Tag Archives: President Obama

Requiem for a Lightweight

Trump did not win. Ms. Inevitability lost.  It was inevitable. The only surprise is that so many refused to see what was so obvious until it was too late. I saw it coming and said so; first in September, 2011, then in  June, 2013, and again in June, 2016.  However, there is a much more profound consequence of this election that remains ignored in the post-election ruminations of the media.  I will touch on that later, but first, the postmortem.

Did the Russians steal the election from  her?  No.  Whatever they may have done was minor to what she did to herself long before.   Hillary, paranoid of right-wing conspiracies long before Russian hacking became a national security threat,  dismissed security concerns when she was Secretary of State. She dismissed security concerns regarding her own personal server(s).  Her campaign dismissed security concerns as if they had no prior knowledge of her email vulnerability, and no prior exposure to ‘third rate burglaries’.  How much more damage could the Russians have done to her than she and her dream team had already done to themselves?

Did the leaked emails kill her?  Probably not.  If there were any smoking guns revealed, I’m not aware of them from what was reported in the press.  Most of it was a lot of embarrassing but petty, small-minded trivia erupting from her camp followers and hangers-on which reflected the shallowness and self-serving mentality that many of us associate with the political culture in general.

Did Comey and the Gang That Can’t Shoot Straight do her in?  She may be convinced that he did, but I would give equal credit to Willful Bill, who just had to stop by the AG’s plane to discuss grandkids for 45 minutes. That may not have justified Comey’s subsequent actions, but in the current take-no-prisoners climate, it must have upped his need to protect Number 1, not wishing to be Lynched for his boss’ poor judgement and not knowing her loyalties.  Between a rabid Congress and incompetent Justice, he didn’t have any good choices.  Only responsibility.

Hillary didn’t lose because of Comey. She didn’t lose because of the email server. She didn’t lose because she’s not likable enough.  She lost because she was an inferior candidate,  a fragile ego hiding behind a brittle mask of toughness, and unwilling to acknowledge her own weaknesses; a striver who could not calibrate her ambitions to the dimensions of her abilities; a closet Republican wearing the mask of a liberal; a chameleon  who struggles to blend in but only manages to stand out and irritate with every tone-deaf effort to justify herself;  a panderer to minorities who did not understand that elections are won by majorities; a self-styled political operative who failed to grasp that the ultimate election was the Electoral College and not the popular vote; a candidate so seriously flawed in image and limited in substance that her flacks had to re-brand  her every two or three weeks as the New, Exciting Hillary, only to experience serial failure.  All the Queen’s horses and All the Queen’s men couldn’t put Hillary together in the end.

But the real story of Hillary’s loss is not that she won by nearly 3 million of the popular votes.  It is that she didn’t win by far more and that she lost the ultimate race, the Electoral College, by so much and against an opponent as deplorable as hers.  Hillary’s real measure of loss is the votes that were cast against her and the votes that stayed home. If one adds the 4 million votes for Gary Johnson, most of which we can presume would have gone to Trump or stayed home, she would have lost the popular vote or been in a dead heat, and still lost the Electoral College.  Voter turnout over the prior election appears to have increased by at least 7 million.  Voter registration is reported to have significantly increased for this election.  If we assume that the Democrats were largely the beneficiaries of registration growth, but she only won by 3 million votes, what does that suggest about how much of her base eroded, like the out-going tide of public mood pulling grains of sand from under her feet while she stands at the water’s edge,  contemplating the view of the horizon, only to discover herself pulled out to sea by the undertow she didn’t know was there.

But it would be unfair to blame Hillary’s loss on Hillary alone.  It takes a village.  In this case, the Democratic party.  Consider that after her amateurish campaign against a relatively unknown newcomer in 2008, the Democratic Party is handed a victory that it  largely did not earn as a party, and then proceed to lose ground in two consecutive mid-term elections in which it should have built on momentum to solidify its gains, but basically left Obama to swing in the wind.  And now it has the temerity to insinuate, if not charge, that it lost 2016 because Obama ‘didn’t do enough’.  I hope that when Mr. Obama writes his memoir, he devotes a chapter of rebuttal entitled ‘The Audacity of Dopes’.

     *  *  *

This election has been a collection of ironies.

First, that Ms. Experience should be severely challenged by a virtually unknown quantity in Mr. Sanders for the second time in her illustrious career and survive not on her merits, but on her careful engineering of the backroom Democratic machinery in an undemocratic manner.

Second, that the chief strategies of Hillary and Trump were to debate each other’s deplorability, and against all reasonable assumptions, she lost.

