Friday, September 19, 2008

“No Time for a Personality Contest”

There is both a science and an art to good leadership. Competence, no matter how one chooses to define it, is the essential quality of good leadership. It takes better than average intelligence. It is the ability to not only recognize one’s own strengths, but one’s limitations, as well. It takes courage, and the ability to recognize and admit mistakes. It takes sound judgment and a willingness to subject that judgment to the scrutiny of others. It requires impeccable honesty and integrity. It is the art the possible through collegial and collaborative relationships. It is the ability to gather the best minds around you into a cohesive and dedicated team. A good leader embodies the collective wisdom of his/her team, not run rough-shod over others because of a gargantuan ego. It is the ability to dignify one voice of dissent as much as those of a legion of supporters. It is the ability to understand that anything is possible so long as no one cares who gets the credit. It is the ability to make an unpopular decision and take full responsibility for it when your instincts tell you that is the wisest course of action. It is the ability to understand that power is most effective when used sparingly; and praise is most effective when used generously. Leadership is situational. It is the essential difference between being boss and playing boss.

I have watched Sarah Palin with fascination and the adoration for her that has emerged in just a few weeks. Her interview with Charlie Gibson on ABC News was most insightful. It is reminiscent of Bert Parks asking the “one burning question” of each contestant for the title of Miss America, with all of the substance and spontaneity associated with the exercise. She is attractive and poised, as one would expect from a former beauty queen. Her knowledge, judgment and experience are not particularly remarkable. I have over 40 years experience in senior management positions in large, complex and some international organizations. I hardly think that would, ipso facto, qualify me to be one heart-beat away from the Presidency. All of the orchestrated praise and fawning over her doesn’t alter the facts. She is what she is; a small-town mayor and a small-time governor. Nothing more. She is a lightweight when it comes to education and experience. I cannot recall that the University of Idaho’s program in journalism is regarded as one of the premier schools in that particular discipline, over which the best in the business compete for admission. She served on the City Council of Wasilla, Alaska for 4 years and 6 as the town’s mayor, the population of which is reputed to be somewhere between 5,500 and 9,000. It hardly qualifies as one of the nation’s major metropolitan areas. Alaska, with a total population of 650,000 could hardly compete with most of our major cities. I don’t regard either as heavy experience on any executive officer’s resume. Her latest ploy is to stonewall an investigation into her conduct while she was Governor of Alaska. Sound a bit like another 4 years of Bush - Cheney?

As for being a rather accomplished liar, I won’t hold that against Sarah. After all, that seems to be a malady that afflicts most politicians to some extent. But, as for being a leader, she doesn’t qualify. Rather, she is a tyrant who misuses the authority of her office to enhance her own personal ambitions. When I see her new-found followers in rapt attention, seizing on every word, almost in a complete state of rapture, the sheer absence of any rationality is sobering. I have only witnessed similar phenomena twice in my life. The first instance was when, out of intellectual curiosity, I went to a meeting of born-again Christians at the local Moose (no pun intended) Lodge. The second instance was at an Amway convention where Rich Devoss, one of the founders of Amway, was the cheerleader. There is something rather frightening about all that. I don’t regard the fundamentalist Christians and social conservatives, who thrust her into a position of prominence on the Republican ticket, as particularly rational human beings. Their religious philosophy seems to be predicated more on what preacher is waving a bible under their noses at any given time than any objective evidence. All I can say to anyone who professes to speak in tongues is that there is a huge market out there looking for a new hallucinogenic agent to try. Might be a good fund-raising ploy for the last few weeks of the campaign.

At the end of the day, Sarah Palin is about as qualified to be Vice-President as any waitress at Hooter’s. Pathetic, really. Her choice as candidate for Vice-President is the most egregious error in judgment by John McCain so far. However, not at all out of character with his record as a political opportunist.

Joe Biden has an education grounded in Catholic schools. Those Catholic schools have a reputation for discipline and academic excellence that is well known. He is a solid family man with decades of experience in the United States Senate, serving on the Foreign Relations Committee and as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. To be sure, he has stumbled and has made his share of mistakes along the way. However, he is a seasoned veteran in politics and government, and he has served this country with dedication, honor and distinction. He knows and has first-hand experience about the major issues of our day, and how to deal with them. Frankly, we could all sleep better knowing he is the one who is just a heart-beat away from the Presidency.

