microscopic portion of our corporate and political leaders have actual overseas experience.

SECURITY VERSUS PRIVACY
You do not improve your chances of finding a needle in the haystack by creating more haystacks. That is the fundamental flaw in America’s counter-terrorism strategy. In the 1970’s, Americans worried about who was on President Nixon’s enemies’ list and who his minions bugged. Now we are all on our government’s enemies list and we are all bugged. This is not progress.

No amount of Orwellian intrusions will find and stop every terrorist. The odds will always remain in favor of the lone zealot or psychopath. Security forces have to get it right 100% of the time – they will never achieve this certainty. Innocent people will be killed or maimed when bad people slip through these defenses.

They key to success is to remove the roots of terrorism. Unless and until moderate Islamic leaders end the official teaching of hatred, and the perverse interpretations of the Koran, there will always be a threat. Until we establish policies and processes to recognize and treat mental illness there will always be a person using violent means to destroy lives and communities.

TECHNOLOGY VERSUS HUMANS
The irony of our age is that all the amazing advances in communications are creating as many problems as opportunities. We are all part of a technological Tower of Babel. Our common frame of reference ended years ago, to the detriment of our civic culture.

Diversity is a good thing, unless no one can effectively reach out to others. We have to keep track of friends, family, and colleagues who use different communication platforms and environments, and when they change without telling anyone. It is Apple versus Windows; iPhone versus Android; LinkedIn versus Facebook, versus countless other social networks. It is having to remember which of our friends and colleagues prefer emails to telephone calls; texting to Skype, and texts on Skype. It is about not only which people follow which television show, but whether to spend money to subscribe to cable, premium cable, Netflix, and Amazon in order to follow the latest award winning series.

Reaching key people for business or pleasure is bewildering. Platform convergence (who uses a separate camera any more?) is complicated by user divergence. The challenge for 2014 and beyond is having technology enable more than hinder our cultural advance.