Is Trump the Ultimate Radical Community Organizer?

I hadn’t given much thought to the term: “Community Organizer” (CO) until Barack Obama. As the Right demonized him, the idea of a CO as something sinister and radical became common. This article on Obama’s Radical Past is a good example. In retrospect, this is especially hilarious since Obama was almost ineffectually centrist.

So when I came across the “father of community organizing”, Saul Alinsky’s, Rules for Radicals, I was struck:

  1. “Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.”
  2. “Never go outside the expertise of your people.”
  3. “Whenever possible go outside the expertise of the enemy.”
  4. “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.”
  5. “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”
  6. “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”
  7. “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.”
  8. “Keep the pressure on.”
  9. “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”
  10. “The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.”
  11. “If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counterside”
  12. “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.”
  13. “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

I think I can make a case that Trump has utilized every one of these for his rise, but let me first focus on the bolded.

“Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”

Donald Trump might be the most potent ridicule machine the world has ever produced. As a kid I wanted to do something, someday, as well as MJ played basketball. Sadly Trump’s ability & willingness to shamelessly ridicule anyone, is on that level.

“A good tactic is one your people enjoy.”

A Trump rally is an explosion of energy and emotion. It was the demonization and grave warnings that the crowds ate up and he basked in that reflected glory. Think back to 2016. Sadly Hillary’s campaign seemed joyless.

“Keep the pressure on.”

Trump lobs a new bomb daily. Everyone reacts. Constantly. It’s frighteningly effective.

“The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.”

The foreigners. Stealing the jobs. Bringing the rape and the murder. The rhetoric and symbolism of the Wall. Ahead of next week’s midterms, the threat of an amorphous caravan of brown people walking North.  The threats are dribbled out constantly. Only an occasional manifestation of them is required, because it’s the threat + odd event is all that is needed to keep people on edge.

“The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.”

Does the president need to tweet? Yes, if it’s the primary weapon of choice. He’s operationalized the process of creating daily distractions to his opposition — the media.

“Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

“LOCK HER UP.” I can’t imagine another Republican nominee who would make allusions to jailing their political opponent. Hillary was the target and his bully personality did a fantastic job of freezing it, personalizing, and making the already polarized Hillary, into the most polarizing figure in politics.

Am I on to something here? I think it’s ironic that Trump has used the tenets of grassroots community organizing at scale in building a mass of very, very angry people.

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Healthy campaign; Sick government.

I just finished reading Double Down: Game Change 2012. It’s a tick-tock of the last presidential election.  As you might expect from someone who ran for Congress (and is a geek), I’m fascinated by the behind-the-scenes stuff. (Yes, recommended for those w/a similar mindset.)

One of the sharpest points in the book was just how finely-tuned the Obama campaign was, both in 2008, and, again, in 2012.  On strategy, on tactics, on adjustments, and discipline they were off the charts.

I found this spectacular performance particularly grating when placed up against the actual Obama administration’s execution. The most current, and glaring, demonstration of which is the disastrous rollout of the Accountable Care Act (aka ACA, aka Obamacare).

The failure goes much deeper than simple procedural errors or stupid technical decisions. The botched implementation is a reminder and reinforcement of everyone’s worst belief: that the government is incapable of executing, and left to its own devices, will screw up pretty much everything. The central “argument” among the most vocal critics of health reform was that the government getting more involved would just make things worse.  Hmm.

The book makes what’s plainly obvious, all the more glaring: the Obama election had a life-or-death accountability attached to the planning and executing of the election campaigns. In the implementation of a program that touches all Americans and has consequences measured in the trillions? Not so much.

