Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Scotty Suggest?

Ex White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan dropped something yesterday, a tidbit from his new book holding key figures in the Executive branch accountable for his admitted bald faced lie on the CIA name leak. Today his publisher scrambled to clarify Scotty's position between lining up book orders from retailers. Mr. McClellan does not believe President Bush lied to him.

That leaves the public to conduct its own torturous process of elimination to ascertain the "guilty party". What if each suspect says he doesn't think another one lied? What if they each assert their peer's credibility in round robin fashion such that all are covered? That leaves the public shaking their head. Something bad happened, but there's no one to blame in this circle of smart fools.

Yesterday's morsel and today's clarification are simply loose words that can be spun virtually anyway one wants. How about getting the six under testimony and sort this thing out? Mr. Bush, McClellan, Cheney, Rove, Card and Libby "please, raise your right hand and try to avoid your ample proboscis."

New FEC Rules Mean More Inflammatory Ads

The Federal Elections Commission just released new rules allowing corporations and unions to pay for television commercials during the upcoming presidential and congressional campaigns, so long as the ads avoid expressly advocating for or against a candidate. These "issue ads" are expected to lower the level of the already lilting deck of America's electoral "Swift Boat."

One law professor already placed hypothetical "calls for action" on his blog. Rick Hasen said the new FEC language will provide a safe haven for groups that want to use "sham issue ads" to promote their candidate. Rest assured the ads will be plentiful and ugly. In a country where the ends justify the means, we just lowered our standards yet again. Should the FEC change its name to the Flatulatory Electoral Carnival? With all those noxious fumes, don't anybody light a match!

I've already cancelled cable and the newspaper. My guess is the internet isn't far behind...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Georgepetto Furious at Wooden White House Boy

Pinocchio's nose grew when he told a lie. Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told enough fibs during his time serving President Bush to make those rocking chairs the two planned to eventually use to talk about the good 'ole days. Only Scotty's invite just got rescinded. George doesn't forgive when a nobody calls him a liar, much less a minion who was supposed to cover for his hyper competitive, ethically challenged boss. The question remains as to how many lying turkeys need pardoning?

As for the Bush excuse ""The president has not and would not ask his spokespeople to pass on false information," I believe that's true. Georgepetto would tell his people to lie, he wouldn't be polite enough to ask. As for falsehoods, look no further than the fictional $83,000 income level for children's health insurance. Bush is a snake in the grass and Scotty will find out soon how venomous it is.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Alfie's Prediction Comes True

Some fourteen years ago I heard noted speaker Alfie Kohn make a prediction regarding Book It, the Pizza Hut reading program which rewards children with free pizza for reading books. He said:

"We'll have a bunch of fat kids who don't like to read."

Alfie Kohn is an author of 11 books on education and parenting, including Punished By Rewards, which questions the value of incentive programs. "The more kids see books as a way to get pizza or some other prize, the less interest they'll have in reading itself," Kohn, a former teacher, said. "They tend to choose easier books to get through faster."

So what are the results of the reading program started in 1985? A study revealed 9 year old kids read like crazy but by the time they are 17, interest in reading plummets to where almost 20% "never or hardly ever" read for pleasure.

Among the findings:
-In 2002, only 52 percent of Americans ages 18 to 24, the college years, read a book voluntarily, down from 59 percent in 1992.

-Money spent on books, adjusted for inflation, dropped 14 percent from 1985 to 2005 and has fallen dramatically since the mid-1990s.

-The number of adults with bachelor's degrees and "proficient in reading prose" dropped from 40 percent in 1992 to 31 percent in 2003.

The decline in reading over the time period is apparent. Obviously, one program isn't responsible for the whole drop. But anything that teaches kids they need a reward to do something as naturally enjoyable as reading, certainly didn't help.

What about the obesity end of Alfie's sage foresight? Five years ago the government said it was a growing problem. The Mayo Clinic said "In just two decades, the prevalence of overweight doubled for U.S. children ages 6 to 11 — and tripled for American teenagers."

"Fat kids who don't like to read" has been generally supported by wider societal data. However, Alfie is too good a social scientist to let this pass as positive proof. My intent with this piece is to get people thinking about what "works" and how do they know? The teaser comes from using theory. With it, you too can make profound predictions like Mr. Kohn's. So explore No Contest and Punished by Rewards. They are both eye opening works. Also, Dr. W. Edwards Deming has a few works chock full of useful theory in our leadership challenged world.

Fran's Next Stop?

White House Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend submitted her resignation letter this month. This morning President Bush acknowledged her service to the Executive Branch in his official statement. So what will Fran do next?

She hopes to work in global risk management for a large bank or financial services company. What firms qualify? There's investment banking, large Wall Street financial houses, and private equity firms, the burgeoning investment vehicle for those who hate the spotlight.

Fran proved her ability to keep one private equity underwriter (PEU) out of the limelight after Hurricane Katrina. Mrs. Townsend made not one mention of The Carlyle Group's LifeCare Hospitals in her Lessons Learned report. This happened despite LifeCare's twenty four patient deaths, the largest number in any one hospital post Katrina.

What if Fran ends up working for that same Carlyle Group? Now that would be some coincidence! The odds have to be as small as the chance that both the hospital with the largest death toll and the trade group that coordinated critically ill patient evacuations would be left out of the White House Report. What are the odds of both of those key facts failing to appear?

After omissions by design, could a strategic hiring decision be far behind? Carlyle is stacked with political heavy hitters from both sides of the aisle, mostly Republican but a few Democrats are sprinkled around. Time will show where Fran lands, but expect Carlyle to keep deepening their bench, whether profane Frances ends up with that particular PEU or another huge financial firm.