John McCain is touted as an exceptional and well qualified leader. He is ascribed qualities such as sound judgment and the ability to work by “reaching across the aisle.” Being fifth from the bottom of his class at the U.S. Naval Academy does not impress me as a particularly solid academic foundation for acquiring the knowledge and skills required of leadership. Serving as the squadron commander of a flight wing doesn’t seem like an overwhelmingly heavy challenge in leadership skills either.

John established himself as a playboy and womanizer while he was a midshipman at Annapolis, a reputation he seems to have carried with him into later life. I doubt that his rise up the ranks as a U.S. Naval Officer would have been quite as dramatic were it not for the fact that both his grandfather and his father were full admirals. Political influence carries significant weight in those circles.

Nothing is extolled quite as often, both by others and by himself, as the fact that he is a bona fide war hero. As for his POW experience qualifying him as a hero, I would submit that all of those who were POW’s under similar circumstances are as deserving as John McCain ever was for that same distinction. Without wishing to minimize his suffering, he has no corner on that claim.
One would think his experience in the Hanoi Hilton would have humanized John to some extent, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. He wasted no time in pitching his first wife (who was crippled in a car accident during his time as a POW), in favor of a wealthy heiress whose family could provide him with both the money and the influence to launch his political career. Otherwise, it is doubtful that he could have been elected to anything of greater prominence than that of dog-catcher of Maricopa County, Arizona.

His political acumen in both the House and the Senate seems to have been more a factor of his temper than his mastery of the art of negotiation and persuasion. A pall still hangs over his character because of his involvement as one of the now infamous “Keating Five,“ in the 1980’s Savings and Loan scandal, not to mention his later cozy relationship with Phil Gramm who was largely instrumental in stripping all meaningful safeguards from the financial industries, now tanking in droves.

His friendships appear to be more a factor of his political ambitions than any type of kinship. He did a complete turn-around and readily adopted the agenda of George W. Bush who was once his nemesis in the election of 2000. He has sided up to anyone who could benefit him, politically, despite his own rather fluid convictions to the contrary. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed and the like are only a few who readily come to mind. No one is a more persuasive liar than John, particularly when he adopts the facial expression and voice of a family therapist - cool, calm and soft-spoken. But, whatever works for the guy at any given moment, I suppose.

During his political career, John seems to have had some difficulty in deciding whether he wanted to remain a Republican or a Democrat. He flirted with changing parties, then flirted with running as Vice-President with John Kerry in 2004, but decided otherwise. It seems he can’t go anywhere, anymore without being attached at the hip to Joe Lieberman on one side and Lindsey Graham on the other. Hardly bulwarks of political acumen and personal statesmanship. Because of these relationships, I am still having difficulty reconciling John’s choice of Sarah Palin as his running-mate over either of these two. Maybe, while Sarah is cramming to become his understudy in affairs of state, he hopes to give each of them a spare bedroom in the White House so they can tuck him in at night and shore up his image as president.

John McCain is clueless when it comes to leadership. He just doesn’t have it nor is he to be trusted with the highest office in the land as his personal learning ground. Time for him to go back to the ranch in Sedona and pitch horseshoes.

Barack Obama is the product of a multi-cultural family who appears to be the product of a pretty normal upbringing. He manifested behavior at times that was typical of an adolescent and a young man, about which he has been forthcoming in both of his books.

He is a graduate of Columbia University, the Harvard Law School and was President of the Harvard Law Review, plus 12 years as a Constitutional Law Professor. No small achievements and testimony to his intelligence and his discipline. He has been married to the same woman for 19 years and is the father of two daughters, all of whom have been, and continue to be, followers of a Protestant Christian Faith.

Barack spent three years as a community organizer on the south side of Chicago among some of the poorest and most disenfranchised. He faced one of the toughest challenges of leadership in that whatever he accomplished was largely the result of persuasion and negotiation. He followed with 8 years as a member of the Illinois Senate, representing a district of 750,000 people in Chicago. As a state senator, he served as Chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee in the Illinois State Legislature. He has served 4 years in the United States Senate representing a state of 13 million people. During that time he has sponsored 113 bills and has served on the Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and Veterans’ Affairs Committees.