The practice of politics is a true market exercise, giving us ugly, painful to experience campaigns and sometimes it creates ruthlessly efficient machines like the Obama campaign. The knock on government execution is exactly that – there is no accountability, no market forces, no stimulus leading to course correction. The rollout of ACA apparently embodies this.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

Health reform was a mess from the beginning. It started with Republican intransigence, leaving Democrats to moderate the legislation themselves. There was the fundamental focus on the political palatable instead of an intellectually honest dedication to addressing the fundamental issues of the existing system. Then there was the standard opposition-driven hysteria abetted by a generally clueless public, and the “required” back-room deals which weighed down the legislation further. Now, after surviving a Supreme Court challenge,  triggering one of the biggest wave elections in 100 years (which I was knocked on my ass by as a candidate), and all other theatrics, here we are: The crowning indignity. The public launch basically coudn’t have gone worse.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

The president and his administration, I hope, are ashamed. And, look, I’m not saying the bill is doomed: Not saying that we won’t bend the cost-curve long-term and end up with a more humane system. But since it only gets more complicated from here, why should we believe that this screwup was the aberration and not the sign of things to come?

It’s my belief that government is going to have an even more critical role in the not-so-distant future. Unfortunately, the general vapidness of political conduct and current execution of complicated policy, like the ACA, only shows how ill-prepared we are as a nation.

Forget China. We have the met the enemy and he is us.

News Politics reading Technology

the deal with manufacturing.

A few years ago I was obsessed with manufacturing. While not an expert, I have read thousands of pages on the topic and hundreds of articles. In my campaign for Congress, I tried to make jobs, and as a result, manufacturing a cornerstone. All that to say, that this is something I find interesting and care deeply about.

In the past few days I came across two must-read articles on the topic.

1) The NY Times dives into the topic through the lens of Apple and the iPhone. How the US lost out on iPhone work; Apple, America and a squeezed middle class. Must Read.

2) The Atlantic Monthly absolutely blows the doors off with a great dissection at the high-level of American manufacturing and weaving in the human face. Making It in America. Phenomenal.

I recommend starting there. There are a slew of topics that every citizen should understand, Manufacturing among them. It drives the wealth and stability of nations and the type of society you have. At least until now it has. It was arguably the main building block of a prosperous and triumphant America. Our mercantilist policies and inherent natural advantages largely contributed to the sole superpower position we held.

I want to lay out 3 important things about manufacturing that are not well understood or known. I’ll do a separate post on why manufacturing matters — but the fact that it has historically been a primary source of work for the masses should be enough for now. (That shouldn’t be controversial.)

1) Automation. Robert Reich is the one who first drew my attention to this in 2009. Essentially, global competition aside, technology was rapidly cutting into the humans you needed for production. This trend has only accelerated, as robotics and software improve at scale, the costs of automating repetitive tasks continue to decline sharply. We’ll see more automation everywhere in the world. It will literally take a shortage of the natural resources (again, another post) to cease this inevitability. So, net, automation has cost a good chunk of American jobs. This is also true for Chinese, German, Japanese, South Korean, et al jobs.

2) Training. I blame politicians for why this is so little understood. Since the days of Bill Clinton, “Move up the value chain. Education is the key. etc, etc”  has been one of those safe ubiquitous lines everyone parrots. It’s led us to the “sacred truth” that everyone needs to go to college and then they’d be OK. I think this is total bullshit.  (Google “Thiel Higher Education Bubble” for an excellent background on the counter to this “truth”). In reality, “educated workforce” meant a very complex, diverse truth. It meant a great liberal arts education for some, a rigorous math, science/engineering education for others, and the missing one — was a highly valued vocational training. Germany has long known the importance of this and has a variety of vocational training. Both articles linked to above touch on the need for this. Over the past decade we have all but given up on this kind of training. While part of a more complex point, I believe that we should aggressively be retooling our community colleges to focus on this kind of vocational training.

