Monday, May 19, 2014

Vacuous VA



The following was published in The Washington Examiner.


Shinseki must go.  It is unconscionable for a leader to be so asleep at the switch.
 
Secretary Shinseki’s lack of curiosity is a fundamental flaw.  No leader, especially a Cabinet Secretary responsible for the well-being of America’s veterans, should be allowed to remain after their inaction caused unwarranted deaths.  Shinseki’s after the fact display of concern is not a sufficient atonement for what happened. 
 
Real leaders are pro-active and follow-up.  No matter how much they trust their subordinates, a real leader random checks and deep dives within their organization to independently verify actions, gain important insights, and connect with their colleagues.  Shinseki did none of these and lives were lost.
 
An example of a real leader is Gerry Carmen’s tenure as Administrator of the General Services Administration (GSA) under Ronald Reagan. In1980, the GSA was one of the most scandal ridden agencies of the federal government.  President Reagan picked Carmen, a no nonsense auto parts entrepreneur from New Hampshire, to clean up the GSA. 
 
Carmen immediately took steps to turn around the GSA. He elevated three whistleblowers (who had been ostracized and marginalized under President Carter) to key positions and began to hold people accountable. In league with the whistleblowers and investigative journalists, Carmen and his team dusted off mountains of unread Inspector General Reports, worked closely with the Justice Department, and sent forty eight corrupt GSA officials to jail.   The signal was crystal clear; GSA was to be an honest agency with zero tolerance for waste, fraud, or abuse.
 
His first opportunity for operational change was reducing processing time for federal supplies.  The average “work in process” (WIP) time for an agency supply order to move from order entry to shipment was 45 days.  Carmen ordered that WIP be reduced to nine days. A new reporting unit, Program Control, was established to directly monitor operations and measure performance. 
 
Within the first weeks, WIP magically fell to nine days in reports from the GSA warehouses.  Carmen did not believe it.  An immediate audit of the warehouse reports showed that warehouse managers had redefined WIP to only cover activity related to preparing supplies for shipment.  Just like at the Department of Veterans Affairs, career bureaucrats created a parallel set of measures to erase a backlog.  Unlike the V.A., Carmen and his team, ferreted out the subterfuge and fired those who cooked the books.
 
One Washington, DC area GSA warehouse did not “cook the books”.  However, the warehouse manager complained that he could not reduce WIP unless he had ten more fork lifts.  Once again, Carmen wasn’t buying it.  He made an unannounced visit to the warehouse and discovered forty fork lifts, fifteen of which were disabled waiting long overdue repairs.  Carmen also reviewed the operational logs and unearthed the fact that there were only twenty certified fork lift operators.  No effort had been made to certify new operators after a dozen had left or retired.  The Washington warehouse manager was immediately placed on administrative leave and was jettisoned from government service within the month.
 
Shinseki was not confronted with flim flams over supply chain management; he confronted manipulations that impacted lives.  His passivity is unforgivable.  He insulted everyone involved by hiding behind the lamest excuse of all – trying to minimize the scope of his negligence.  Shinseki declared, “Most veterans are satisfied with the quality of their V.A. health care, but we must do more to improve timely access to that care.”
The removal of Dr. Robert A. Petzel, the under secretary for health, is clearly not enough. Tom Tarantino, with The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, correctly asserted, “We don’t need the V.A. to find a scapegoat. We need an actual plan to restore a culture of accountability throughout the V.A.”
That can only happen with a new leader, who actually knows how to lead.

[Scot Faulkner led the Office of Program Control for Gerry Carmen at the GSA.  He also led the clean-up of Congressional operations as the Chief Administrative Officer of the U.S. House of Representatives. http://citizenoversight.blogspot.com/ ]

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us



Guest Columnist: Donald G. Mutersbaugh, Sr.