Like all of us, he has made his share of mistakes, the most notable of which was his relationship to Tony Resco. The real estate deal involving his purchase of a home through this relationship was certainly an example of poor judgement, but he has been forthcoming about that issue and, in retrospect, he acknowledges that was not wise or prudent on his part.

Barack is commonly referred to as “young” at 47 years of age. From my vantage point, I would classify him as middle-aged. That presupposes a certain amount of wisdom that goes with it. I believe he has done a rather good job of demonstrating that attribute. He has shown his leadership abilities, and I am satisfied that he will do the nation proud as its 45th President. I have no doubt that he will manifest the finest qualities of leadership, if for no other reason than the fact that he already knows that real leadership is analogous to the conductor of a symphony orchestra, not in mastering every musical instrument. I have every confidence that he will surround himself with the best minds and experience he can bring to bear on the challenges and the burdens he will inherit, should he be elected.

Given what has befallen this country during the course of the last 7 plus years, not to mention the last few days, I just don’t see how we can afford to take a chance on one who seems to be a true believer when it comes to the policies of George W. Bush & Company. What has come down around us all is just too ominous and foreboding to entrust to John McCain and Sarah Palin, their hollow rhetoric and adoring fans not withstanding.

We aren’t focusing on the issues, we are fixating on personalities. This is not the time to cast our precious votes on a cult of personality or political opportunism. The tenor of our times cries out for real leadership. All things considered, I believe Barack Obama has clearly shown that he has what it takes, not only because of his education and experience, but because of the leadership acumen he embodies, and his choice of the man standing in wings.

Cowboy Bob
September 19, 2008

Sunday, September 14, 2008

“It Only Gets Worse”

I should not be surprised by anything, but everyday seems to bring a new and more ominous revelation. However, in order to set the stage for the topic of this column, we need to go back to Kansas when Dorothy embarked on her journey to the Land of Oz.

Bill Clinton swept into the White House as the great champion of the average American, hell-bent on improving his lot in life. However, it did not take long for the label of “Slick Willy” to gain some traction among his skeptics, which only intensified with his tenure as President of the United States.

We soon learned that he was a great advocate of globalization and free trade. When he signed the NAFTA treaty, it should not have been difficult for any reasoned mind to conclude that, with the shipping of American jobs to cheap labor markets such as Mexico and China, there would be an immediate impact on the American working class. It hasn’t taken long for them to lose their good paying jobs and benefits, lose the safeguards of Taft-Hartley, shift to low-paying service jobs and accept a progressively lower standard of living as they move closer to their counterparts in third world countries.

As more and more of our industrial base was shipped overseas to pools of cheap labor and our working men and women joined the ranks of the working poor, the stock market soared. Fortunes were made by big corporations and those investing in their enterprises. But, those who were made to sacrifice their standards of living and job security had nothing to invest in this new found cornucopia of wealth. The new boom was beyond their grasp. Bottom line? They were snookered by the insatiable greed of big business and the politicians who facilitated their exploitation of those among us who have the least to sacrifice.

While Monica Lewinsky was demonstrating her undying love for Bill under the presidential desk in the Oval Office, he was demonstrating his ability to multi-task by taking phone calls during his romantic interludes. The world expressed its moral outrage but, nevertheless, was duly impressed by the prowess he demonstrated in a variety of ways.

Meanwhile, Phil Gramm was dismantling the safeguards by which our financial institutions were governed in order to ensure public confidence. For it to have become a fait accompli, the President had to have signed everything advocated by Gramm & Co. into law. At that point, it became open season on our financial health. The Secretary of the Treasury either chose to remain silent or he did not have a clue as to what was going on. The effects of all this would take some time to be felt by John Q. Public.

Billy Boy left office leaving the highest budget surplus in the history of the Republic. Everything was in place for the picking by his successor and his merry band of thieves. On his last day in office, Bill Clinton nullified his Executive Order forbidding members of his administration from serving as lobbyists for a period of five years. It was now open season on an unsuspecting American public. All of this may have provided us with some insights into why he and George H.W. Bush are such good golfing buddies. It doesn’t take a Rhodes scholar to put 2 and 2 together and come up with 4 on that one!