3) Industrial Policy. Automation aside, the Apple story talks about foreign governments that targeted specific desired industries and how this resulted in an unbeatable combination. This is  called industrial policy and is rarely talked about in America. Countries that have heavily used industrial policy: Japan, China, Germany, South Korea. It’s a list of the powerful, triumphant manufacturers of the world. America once had a very muscular industrial policy from the 1800’s going through World War II. With Europe in shambles and our industrial and economic might seemingly infinite, foreign policy and political concerns prevailed over any kind of industrial policy. The result has been a consistent (with a surge this past decade) overseas build-up of industrial capability that has led to the realization of Ross Perot’s “giant sucking sound of jobs going away.” Industrial policy can be a combination of tax benefits, cash and natural resource subsidies, calculated currency manipulation, and protectionist trade restrictions to protect a fledgling industry. While there are examples of America focusing here (agricultural) we’ve sat out this “game.” While industrial policy has its share of valid skeptics (can the government really pick the right industries that matter?) — it really does matter. The rise of most of China, Japan, South Korea, etc is the blinding proof that an intellectually-honest person can’t ignore.

There are a lot of other important things to join. The importance of building a cost infrastructure that supports manufacturing vs consumption. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being most geared towards production and jobs — China is a 10 towards supporting jobs (manufacturing, etc). The US is close to a 1. On the scale of 1 to 10, with focused on consuming as much as possible, America is a 10 and China is a 1. We’ve focused on consumerism and the amassing of boundless crap. By the way, lately that crap has been debt. Unfortunately we’re not having a real conversation about where we’re headed, what we’ve been doing, and where want to go, nor discussing the actual impact on Americans’ lives. Both the NYT piece and The Atlantic do these things on some level.

I’ll end by saying that while I loved the articles, I found Davidson’s closing line in The Atlantic to be a bit disingenuous:

For most of U.S. history, most people had a slow and steady wind at their back, a combination of economic forces that didn’t make life easy but gave many of us little pushes forward that allowed us to earn a bit more every year. Over a lifetime, it all added up to a better sort of life than the one we were born into. That wind seems to be dying for a lot of Americans. What the country will be like without it is not quite clear.

In so far as the future is always hard to predict, fine. That aside, I think it actually is fairly clear. In fact, it’s the strength of the article. He lays out the clear arc:
1) People like Maggie, who the article opens, with are quite rare. A great very many “Maggie’s” across the country don’t even have the opportunity that she has.
2) Even for Maggie, the basic ideal of a middle class life eludes her reach on a salary of sub-$30K.
3) The writing is on the wall that with automation, even what the lucky ones like Maggie have, is likely to be gone in the foreseeable future.

The “very lucky” in this story, Luke, is shown as a clear anomaly. In fact the NY Times story on Apple presented the other side of Luke, in the well-trained Eric Sargoza an engineer who can’t find a job because he’s been replaced by someone in Shenzen who makes nearly what he did.

The obvious outstanding variable left is that we live in increasingly chaotic times. In times like this you can’t predict the future, because there are just too many variables. In the absence of predicting the future, you have to at least connect the dots and prepare best you can. Sadly, the dots have clearly been there since I was born (30+ years). We’ve chosen mostly to ignore them and, I fear, the chickens are coming home to roost.

election2010 Politics

the platform owns you.

For the past year, I’ve been asked (a lot): “Will you ever run for office again?” My answer is somewhere between “NEVER!” and “probably not.” I gave the same answer throughout the campaign — the only way I knew to not become a politician, would be…well, to not…become a politician.

This week I saw a quote that just floored me:

…David Frum, former George W. Bush speechwriter and once-prominent neoconservative, … “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us,” he said. “Now we’re discovering that we work for Fox.

That’s from an article on the media and Sam Zell.

Think. About. That.

Republicans originally thought that Fox news worked for us
The ascendance of Fox news produced jubilation on the right and a great fear and loathing on the left. This incredibly clear, forceful, and loud voice was helping to drive the stated goals of the Republicans party. Essentially Fox was helping to sell the Republican agenda.

Now we’re discovering that we work for Fox.
Eventually a crazy thing happened: At some point Fox shifted their message to their ideology. Instead of taking cues to support a Republican agenda, they set the damn agenda. Their narrative fueled the people, who soon demanded it. This in turn became what Republican candidates needed to deliver to please their base. They now tangentially worked for Fox news.