But the greatest irony is that she was defeated by a candidate who  attacked her for being a pawn of the elite, and who is proving day by day to be a more corrosive agent of middle class economic and social decline than Hillary would ever be.

How did this come to be?  The ultimate blame belongs to the electorate.  We pay more attention to sports, reality TV and the Kardashians than to the politics that influence our daily lives.  We are a society that embraces the cheap and easy  and frivolous at the expense of quality and durability, and it shows in our political choices as well as our clothes and food.

We don’t want a President.  We want Santa Claus, who will fulfill our every wish with no effort or sacrifice on our part.  Many of us, especially Democrats, expected the newly elected Obama to do it all, and we turned our back on him like yesterday’s meatloaf when  he couldn’t fix everything in the face of a Congress of indifferent Democrats and largely rabid Republicans led by the treasonous Mitch McConnell and the gutless John Boehner.

The American public, programmed by the media for cultural ADD and narcissism, turned on Obama for failing to meet its expectations and now turns to Trump with the same level of hope that it first projected on Obama, but hope resting on a dubious foundation.

I suspect, based on the anecdotal knowledge from my small sphere of acquaintances but with  no statistical foundation for the assertion, that many who voted for Trump view him not as a leader but as a hammer.  They have few expectations that he will  ‘make things better’.  Rather, they hope that he will ‘drain the swamp’ and break the system that they feel has done so much for so long to put their well-being at risk.  They are willing to take the risk that out of the rubble that Trump will create,  they can fashion a better life for themselves. That is likely an ill-conceived calculation.

Ironically, many of these people are professionals whose well-being is tied to the very system they hope Trump will dismantle.  They seem to embrace a detached sense of cause and effect, seemingly dismissing effect. Many of these people in my acquaintance are analytics in fields of finance and management and medicine and engineering where facts matter and have consequences, and image is to be viewed with professional skepticism. But they see the current system as beyond redemption, and in need of recycling.  I share the view that the current system is seriously flawed, but if Trump is the cure, I’d prefer the illness and a search for a credible remedy.

   *  *  *

There remains one critical question for the economic elite and their political gofers to contemplate.  When Trump’s masses discover in the next year that he is the Hillary they feared, what will they do?  When they discover that he and his wrecking crew have stripped them of the few remaining benefits and safeguards that the current political  order provides and they have taken for granted, what will they do.  Can Trump put back in the bottle the anger he has released, or will he be its next victim, but not its final victim? When the Tea Partiers and Occupiers realize that they are not each other’s enemy, but that they share a common enemy, what happens next?

   *  *  *

I voted for Hillary Clinton, much as I distrust her.  I deemed her less dangerous and destructive and more subject to control and containment than Trump.  I did not do so gladly, but I considered the option of not voting a dereliction of a citizen’s duty. Even among two genuinely lousy choices, one is usually less lousy than the other, if only by a hair’s width. I hope that this requiem for Hillary’s political life does not become a requiem for our great national experiment.

I am reminded of Simon and Garfunkel’s lyrics:

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon
Going to the candidates’ debate
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at it you lose

Bookends  1968.

Not much has changed.

But everything has changed.

Onward

20161226

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Obamacare: Critically Injured, But Not Terminal

You’ve probably heard that Obamacare has been struck by reality at the intersection of politics and technology. It’s badly mangled body has been rushed to the nearest trauma center and is now in surgery.  (The Admitting office is still trying to confirm insurance coverage.)

With benefit of an auditor’s keen hindsight, I can report that much of its problem was foreseeable, if one had only chosen to look.  There is nothing particularly unique about the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) immediate injuries.  Three of them occur routinely in private sector development of systems.  The private sector just generally enjoys greater freedom from public transparency when it performs biopsies and autopsies.  What makes ACA unique is its scale, and its impact on the public.  It’s actually a much bigger deal, if you can imagine, than Apple’s newest iPad.  There are three obvious generic failures in implementation, and a fourth potential one which I hope we will not realize.

Fail 1 – Client/User Requirements

I don’t care how good the development team is (yes, even the ‘best and the brightest’), if you give it unrealistic or faulty user specifications and performance standards, the project is destined to fail before it begins.

As I noted in a prior blog, ACA is not, in my opinion, a destination but rather a transition to the ultimate health care platform, which will likely be be single payor. It is a seriously contorted compromise between the failed health care system we have suffered for too long and an optimum (not perfect, but optimum) system that a society of our supposed wealth, ‘exceptionalism’, and presumed sophistication should demand.  The consequence of that contorted compromise, known as ACA, is a set of business requirements that are exceedingly challenging to implement with the best of technology.  If the business logic is severely twisted, it takes a lot of code to untangle.