Georgy Porgie, Sinister Dick and their happy band of neocons soon set themselves to the task of fleecing the country of everything that wasn’t nailed down. They dismantled all they could of the safeguards that were in place to protect the consumer and working people. Our infrastructure took a hit that will require untold billions of tax dollars to recover. Big money and big business suddenly found themselves in the land of milk and honey. Executive compensation and severance packages ballooned. Seems no one could lose except, of course, the poor blokes at the bottom of the food chain. Huge tax cuts followed and every conceivable concession to big business and vast wealth was the order of the day.

Not only was the working class disenfranchised, the unholy alliance of business interests (most typified by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) and a bevy of naive, wide-eyed do-gooders, politicians and church leaders have joined forces to open our southern borders to hordes of illegals --- a further assault on the wages and benefits for working Americans. They have the whole-hearted support of our national representatives in both political parties. Who is looking out for those who have suffered the most by what Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have brought down on their heads? No one that I can see.

The Bush Administration soon gave us the infamous “War on Terror,” with a contrived war against a country that had done nothing to us. But the propaganda machine was turned up to full force and an unsuspecting nation was duped into believing that it would be a short-lived war, that we would be greeted as liberators and the cost of the folly would be chiefly borne by Iraqis from revenue generated by their vast oil reserves.

Halliburton, KBR, and Blackwater are only a few of those who have raked in obscene amounts of money through no-bid contracts, supported by politicians who have had carte blanche to do whatever they wanted with little or no accountability. I am, also, highly suspect of the military-industrial complex and the transparency of their business relationships. A budget appears to be nothing more than a petty annoyance and cost-overruns are little more than a minor inconvenience. We don’t even bother to question what the collective beneficiaries of this war are doing and what it is costing us. Who has been looking over their shoulders to make sure the interests of the taxpayers have been properly served?

And while the true believers looked up to our faux leaders in Washington with rapt adoration, knowing that they were “keeping us safe and protecting our freedoms,” our men and women in uniform were being sacrificed on the altar of their grand deception. The dead came home to Dover Air Force Base under a black-out on the news media, as if the fallen had somehow dishonored the nation. Thousands of others have been physically and emotionally maimed, and have received little recompense for all they have suffered. Let us not lose sight of the fact that a goodly number of those serving in our all-volunteer armed forces have served because they had no choice. After all, there were no longer any decent and respectable alternatives to go to in our decimated job market. A damned disgrace if you ask me!

So, where does all this leave us? Well, it sure doesn’t look promising.

1. There has been the largest mortgage meltdown in the history of the country.
2. Residential foreclosures are at an all-time high.
3. We are buried under a mountain of consumer and public debt.
4. Major financial institutions have failed, with countless others clinging to life. Were it not for
the taxpayers saddled with the brunt of the cost for their survival in order to protect
investors, the ripple effect would be disastrous. Taxpayers take all the risks and investors
claim all the profits.
5, Unemployment figures are climbing.
6. The cost of the Iraq war continues unabated, with no end in sight. The sink hole has no
7. The cost of gasoline and other petroleum products have gone through the stratosphere, with
no significant relief in sight. Typical of Americans, we are clamoring for a quick-fix that isn’t
there and are poised to believe everything slick politicians promise as instant solutions.
8. We are a debtor nation going ever deeper into debt in order to finance the bottomless pit of
the Iraq war and growing demands for social and public works programs, exacerbated by
what is euphemistically referred to as a “recession.” A rose by any other name ……………..
9. We are borrowing money from other nations to finance “the war,” chief among them China. 10. Our infrastructure is in shambles with no funding available to fix it.
11. ………..and more and more, ad-nauseum.

Now, comes the latest revelation. The Iraqi government has recently announced that they are awarding a contract to develop the country’s oil industry to (guess who?) the China Oil Company! How about them apples? Bottom line: No matter how ill conceived the war in Iraq was, over 4,100 American lives have been sacrificed to try and bring them a better and kinder form of government than what was toppled. The gratitude of the Iraqi government for those lost lives is to shaft the United States by shunting their business to our biggest creditor. Isn‘t that just too cozy to contemplate?