As an aside, this has analogues in the tech world where the discussion today is dependence on platforms. Things like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter are platforms on which companies are built right on top of. The Republican party, in some ways, has built their business on top of the Fox News platform. When you build your business on top of someone else’s platform, you are dependent on and place yourself at the mercy of that platform. With Fox News’ absurd tilt to the extreme-right, Fox has helped to radically reshape the Republican party.

So back to my original question: Would I ever run for office again? Seeing all this take place has only affirmed to me that the highest impact is not necessarily in running for an office, but in shaping the public discussion. Fox, and other pundits, play the biggest role in all this. Things are still headed to shit in my opinion. Obama, the magical 2010 Republican congressional class, and the incumbents have done nothing to change this. As my irritation and rage smolder, I now think about how I can help shape this narrative. So that’s what where my mind is.

Run again? No. Shape narrative? Yes, but how?…

election2010 Misc Personal Politics

obama’s failure.

It’s good to be declarative when talking about presidents. They should own things. Think ‘Bush’s War’ for Iraq. And, now, it seems ‘Obama’s War’ for Afghanistan.

So, I’m declarative here: Obama’s failure.

I’ve wanted to write this for a long time. It really built over 2010. As my feelings grew stronger, I felt trapped by circumstances. For the first half of the year, I was seeking the Democratic nomination for Congress. It’s probably not the keenest strategy to air your grievances against the leader of the very party whose nomination you are seeking. (Also, the airing of grievances should be restricted to Festivus anyway). In the second half of the year, after winning the nomination, I felt paralyzed by cynicism. If I called out the president, it would just be viewed cynically as another Democratic candidate who was trying to distance himself from an unpopular president. It would perceived as just another politician willing to say anything, and throw anyone under the bus just to get elected. As an aside, I also refrained from any Republican-bashing whatsoever because outside of its unproductive nature, I realized it would be dismissed as standard politics. (This strategy was not as effective as I hoped.)

So I pretty much meant kept my mouth shut in public on the subject of the president. Tonight, the president delivers his third state of the union. I didn’t want him to address the nation until I weighed in. I can only imagine the frustration of his speechwriters once they read this and have to do a massive re-write with only hours to go. Such is life. 😛

I am not happy with President Barack Obama. Some would say that I am just being cynical. But it’s the opposite. It’s the president that has revealed himself to be the most cynical of all.

In 2006 & 2007, Barack Obama campaigned across America speaking about change. Not just any change. Not changing a few policies. Like changing the healthcare system, changing the vacancy sign at Gitmo, or changing DADT . No, he talked about transformational change. Washington was a corrupt, fatally flawed place, that had ceased to function for the American people. If the goal of Washington was to advance the cause of the American experiment, it had failed. It was broken. Barack Obama had come along to tell us…no, to promise us, that he was coming to Washington to destroy it.

There’s a deep sense of hopelessness and cynicism attached to politics. Most of all amongst the youngest of voters. I believe it boils down to a sense that it doesn’t matter which candidate wins, nothing changes but the window dressing. In a campaign of historic proportions, Obama flipped the script. He galvanized young and old. Here, he promised, was your chance to be heard. I’m sick of all this too. The posturing. The petty bickering. The flitting away at the margins, while the glaring disasters are in plain sight. I hear you! Now is not the time to be small, it’s time to go big! Instead of being sick of everything, let’s change the system, he whispered to us.

So we elected him. And, look, I’m actually one of the people who think almost any decent Democratic candidate should have won that election. The conditions near-perfect (Bush fatigue, supreme economic malaise-turned-crisis, a changed McCain, and everything ‘Sarah Palin’) for a McCain defeat. But, still: record dollars raised, largest grassroots effort in American history, electoral landslide! Change had come to America! Game on! Let’s go change Washington! Can’t Wait!