In addition to the external business requirements is the timeline for implementation.  In a system scope this complex, one can only compress development time so much by throwing bodies at it.  Unrealistic timeline >>> undesirable results.

Both flaws in project scope were driven by political calculations, indifferent to the magnitude of a project scope that directly or indirectly will impact 17% of our economy, and all our lives.

Fail 2.  Project Development

This project would have been challenging enough with the timeline demands for its business scope.  But the necessary architecture kicks it up a notch or five.

This is not a project built from the bottom up in a linear fashion, but rather from the middle out to a galaxy of systems and interfaces and public environments. The key word is interface. ACA is correctly described as a ‘hub’, and its spokes must interface with a diverse set of government and private sector systems, none of which were previously conceived to interface with its special requirements.  Most of them will have to be tweaked in some manner to talk to each other reliably.  This requires an extraordinary degree of coordination, not only within the ACA system development team, but with all relevant external parties: federal government, state government, private insurers, exchanges,…and let’s not forget the general public in some aggregate manifestation.  You get the idea.

An implementation of this magnitude of reach and complexity of requirements could easily take three years from the starting gate to get acceptable, and five years to get tight.  Don’t take my opinion. Just look at history for projects of some magnitude that still don’t even come knee-high to this endeavor.

Fail 3 – Project Management and Accountability

The easiest thing to do, and I’m confident the Republicans will, is to ask for Kathleen Sebelius’ head. After all, that’s what would be done if we ran government like a business in the private sector!

It would also be wrong.  But that does not absolve the President and Secretary of responsibility.

When I have had the opportunity to manage others under much more modest challenges, I have generally conveyed the following message early in my reign of terror:

“I don’t expect you to be perfect. I certainly am not. But I do suggest four guidelines:

1.  Don’t make big mistakes.

2.  Don’t make mistakes we can’t correct.

3.  Don’t make the same mistake twice.

4.  If you’ve got a problem, keep me informed.

If you don’t, it’s YOUR problem.

If you do, it’s OUR problem.

It’s much better for YOU to make it OUR problem.”

Item 4 is for MY benefit, because I can’t manage what I don’t know.  But virtually everything in our corporate (business and government) culture mitigates against this posture.  Ask the Chairman of JP Morgan.

It is reported that many consultants on the ACA team were grumbling among themselves about unrealistic project requirements and timelines.  Did they send that message upstairs? And where did its migration stop? With the consulting firms? In HHS? In the Oval Office?

The only thing worse than failing to meet expectations is failing to acknowledge the problem when it is first recognized and manageable. It does little good to come clean after blind-siding your client.  And in this context, let me add: the ultimate client is the public.  All the public. Even those who are not directly affected by the ACA system, because its impact on 17% of our economy will affect all of us in the short and long-term.  We all have a stake in its success or failure.

Which brings us to Item 4, which I ardently hope will not be Fail 4.

(Fail?) 4  Affordability of Care

The ultimate measure of ACA will not be whether the IT trauma team of the best and the brightest can put lipstick on a pig after extensive plastic surgery to head trauma, and let the data flow.

The ultimate test will be whether or not the system delivers in the immediate term coverages that people can truly afford and benefit from in the aggregate of premiums, co-pays, deductibles, and levels of service for the price.

There is some concern based on limited anecdotal evidence that the available coverages in too many cases will be little more than a fig-leaf of protection for many families of modest means, even after subsidies.  If that is the case, ACA will have failed, even if ‘The System’ is made to work.  It is ultimately the economics of ACA, and not the technology of ACA that matters.  If we lose sight of that, we have ultimately failed.

*  *  *

The prospect of Item 4 takes us back to my earlier post, cited in Fail 1 above.  I suspect that because ACA is a convoluted compromise to appease the existing health care industry and its intermediaries, it will fail in the near term to bend the costs of administration and delivery that will be demanded by our economy if we are to avoid the ballooning deficits that Republicans so love to pontificate about; and avoid personal bankruptcies that will befall too many citizens without an economically viable resource.

I suspect that if we had committed to 1) a single payer system to begin with, and 2) a realistic timeline for implementation in the beginning, we would not be where we are today, and we would be much further along in achieving the health care economies and outcomes we deserve.  But that’s hindsight.

President Obama can be rightfully criticized for the status of implementation to date because, after all, the buck DOES stop there.

But it should also be acknowledged that he was correct in making health care the priority he did in his first administration, because he understood better than most of us, including Congress, that if we are to improve the cost of government and the vitality of the economy in the long run, we must tackle the failures of our current health care miasma now.