We dance around the word recession, one re-definition after another, in an effort to deny the ultimate reality. Let’s face it, we stand on the threshold of a world-wide economic meltdown because of our individual and national folly, and a lot of misplaced trust.

The forthcoming national election is probably the most important since the Great Depression. Not one to be taken lightly. It is an absolute imperative that we cast our votes based on as much verifiable and objective information as we can possibly gather about the two presidential candidates. If we don’t, as so aptly stated from Macbeth, “It is a tale … full of sound and fury; signifying nothing.”

Cowboy Bob
September 12, 2008

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

“Lipstick on a What ????????”

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, we have dawn to dusk coverage of a topic so vitally important to the country and, indeed, the world as “lipstick on a pig.” Is this what the campaign for the highest office in the land has degenerated to? Are we so ignorant that we dignify this kind of crap and, even worse, give it one scintilla of credence? This is what we get from corporate-owned news outlets that want to ensure a prevailing level of stupidity among the electorate. Keep them satiated and keep them focused on a diet of trivia that is the stuff of juvenile minds. We now have a massive demand for Sarah’s eyeglass frames, plus the introduction of three action-dolls of the bimbo from the frozen North. Are we not capable of greater things in the face of a total collapse of our national economic and social fabric?

I cannot believe how the foundation of the greatest democracy in the world rests on the impressions created for popular consumption by the image makers of Madison Avenue and Hollywood. Nothing like fooling yourself. Hey, folks, Rome is burning! Put down your fiddles and learn what is happening and what you can do about it. Your very life and the future of your progeny depend on it.

When hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on bagging the highest elected office in the country that only pays $400,000 per year, the payoff is immediately suspect. On the surface that doesn’t seem to be a very good return on investment. Those who seek the office and the political machines that champion their causes must see a whole lot more for their money than we do in terms of the spoils that will go to the “winner.”

I don’t trust either of the two major political parties. They have a strangle-hold on the electoral system and control every aspect of our government. They have effectively neutralized and hamstrung any serious attempt at an alternative party. We have one choice between the two. Take it or leave it. We are deluged by massive numbers of one-minute sound bites that say little or nothing, or are outright fabrications of the truth. But, we blindly accept all that nonsense as gospel and make our choices accordingly. Just what the doctor ordered!

That John McCain endured the agonies of the damned while he was a POW goes without saying. But to extol him as a hero is, in my opinion, a bit of a stretch. He is only one of thousands who have suffered through years of incarceration as prisoners of war. Rather, I pay more heed to the way he slithers from one position to another in order to incur the favor of those in positions to further his ambitions. After what George W. Bush did to him in 2000, any self-respecting person would not have given him the time of day, much less cozy up to him to the extent McCain has. The mere fact that he would seriously consider the Democratic Party as an alternative speaks volumes about his commitment to party principles. The personification of his rather fluid principles is only underscored by the sycophant, Joe Lieberman, being attached to McCain at the hip. Hey, John, you can stop beating your war record to death. I want to hear what you stand for, if you stand for anything. If John McCain can co-opt the label as a war hero, Bill Clinton can pass himself off as a sex therapist.

Aided and abetted by Bill Clinton who deregulated the financial industries, the Republicans wasted no time in seizing the moment and systematically plundering the nation. Now they are hell-bent on devouring the corpse. The American middle class, which has been the historical backbone of this country, has taken it in the shorts, big time. They are the ones who have fought our nation’s wars, who have borne the brunt of its grief and the aftermath, and who have received little recompense for all that they have given. It is they as taxpayers who are being asked to bail out the excesses of corporate America and foot the bill for massively huge severance packages for CEO’s who have taken their organizations down the pathway to financial ruin. It is not the hustlers and opportunists of Wall Street and Washington, D.C.

The last 8 years stand as mute testimony to the depths of evil to which our elected officials are capable of descending. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out. And the real travesty is that they will probably get away with all their shenanigans without ever being called to account for what they have done to this once great country.