It’s been two years. I’m still waiting.

That’s not to say that a lot hasn’t been accomplished. Far from it. The president has presided over one of the most ambitious legislative agendas in decades. See this site for the laundry list of things, passed and signed.. As checklists go, he’s been busy.

But Washington today looks a whole lot like it did 5 years ago. The huge scary problems that were looming over us 3 years ago, are still there. The president promised transformational change, and then once he got there, he went hard at work on transactional change.

Am I being too harsh? Is it not realistic to expect big, systemic change? To expect course-altering? Maybe, but I was just expecting what was promised.

In the end, I’m a harsh realist. So I as I watched the campaign unfold, I was never sure that Obama would be able to do the things he promised. But I believed that he was truly angered by these things and that he would at least try.

I do not believe that Barack Obama ever tried to change Washington. This is Obama’s ultimate failure.
Maybe he tried to do it by asking nicely. He went behind the scenes and extended olive branches. Asked for help in tackling the big problems and reforming the system. In fact, let’s just assume that he did this and was (not) shockingly, rebuffed by all those with a stake in the status quo and that sought political advantage.

Then what?

He used every old trick in the book to get things done. Nothing changed except the transactions. He got some impressively difficult legislation passed. To do so, he signed bills that had massive pork (when he promised to not do this). He OK’ed backroom deals (when he campaigned for radical transparency) to horsetrade for votes. He signed a ~$4 trillion tax cut extension when he said that he wanted to truly take on the debt. Yeah, he did get a lot done. But at what cost? The cost was preserving the system, keeping our course (towards the iceberg), and maintaining the destructive status quo of DC.

What did I want him to do? I wanted him to fight. I expected him to take a baseball bat to DC if it wouldn’t change easy. I expected him to expose the corruption, hypocrisy, and ideologues who stood in the way of transformational change. Hold press conferences where you call individual people out. Highlight the dollars flowing between certain PAC’s and their supplicants. Explain how it all actually impacts the American people. Re-engage that army  of volunteers to go to work at the grassroots level to spread the word about what was really happening. It would work because he was right. Because he took the moral high ground.

Of course this would have consequences. Instead of passing all that legislation, Congress would grind to a standstill. No healthcare reform, DADT, etc, etc, etc, etc. Instead there’s war in DC. He’s taking a bat to Washington. I’m OK with that. Not because I’m insensitive to the suffering of the people who have benefited from the incremental progress of the new laws. Not because I’m a purist who believes that Perfect is the enemy of Good. But because we are a nation at a pivotal moment, at a time of crisis, and transactional leadership won’t cut it. We need transformational leadership, and Obama was thrilled during the campaign to be the vessel in which we believed it could be enacted through.

Why am I so hung up on this? Why am I so repulsed? Because the big problems aren’t close to being addressed:

– $14 trillion in current debt; record deficits; $50 trillion more coming down the pike
– $3 billion spent lobbying and more on its way each day
– A financial system that is still deeply vulnerable but papered over due to the Fed’s printing press
– A ~17% real unemployment rate that has showed substantial evidence of being the ‘new normal’
– A manufacturing sector on its last legs due to failed US trade, tax, and regulatory policies
– Control of our debt by nations who appear to be becoming increasingly aggressive towards us
– The list. Goes. On. And. On. And. On…

As long as the status quo remains, we are not capable of taking on these challenges. That was his campaign narrative . It was right then. It’s right now. What’s changed are the president’s priorities. He chose getting stuff done vs getting stuff right. He chose progress today vs a real foundation for tomorrow.

That’s President Barack Obama’s failure. He failed to do what he told us he would. Worst of all, he didn’t even fight to.