Whatever the faults of the evolving ACA system, technology and economics, they must be corrected, because we cannot go backward from here.  That is something we truly cannot afford.

Onward.

20131023

Clim-Ergy: Competing Trajectories Toward An Unknown Convergence…or Collision

Since I became immersed in Climate Change impacts in 2004 and energy transition in 2006, I have been waiting for the moment when both paradigms might converge in a common strategy framed in a shared context of awareness.  That destination in time, space and understanding seems as remote as ever. I am reminded of this in a convergence of articles in yesterday’s New York Times.

Joe Nocera writes of a coal gasification project in Texas that holds promise of bringing coal back into the realm of tolerable energy options by reducing its carbon footprint and other collateral damages of pollution.  He lists five benefits of a project currently under way in Texas.  My auditor’s skepticism (cynicism) senses that the actual applicability of the technology will fall considerably short of its theoretical promise, as have so many before it. But that is my assumption. Like His, it will be confirmed or refuted by experience.

Mr. Nocera engages Bill McKibben to weigh in on the proposal. Mr. McKibben responds, in essence, that a half bad solution is not a good solution from an environmental perspective.  In this exchange is embedded the crux of Clim-Ergy’s most immediate dilemma: Do we sacrifice the economy for the environment, or the environment for the economy? This should not be cast as a binary choice, but as yet we have not found the sweet spot of a compromise.

Mr. Nocera in essence argues for coal gasification on the grounds that it makes tolerable a resource that will be used in any case by economic necessity. Mr. McKibben, by contrast, in many of his pronouncements dismisses the economic implications of taking actions that will prevent an environmental catastrophy.  Unfortunately, more people understand the negative impacts of a radical economic transformation leading to contraction and dislocation far better than they understand the implications of an environmental catastrophy which will inflict its own economic consequences.  Even with the benefit of recent climatic events, most people remain in denial of the severity that could await us under Mr. McKibben’s, and the scientific community at large, projections of climatic consequences.  This is not new, and that is disturbing.  While more people are coming to accept that we are experiencing accelerating climate change, relatively few are willing to sign up for Mr. McKibben’s prescription.

Which brings us to President Obama’s proposal yesterday of a $2 billion program to explore automobile technologies to replace the use of fossil fuels.  These are to be funded by federal royalties on the extraction of more fossil fuels to power the cars we have and further support global warming in the interim. This is the essence of society’s deal with the devil.  We will commit a sin to secure a virtue. It is a contorted logic indeed, but the one we are operating under.

Mr. Obama is only half the fool his critics in both parties make him out to be. He knows the score as well as anybody.  He knows that to promote alternative auto technologies to sustain America’s competitive (job) edge tells joe and Jane six pack that he’s got their back on jobs, and their happy motoring illusion of freedom is not in jeopardy.  In truth, the technology that will transform autos and reduce environmental impact will transform many other realms of energy consumption.  Whether the personal auto will survive in a constrained economic future, by any means of propulsion, is a truth for the future to reveal. But he also knows that he must move us toward a new energy future for environmental and economic reasons, even if he will not spell out explicitly the forces that compel our transition and the destination that we must reach of necessity (‘the moral [and economic] equivalent of war’).

Finally, an article, The Facts on Fracking  is a generally well-balanced and descriptive definition of the process and of selected findings regarding its impacts.  The authors, Susan Brantley and Anna Meyendorff, bring their expertise to give some context to a subject that is too often addressed by partisans with no intention of balance. Still, much remains to be understood.

They note that:

– fracking and enhanced recovery methods have actually been around for a while;

– the new methods of enhanced recovery introduce toxic cocktails of chemical agents, often containing undisclosed ingredients;

– the drilling for gas occurs at levels well below the water tables for potable water, reducing risk of contamination;

– methane releases occur naturally for various reasons, and that such releases may not necessarily be the result of co-incident fracking per se;

– some pollution has occurred as a result of faulty installation of casings and failures of proper waste disposal practices, but is believed to be relatively infrequent.

All of this is true, as far as it goes.

But all of the preceding does not authoritatively answer a host of questions and observations:

– Regulation across the industry and across state regulatory boundaries is spotty and inconsistent at best, and state regulators, with few exceptions, are no match for the companies they are overseeing in expertise or resources or political clout to fulfill their public mandate.

– While fracking has been around for a while, the increase and intensity in recent years and the enabling new technologies introduce potentially new dynamics which are not fully understood and will not be until further history evolves.

– The industry has too often knee-capped necessary studies to get a more authoritative and objective handle on the consequences of its practices. The studies to date, and the statistics cited by the authors are informative, but not necessarily conclusive.