Foul Mouthed Fran Tenders Resignation

White House Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend is hanging up her boots as a member of the Bush spin machine. The author of the Hurricane Katrina Lessons Learned report omitted any mention of the hospital with the largest number of patient deaths post landfall. LifeCare happened to be owned by The Carlyle Group, a private equity firm which happens to also have a Pennsylvania Avenue address.

The timing of Fran's resignation is most interesting as Congress held hearings last week on Carlyle's purchase of huge nursing home provider, ManorCare. If the politically connected private equity underwriter (PEU) can fail patients in one of twenty one long term acute care hospitals, what can they do with 550 mostly nursing homes? Did any members of Congress threaten to call Carlyle's Karen Bechtel or Fran to explore their combined failures?

This history has a direct bearing on Carlyle's purchase of the huge health care provider and needs to be explored. Yet so far, the world is quiet. Did profane Fran resign to keep it that way? In his acknowledgment of her service President Bush spoke of Fran's intellect. How could she put out such a sorry investigative report, one that omitted both LifeCare's twenty four patient deaths and the trade group that coordinated hospital evacuations while Mike Brown adjusted his tie for press conferences? If Mrs. Townsend is that smart, then she did so intentionally, which opens another can of worms. Who was she covering for and why?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

That Ever Promising Bush Administration

It's easy to cite past Bush promises that crashed to the floor like Humpty Dumpty, broken to the point that all of King George's horses and all his men can't put his verbal commitments back together again. From his 2001 promise to run an honest and ethical administration came the most secretive in history.

Walking past the broken egg of promising to "fire any leakers", there lies a huge pile of yolk colored e-mails. A federal judge just ordered the White House to retain all e-mail correspondence, something the Bush administration hasn't done for four years despite being required to do so under federal law. Their defense on the status of 2003 e-mails? "They're looking into it and if there is a problem, the necessary steps will be taken to address it."

Next, one passes the fetid White House Lessons Learned report after Hurricane Katrina where no actual investigation was accomplished, at least in regard to hospital patient evacuations and deaths during their interminable wait for rescue in dead facilities. Just keep walking.

Thinking it's safe to breathe again, a deep inhale produces formaldehyde, a toxic gas. After two years of living in government provided trailers, people might expect the formaldehyde issue to be clear by now. FEMA ordered its staff not to enter unoccupied trailers for safety reasons, so how are the occupants doing? Not well, according to private tests.

Results show "95 percent of the temporary housing units provided by FEMA measured at least twice the CDC’s maximum recommended level for long-term exposure to the toxic gas. In some extreme cases, the levels were 70 times the long-term standard." What do other tests show? The federal government promised to test inhabited travel trailers and mobile homes but has not yet followed through.

So how can anyone believe the White House will come through on the e-mail issue when they've failed the health of citizens in the years after Hurricane Katrina, not just during the week of landfall? It's hard to see the citizen centered, results oriented government characterized by quality of service that George Bush promised way back when.

The President may not know it, but a fork sticks out of his back as the public wishes his term were done. While many want to wash their hands of the bad egg, what damage can a wounded unitary executive do with his remaining time in office? Hidden e-mails and toxic trailers indicate he's still capable of harm.

Monday, November 12, 2007

U.S. Needs More Reluctant, Team Oriented Heroes

In our world of cowboy chief executives, many people yearn for heroes of yesteryear. The Greatest Generation produced a slew of them and research sheds light on their characteristics. A study asked veterans what makes a leader and the insights shouldn't be surprising, except to the self appointed, hyper-competitive, and ego starved Machiavellians. Many pose as leaders in today's government and business sectors.

Veterans noted selflessness as a key trait of reluctant heroes. That means they didn't save their friend for incentive compensation. They didn't jump on the hand grenade for a plaque or a medal. They did it out of loyalty to their friends and fellow soldiers. It was their role as member of the team and they came to it of their own volition.

Another characteristic is humility. None would identify themselves as heroes. They each had a deep sense of duty. Once again, reluctant heroes of The Leadership Quarterly show us what is missing in American leadership today.

Stories like this keep me hopeful that the world will rediscover another contributor from the Greatest Generation, Dr. W. Edwards Deming. The fifty year petri dish of the post WWII Japanese economy has much to show our present day world, much as these reluctant heroes have to show our elected and boardroom leaders.

"The problem is that most courses teach what is wrong."

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Voting Shows People Are Angry at Leaders

Given San Angelo's sleepy twenty nine city council amendments, election officials expected a light turnout. To their surpise people in central Tom Green County voted well above the state rate. They passed all but three of the measures, using mostly paper ballots.

But their "no vote" on the three proposed changes speaks volumes, especially when viewed in light of Rep. Mike Conaway's August open house. The Congressman left with his jaw hanging from a rather unfriendly West Texas reception. He even pleaded with the crowd to lighten up so his staffers wouldn't think poorly of us citizens.

What did San Angelo voters turn down? First, they stayed with a requirement that City Council leaders be paid up on their property taxes. While unconstitutional, the citizen's didn't feel like lowering this standard. Second, they stuck with an elected police chief for the 11th time as 53.6% of voters don't trust City Council to do the job right. Third, they refused a raise and increased benefits for the Mayor and members of the council.

It may speak directly to the citizen's confidence in local politicians, but my guess is it extends beyond the confines of our city limits. Leaders need to measure up, do their part, even pay taxes. They need to act on behalf of all citizens, not just their political club. When they can't come together to do the people's business, people don't want to give them more work to do or more pay for what they're not getting done. Our high turnout for a non-event election speaks loudly. The overwhelming selection of paper ballots says another. We may just get our democracy back if this keeps up. Time will tell...