I suspect this post will infuriate many. It will bring out the instinctive need to defend ‘their guy.’ I understand your reaction. Politics is horrifically adversarial and combative. It’s worse than sports. When a Steelers fan makes fun of the Bengals (even if they’re right), I pipe up. When a Patriots fan rips on the Jets (even if they’re right), I rush to concoct a tortured defense. But politics, the debate over the direction of the future of our country, should not be so tortured. I believe, to my very core, that we should not defend people or parties. We should defend principles and ideas. Only principles and ideas. Because the people and the parties sell out. They change. They compromise. They sell out. Our values, our principles, our ideals and ideas, these are the things that are true. Hold them above all else.

For the first time in a very long time, I sat down to write without fear of if it would be used against me. I didn’t worry that it would cost me votes or whether it would be popular. This is what I feel. I say it with a clear heart and no sinister purpose. I know my values and I know what I would like to see done. And so I write.

election2010 Politics

a sane political campaign.

I’ve got a lot to say! Especially around this past election. To set the stage for that, I want to describe my perspective as it’s been informed by this unique experience. It’s the lens by which all future commentary and thoughts can be viewed. Here goes:

I’m biased, but I believe I ran the most sane campaign anywhere in America, in 2010. Here’s why:

1) The only clean-money campaign in the country.

The problem: A super-high number, potentially in the billions was spent on campaigns this election season. When running for office becomes something that is so unfathomably expensive that only a certain, well-connected or uber-wealthy class of people can ever consider it, we’ve failed miserably.

Of all the major federal campaigns (US House and Senate), we were the only one to not take any special interest money or self-finance. The only one. We raised a quarter million dollars, entirely from individual donations, averaging $250.

2) An organic campaign, not a synthetic one.

The problem: There’s clearly a huge trust gap in politics. When a politician tells us something, our first reaction is to assume lies and deception. We immediately have to figure out how much of what they said might be true. We impugn motives and statements of politicians because we know how artificial they have become. Focus groups, poll-tested sound bites, and consultants crafting everything. We now take for granted that these politicians and their campaigns don’t mean what they say. Like a marketed bar of soap, everything has been fine tuned behind the curtain to make us want it. They don’t mean it.

So I ran an organic campaign. There were no “rented suits” (consultants) or focus-grouped taglines. But more than anything, I wanted to show what a sane, human campaign could look like. What if the candidate ran his own campaign, kept the books, ran the fundraising, wrote the speeches, policy positions, planned the media, created the commercials, and all the rest? So I did. It’s also why I was really, really irritated when my statements and motives were impugned. It was frustrating because all of this work was really an extension of me — but realistically, until this becomes more commonplace — that campaigns are a true, honest reflection of the candidate and their views –cynicism and resistance will persist.

3) Ideas, not sound bites.

The problem: Most politicians run for office without any ideas. Instead they rely on 2-3 sound bites which they repeat over and over. It’s so bad that there are even a slew of politicians who don’t even have positions on their website. My opponent, Jean Schmidt was one of them. You could basically look at photos of her or donate to her campaign. Those were your choices. After a year+ of dealing with this idiocy, I let loose in the debate on it and called it what it was: parrot politics. You could teach a parrot to say the names of a few diseases, that doesn’t make the parrot a doctor. You can teach a parrot to say “lower taxes” and “smaller government”, but that doesn’t make that parrot a conservative either. It was infuriating.

So I laid out an aggressive policy platform on my website. I even went further to post about relevant policy news on The Huffington Post. I constantly updated the Facebook campaign page with relevant news articles & commentary. I answered emails every day on policy positions and where I stood on issues.

I’m extremely proud of these accomplishments. This is what was especially different about our campaign. I like to think it was a brief glimpse at sanity in an otherwise insane election year and political climate.

Business Financial News Politics reading

financial services reading.

Lots of disturbing, horrifying, and bizarre facts out there about the state of the financial services sector of our economy.

One of my all-time favorite writers, Michael Lewis, has a great piece on AIG in Vanity Fair.

Much more controversially, Matt Taibbi, in Rolling Stone posts a searing indictment of uber-bank Goldman Sachs. Almost must read.