– While it may be true that we are not seeing measurable negative results of fracking at the moment, we are dealing with a technology that is permanently altering geological structures with unknown and unknowable consequences until it ages and reveals them, as is often the case with many technologies in many fields.  To be sanguine about its safety at this point in its evolution is a tad premature.

The most unsettling part of the article was in this passage:

“Pennsylvania has seen rapid development of the Marcellus shale, a geological formation that could contain nearly 500 trillion cubic feet of gas — enough to power all American homes for 50 years at recent rates of residential use.”

This is the seduction of assumption that the gas industry has used to achieve what borders too often on carte blanc for its practices and aggressive exploitation of a limited resource: the hope and hype that we can go on as we have been. But it cannot be a promise until proven, and there are many equally authoritative professionals who question that the projected reserves will be realized, either because they are less than believed, or they cannot ever be economically extracted at some point.  This argument has legs, because we are seeing it in the oil industry now, which is why we have an exploding gas industry (pun intended), even as it simultaneously implodes on depressed market prices.

So the question is: who do you trust?  The average citizen questions the environmental position of McKibben and James Hansen as an unknowable projection that is probably exaggerated. But the average citizen wants to believe fervently in that 50-years-of-business-and-life-as-usual energy scenario, even if he/she doesn’t think about what lies beyond, because he/she will then be in the Great Beyond where heat and air conditioning and transportation are irrelevant. Besides, the President has also touted that same 50/60 year horizon of continued bliss. It must be true, even if you don’t believe he was born in Hawaii.

But what if the average citizen is wrong? What if the President is wrong? What if McKibben and Hansen are wrong? What if the energy companies follow the same code of ethics and responsibility as the financial services industry of late?

*  *  *

I struggled to discern whether Ms. Brantley and Ms. Meyendorff were delivering a balanced, if incomplete, critique of fracking, or a subtle defense of it. But the final paragraph seemed an appropriate conclusion, regardless of intent.

“But if fracked gas merely displaces efforts to develop cleaner, non-carbon, energy sources without decreasing reliance on coal, the doom and gloom of more rapid global climate change will be realized.”

That is the risk that Mr. Nocera’s article seems to ignore. That is the risk that Mr. Obama’s $2 billion bet seems to want to hedge. That is the destiny that Mr. McKibben and Mr. Hansen fear, with consequences that can neither be proven nor dismissed at this time, any more than the availability of gas reserves.

We are all participants in a communal game of craps in which we individually and collectively throw the dice, in ways great and small, and wait for the consequences which will befall us all.

Onward.

20130318

Free the Fed

This may be the only time in my natural life that I will ever agree with Mitt Romney.  It proves that he's human; even he can't be wrong all the time.  I just hope that he doesn't reverse himself in the name of consistency. 

So what am I talking about?  Yesterday Mitt urged the Fed NOT to apply more stimulus to the supine economy.  And why is he right? Because the responsibility to resurrect the economy at this point is not with Ben Bernanke and the Fed, or with President Obama and the Executive Branch, but with a Congress that as been too timid on one side of the aisle and too ignorant on the other side…in both houses.

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It’s the Environment, Stupid!

First, let me apologize for the lack of creativity in the title. If imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, then Bill deserves his due.  More to the point, though, is that the original hook of the nineties deserves, indeed demands, to be updated to the new century, with its new priorities.

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Warren Buffett’s Last Mission

Dear Mr. Buffett

You don't know me from Adam. I'm utterly inconsequential in the scheme of things.  So I hope you'll forgive my audacity in proposing one last mission in the public interest before you depart this existence. 

I am emboldened by your prior efforts to encourage your peer group to pledge their wealth to the public good, and more recently to call attention to yourself as a justification for the nation to call upon the rich to carry their fair share of the tax burden.   But there is one more mission in which your unique position and skills at unadorned truth-telling might yet have critical impact.   Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to inspire the business and investment titans of the US economy to get off their fear or apathy and earn their money by taking risks on the US economic revival.  Only you can do this.  No one else in the business community has your stature and ethical capital; and beyond the business community the President and Chairman of the Fed are a distant second and third.

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End Game

When my daughters were growing up, and coming to me for advice on some crucial problem in their lives, I would put them through a three question drill to clarify the issue (not necessarily resolve it):

1)    What's the worst outcome you can anticipate?

2)    Are you prepared to accept it?

3)    If not, what are you capable of doing and willing to do to prevent it?

Again, these questions do not resolve the issue, but they set the boundaries of possible consequences and responses.  It seems that a lot of adults in high places need to ask these questions on some critical issues.

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