Then there are those “across the aisle.” The great champions of the common man. All one has to do is to seriously look at the myriad examples of collusion with their adversaries, the pork-barreling and corruption to which they have been a party. They have bought into such great social and economic tonics as NAFT, CAFTA, and the total dismantling of every regulatory program designed to protect the population from such excesses as those heaped upon us by the Republicans. They have, also, worked hand in glove to insulate themselves from any semblance of accountability to those who put them in office. They have colluded with those who share the chambers of government and who believe in the omnipotence of their judgment over the wisdom of the people they are supposed to serve. Where in the hell are our advocates in all this?

Republicans are the great champions of a totally unfettered free market as the panacea for all our ills. That premise is glaringly flawed by the fact that for a free market to work for the benefit of everyone, all those involved in the market must, of necessity, be absolutely squeaky-clean honest. Without honesty, the entire system is victim to the excesses of human nature. Seems to me the last eight plus years underscore that fundamental flaw rather well.

The other thing that galls me about the Republicans is making religion one of the mainstays of our national politics. Now, I respect and admire anyone with genuine religious convictions. But religion, to my way of thinking, is a very personal matter and has no place in any campaign dialogue. The disproportionate amount of attention devoted to this issue saps valuable time, resources and energy from the focus of what our political discourse is all about.

Democrats hold themselves out to us as the great champions of the people. The collective connotation of the word “people.” would suggest to me that there is an all inclusive philosophy behind that notion. I don’t see that in actual practice. One of the fundamental principles of our government is that it is founded upon and operates from a base of respect for and an adherence to the rule of law. I see a progressively greater erosion of that principle every single day. Rather, I see a political party that panders to every special interest group and minority faction in society. Are we not “one nation under God?” Do we not expect every one hitting our shores to come here legally and to seek assimilation into the greater identity of what it takes to be an American?

Every nationality that has ever immigrated to the United States has come here expecting to “earn their stripes” and to do what it takes to become an American. That is, until an exception was made for the hordes streaming across our southern borders. That they are criminals violating the very laws we hold dear is no longer relevant. Rather, it is they who seek to demand rights they have never earned and never had. It is they who want a bilingual society and all the attendant difficulties inherent in that notion. It is enough that it splits us as a unified people, but ask our neighbors to the North as to how well it has worked for them. I don’t hear that same hue and cry coming from the Southeast Asians who have immigrated to our shores. They have worked to become a part of the American fabric, not an island within a nation. Today, they are some of our finest examples of success in realizing the “American Dream.”

We are not a society of special interest groups. We are one people being served by one government. I am appalled by the political figures who have declared American cities as havens for illegal aliens, and the churches that are doing the same. Where is the public outrage at the fact that they are violating their oaths of office and that they are breaking the law? Those who violate their oath of office and break those laws should be impeached and thrown out of office. Those who wear the cloth and provide safe havens for “illegals” should be stripped of their nonprofit status and thrown into the slammer just like the criminals they are. Those running for public office, be they Democrat or Republican, have a solemn duty to all of us to respect and uphold those laws as well. Our hopes, dreams, aspirations and basic needs are as one people, not a collection of special interests who want only that which will serve their own agendas. They have no inherent right to what belongs to all those who have preceded us in working to make this country what it is today.

If the Democratic Party is truly a party of the people, then it is high time it acted and advocated as a party of everyone, not just those factions who speak with the loudest voice. If the Republican Party is the party of Lincoln, then they need to accept the fact that “government” is not a dirty word. Government is the people and it is there to look out for all of us. That means it is there to keep us honest so everyone has an equal shot at all this country has to offer. If it takes regulation and oversight to make that happen for the collective benefit of everyone, then so be it. By the same token, the electorate has an obligation to keep government honest, as well.

This country is staring into the abyss of a total collapse of the great experiment known as the United States of America. We are like a row of dominoes standing on end just waiting for someone to knock down the first chip and set the whole process in motion. If we don’t get very serious about what we face, we are surely destined to become a third-rate power, watching what was once the basis of our national pride shift to the Orient, Russia and the oil-producing nations of the Middle East. At this juncture, I am not altogether certain we can stop the Titanic from hitting the iceberg.

As surely as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, arrogance and ignorance always travel in tandem. One is the lifeblood of the other. As for “lipstick on a pig,” that is a cheap shot at trying to derail the real debate as to what this election is all about. To those who dignify such nonsense, I say, “get over it and get real.” The sun is setting on us all.

Cowboy Bob
September 10, 2008