The past year in the banking sector (based on the actions over the past decade+) has had a truly stunning impact on our country. Likely, we’re going through a history-shaping event. It’s why I’m shocked at how what has gone on has been out of the public spotlight. I hope to see more in-depth reporting coming out soon on the role lobbyists, PAC’s, and financial firms themselves played in this national nightmare.

Politics reading

good articles to read, take two.


6) Dream on a shelf — OTL. Interesting read on the insides of big money sport. More as a human interest story than financial deep-dive.

7) What makes us happy? The Atlantic. An ongoing *72* year study of 268 men at Harvard college probing the factors that make some men happy, and others miserable.

8 ) The secrets of self control – The New Yorker. Self control, a topic that’s always fascinated me, is really well-discussed here.

9) When underdogs break the rules – The New Yorker. Why do people pick fights they know they are going to lose? I love the underdog and those who face long odds bravely. But I struggle with understanding the masochism of confronting a foe in the manner in which you’re at a known disadvantage. Find your advantage, right?

10) Geithner and the gilded age – NYTimes. Good read on Geithner, who as Treasury Secretary, is now one of the most important people in the world. Both fascinating and depressing. Try not to throw up in your mouth as you read about his best friends on wall street.

Business Financial Life Politics reading

2 hours of pain and bliss.

Below are some of the more interesting articles I’ve found over the past month. Not sure if it adds up to 2 hours of reading, but it sounded like a good title to me. Why pain? Because reading some of these articles made my blood boil and indignation rage. After avoiding these kinds of articles for a few months, I’ve jumped back in and hope that maybe something productive will result. Here goes…

1) NYTimes: Banks up to their old tricks.

After screwing over their country (and, to be fair, many other countries) American banks have decided they’ve been punished enough. They are passionately lobbying against regulation of the same complex financial instruments that pushed the world economy to the brink of collapse. They’re pushing for less transparency and less oversight. The money quotes:

“The banks run the place,” Mr. Peterson said. “I will tell you what the problem is — they give three times more money than the next biggest group. It’s huge the amount of money they put into politics.”

“The outrage among the public means that things have a chance to change, if things move quickly,” said Michael Greenberger, a professor at the University of Maryland Law School and a former director of trading and markets at the C.F.T.C. “We’re in this brief moment of time when the average citizen is on a level playing field with the lobbyist.”

The banks run the place? A brief moment in time when the average citizen is on a level playing field with a lobbying group out to bankrupt taxpayers? Wait. What was that sound? Oh, just me throwing my laptop against the wall.

2) NYTimes Magazine: Tom Davis Gives up on Washington

An old article on a republican congressman from Virginia. Half human interest story and half sad state affairs of Washington. I would take 435 Tom Davis’ over almost anything else you could give me. I found it really interesting to read the story of a man who spent a lifetime in politics, played the game enough to exist within the power structures, yet refused to compromise on some core ideas and principles.

3) The New Yorker: Money Talks – the Obama budget

Peter Orszag, Obama’s budget head may have the toughest job on the planet. By all appearances he’s a non-political, intellectually honest policy wonk trying to follow through on an ambitious agenda while not bankrupting America. In times like these, saying that last phrase, becomes more than empty rhetoric. Interesting to read about the schism within the administration between those who are scared of our deficits and those who feel we need to march ahead to “right America”. Though, unlike the battle in 90’s, we live in a different world where the dollar is actually in some amount of danger.

4) New Yorker: Cost of healthcare…

Atul Gawande is an *amazing* writer. He wrote a great book called Better: A surgeon’s notes on performance. Here he takes on the peculiarities of health care costs. Gawande writes with the credibility of a renowned doctor and with the incisiveness of a gifted author to confront a taboo in the world of medicine– the profound import of money. Examining a city in TX that boasts health care spending far above the national average and surrounding towns, he dives in full bore. There’s a synergy to this and the Orszag article and, hopefully, we’re approaching a consensus in potential approaches. Make no mistake, health care is the single biggest threat to our country’s future. It threatens private sector viability and the potential to bankrupt the government. Social Security and bailouts can’t touch our medical system.