Walt Kelly first used the quote "We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us" on a poster for Earth Day in 1970. Over the years many people have co-opted this quote to basically describe a situation in which a person or group continues to fail because of its own ineptitude. How sad it is that today I offer these comments about the Republican Party
I want to describe what worries me the most about what is happening. I believe all of us are familiar with the typical reaction to a dangerous situation: fight or flight. There are two other reactions that I want to propose; these apply to survival situations. The difference is that fight or flight is a short-term reaction; and adaptation and internalization are long-term reactions.
I will not dwell on the fight or flight situation in a nonpolitical situation. I think everyone knows if they're confronted by a dangerous situation, over the short term, that might be the only alternative. Let's consider adaptation, however, in the event that fight or flight does not work. The example I will use is the Stockholm syndrome: you are captured and made a prisoner. You have tried to fight and were overpowered; you tried to run away, but were captured. At this point what you do? One option is to adapt: you bide your time awaiting a moment when fight or flight becomes an option again. Finally, if enough time passes and you are brainwashed as well, you actually may internalize the message that was the dangerous situation that began your journey: instead, you become an energetic worker for the cause of your captors and now identify with them to the point of possibly assisting them.
Now, let's carry this into a political environment. It seems as if almost every confrontational issue that faces the Republicans, they choose flight over fight: compromise is better than principle. With the mainstream media constantly portraying conservatives and the Republican Party in a bad light, this is not necessarily a bad strategy; in fact, it might be the only strategy. The electorate seems to feel that whenever one of these controversial issues arises, any negative outcome is the fault of Republicans. It seems that any negotiation that might be proposed is wrong: it's the Democratic Party’s way or no way. A part of this may be because of the negative perception that most of the electorate seem to have about the Tea Party. They were very effective in 2010, but current thinking seems (based on that same mainstream media) to be that the Tea Party is holding the rest of the Republican Party hostage – and they are perceived as being too radical – and so flight ensues.
So now, adaptation may occur over the long run where, rather than fighting or negotiating a more favorable outcome, the Republican Party instead chooses to align themselves with the goals of the Democratic Party. That way everything runs smoothly, and the mainstream media can longer hold the Republican Party hostage over their “obstructionism”. The problem, of course, is the situation becomes “democratic lite,” the popular term for the Republican Party abandoning its principles. This is already happening because the Republican Party has a number of RINOs who currently side with their Democratic colleagues; they should consider changing parties.
The last long-term outcome, internalization, occurs when the Republican Party completely gives up its principles and becomes a party in name only. This may seem far-fetched at the moment; however, if adaptation becomes a way of life and continues long enough, the party will gradually morph into this way of life. Even more frightening is the possibility that even if the party retains its character, the electorate may not. This could happen as more and more people become completely dependent on the government; any candidate or party that threatens to change the process to eliminate welfare, food stamps, or any/all of the transfer programs that support the people with freebies will not be supported – once again, flight.
So let's return to 2013 and the Growth and Opportunity Project which produced a written document the media laughingly calls the Autopsy Report. It can be found at: http://growthopp.gop.com/RNC_Growth_Opportunity_Book_2013.pdf  It may be just me, but I have not seen this report or its recommendations manifesting itself in any of the media outlets. What happened? There were a number of recommendations made in a number of different areas. Messaging? I don't think so. Demographic partners? They still look the same to me. Campaign mechanics? This was a great section! If things are changing, then they aren't being communicated very well. Friends and allies? Mmmm…. Almost a quarter of the report was devoted to recommendations – good recommendations. And yet nearly 2 years later the party is having the same conversation.
Americans are not happy with the current leaders of the Republican Party – which makes it nearly impossible to win big elections. I’m beginning to think that the enemy of the conservative movement is not the Democrats; it is the Republican leadership. The Constitution is being ignored; executive orders seem to be the main way around the legislative process and Congress. There does not seem to be any sustained resistance to the liberal’s agenda. The GOP must unite behind conservatism and leaders that will advance that agenda – rather than run from it. Republicans have to give the voters a reason to vote for them; the constant negative messaging of why the voters should not vote Democratic has worn thin. The Party needs to advance a leader who will step up and demonstrate leadership and differentiate the Republican Party from the Democratic Party. The Republicans need to quit shredding themselves. Could there be a better time?
“Generally, though, attitudes toward the incumbent president have played a bigger role than views about Congress in shaping the results of mid-term elections. And attitudes toward Obama, and the nation's direction, remain distinctly chilly.
“Just 27 percent of those polled said they believed the country is moving in the right direction; 62 percent say they consider it off on the wrong track.” (http://www.nationaljournal.com/next-economy/poll-shows-problems-for-obama-peril-for-senate-democrats-20140428)


Before you know it, the midterms will be over. Regardless of the outcome, the presidential race is just a couple of years away. There just doesn't seem to be any interest in really building a viable Republican Party that will advance a candidate to turn this nation around. You would think that with the Congressional job approval/disapproval rate being 12.8 approve and 76.8 disapprove that someone would come forward and say they can do better? http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/other/congressional_job_approval-903.html


Consider the following: “A 2011 USA Today review of state voter rolls indicates that registered Democrats declined in 25 of 28 states (some states do not register voters by party). Democrats were still the largest political party with more than 42 million voters (compared with 30 million Republicans and 24 million independents) But in 2011 Democrats numbers shrank 800,000, and from 2008 they were down by 1.7 million, or 3.9%.” Using this same newspaper article: “USA Today's review of state voter rolls indicates that registered Republicans declined in 21 of 28 states (not all states register voters by party) and that Republican registrations were down 350,000 in 2011. The number of independents rose in 18 states, increasing by 325,000 in 2011, and was up more than 400,000 from 2008, or 1.7%.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_parties_in_the_United_States The Party had better start worrying about the moderate Independent voters if they ever expect to win another national election.
Does this sound like a fight or flight response by the independent voters of the electorate? Even worse, the number of registered independents is about as large as the number of registered Republicans! Once these numbers begin to stabilize and the electorate settles down (i.e., adapts), internalization of the wrong direction and principles will begin: it will become a way of life. The Republican Party has a chance to change this: will they?

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.