5) New York Review of Books: Crisis and how to deal with it.

Niall Ferguson is one of my favorite authors and speakers on economic issues. I’ll warn you to not read this next to any sharp objects, prescription drugs, or other dangerous things. The conversation, between some of the “brightest economic minds”, offers very, very little sunshine.

I’ll have 5 more in a few days.

Business Life Personal Politics

reading joker one.

At one point in 2004-2005 I read a book or two a week. In retrospect, it was a phenomenal time. Some of my earliest memories are of reading soo much. At one point, I remember that my brother and I were so engrossed that our father took our books away from us when we had visitors, because otherwise we’d just retreat to our room and read. Anyway, since 04-05 there’s been a long, slow decline in my reading volume. I’ve recently made a conscious effort to pick up my old reading habit.

This weekend I read Joker One A Marine Platoon’s Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood by Donovan Campbell. My review? RUN out  to borrow/buy it. It’s amazing stuff. /End book review.

Here are three thoughts inspired by the book.

1) Read Joker One to learn about leadership. Joker One does an amazing job of elegantly boiling down what leadership comes down to. In his final few pages he boils it down to one, elegant, powerful word. I have never heard of leadership described in this manner but once I read it, it resonated. I won’t call out what it is here, because, honestly, it’s a powerful culmination of the 300 pages that came before it. Discussing it out of context not only fails to give it its due, but also to spoils the powerfulness of its words and meaning when you read it. Obviously leading men in battle, with the weighty consequence of life and death surrounding you, is far different than civilian leadership. Yet the lessons and universality of the questions the author raises should speak to anyone who has or will be put in a position of leadership. Great stuff.

2) I’ve posted previously about Generation Kill. Glimpses into the military have always enthralled me. As I read Joker One, I literally felt as if I could sniff war. I finished the book about an hour ago, and I’m struck by the same thoughts I always have: It’s almost criminal how we turn a blind eye to our unpleasant truths. War movies fail at the box office when the country is at war. People tune out the news when the death toll or other such updates are reported. No one complains when the media closes their war-locale reporting bureau. We don’t want to talk about the thousands of dead and those badly maimed and injured. We don’t pay attention to the horror stories of the lack of long-term medical treatment and job opportunities afforded upon soldiers when they return. We turn a blind eye to the rampant PTSD.

But this is all after the fact. What responsibility do we all bear, as citizens, for how much we know about the foreign policy that guides these troop deployments? Troops do their part by answering the call, charging towards gunfire, and following orders. The dictates that guide them are from the highest levels of the military following the orders of the highest levels of government. We put those people into power, and so, ultimately, are responsible for those orders. They represent our will. As easy as it is for us to get bogged down in our lives, our trials and tribulations, it’s our greater responsibility to think deeply and honestly about our views. They guide the fate of so many of our brothers and sisters.

Ultimately, society is a grand bargain. We are inextricably interdependent. It would be a shame if the only ones holding up their end of the deal are the ones risking their lives to follow orders and represent America.

Have we done our duty honorably?

3) After reading Joker One, you literally feel an emotional connection to the marines in the story. You care for them. Admire them. Like them. Empathize with them. That’s not terribly surprising: Even if you took a group who have no reason to respect or admire, but dive into their life, you’d almost certainly find a compelling, story that would elicit empathy. This is why it’s always struck me as strange, the amount of contempt that we have for strangers. Instead of the benefit of the doubt (forget kindness), we often are ready to believe the worst in others. What if you thought about each random person you met, and put in their place someone you cared about: an old friend or family member. I’ve just read this book, and since I’ve never met any of these amazing marines, they could literally be any of the strangers I’ll bump into next week. How would I treat them if I knew who they were? How would I treat a stranger if I didn’t know their personal story? What does this say about us?

Now: go buy Joker One.