Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Steve Jobs, a mixed bag visionary

I am a Boomer, and for a large portion of my life I realized that my grandfather's life had been changed more by technology than mine had.  Even though I was living in a remarkable, technological era with TV, fast cars and planes, rockets to the moon, etc. his personal experience was transformed in a way for him that it hadn't been for me. He and his generation had been personally empowered by the technological changes in a way that had been unprecedented in history.

He went from an era of horse and buggy to cars and planes.  The radio connected him to the world in a way that his parents hadn't known.  Electricity and transportation transformed his world dramatically.  My world had better versions of the things that his world had introduced:  the TV was an upgrade of the radio, the cars were faster and the roads were better, electricity modernized the home, the kitchen, and the workplace.  But his world changed from a rural world to an industrial world.

The symbols of that industrial transformation were Thomas Edison and Henry Ford.  They changed the world.

But, my world was changed in just as dramatic a way when Steve Jobs led a new pack of transformers onto the scene.  Edison and Ford brought the industrial age to everyday people.  Jobs and Gates brought the information age to everyday people.  With the advent of the personal computer, followed by many outgrowths of it, people are connected to each other and the the world and to infinite sources of information in ways that were unthinkable to my grandfather, and unthinkable to my younger self.

Like Henry Ford, Steve Jobs is a mixed bag.  He is being rightly praised as his illness forces him to step aside at his company, Apple, for his remarkable vision and the force of his charismatic personality to carry that vision into the world.  It seems to me, however, that along with the amazing positives of Steve Jobs and the unquestionable benefit that he has been, and perhaps will continue to be for a while at least, he also carries a very dark and destructive impact as well.

It seems to me that part of his legend, and thus part of his influence, is his obsessive, demanding, domineering, abusive personality and management style.  The biggest problem with that is that it looks to me like people have conflated the two - the visionary and the abusive tyrant.  They seem to think that the way to be like Steve Jobs is to be an abusive tyrant, as if visionary genius will spring forth from abusing people in their organization and in their competition.

It's pretty easy to be as abusive and demanding as Jobs, but that has nothing to do with being an intuitive, visionary genius.  So, Apple will plod along under the reign of another workaholic, perfectionistic, perhaps abusive manager. And Apple may even still benefit from visionaries within it.  But I fear that Steve Jobs wannabees in the high tech area and beyond will drive themselves and the poor souls under their reigns of terror to ever more imbalanced, workaholic lives.  But none of that will replicate that part of Steve Jobs that transformed the modern world - being a visionary genius.

So, I am hoping and expecting new visionaries to step forward and, being themselves rather than trying to be Jobs imitators, will become even greater visionaries and take the world into even more remarkable and fascinating places.  

Thank you, Steve Jobs, for your transformational visions.  I know that your were worshiped and followed nearly slavishly by employees and customers both.  I just wish you had treated people better along the way.

It's up the the rest now to create their own, unique visions, along with more transformational and positive ways of bringing those visions to fruition.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Qaddafi finally gone?

It ain't over until the crazy man is dead, and his sons as well, but I am hopeful that the end game is coming.  

I am guessing that the rebels have pretty good control of Tripoli and the country, but I am also guessing that Qaddafi loyalists aren't done fighting, and might carry on for years against whatever new regime takes over.  I worry about Qaddafi sons and old regime power players having either substantial roles in a new power structure or playing significant destabilizing roles against a new power structure.  And, I still wish Obama and the West had responded in opposition to Qaddafi within a very few days rather than the weeks it took to do so.  There was at least a chance, in my mind, that Qaddafi military and power cronies would have turned on him, the way the Egyptian powerful turned on Mubarak.

All those qualifiers aside, a world without the madman Qaddafi is a better world, and I am extremely grateful that his fall did not cost any American soldiers' lives.  Obama's stepping aside and having NATO take the lead in this affair was a real watershed moment.  It may be the first time that the U.S. didn't take the overt military lead in conflicts overseas, but played a support and encouragement role.  

I like that role.  I am tired of American military action as a first response to difficult world problems.  This revolution was and is a Libyan revolution and came out of the Libyan people.  There is no question that they were someone else's puppets or proxies.  Obama's real leadership in creating a new post-cold war world may be in his foreign policy.  It seems vacillating and indecisive at times, but I think he is trying to create a new role for America in the world, a role that does not lead with its military power as an automatic response. 

What government will emerge after Qaddafi is finally gone is quite unknown.  I think that America and the West may be uncomfortable with the new powers that emerge in Libya, and I expect them to be pretty harsh Islamists, but I don't expect them to be focused on bloody jihad against the U.S., and to me, that is the chief concern for the national interest of America.  

For the sake of the Libyan people I really do hope that the new government is reasonably democratic and creates room for the many disparate factions within its country, and that the Libyan people become more empowered to create meaningful lives out of a new-found freedom.  But, that may take a little time to develop the art and science of democracy.  

Saturday, August 20, 2011

I'm already sick of the campaign

It's only August of 2011, the election isn't until the end of next year, and I'm already sick of the presidential campaign.  It all seems so pointless.

Obama seems to be listless and ineffective.  What is he going to run on, battling the evil Republicans if he wins in 2012?  Finding ways to bring the parties together if he wins in 2012?  He has tried both and hasn't been able to even come close on either count.  If he weren't the nation's first black president he would be challenged from the left in the primaries, and he would probably lose.  But no progressive can possibly challenge the nation's first black president without destroying their own political career and engendering the everlasting hatred from the black voters.

The Republican field is pathetic.  Romney's only virtue is that no one believes that he believes what he is saying in order to pander to the right wing Tea Party ideologues.  Bachman is frightening, but not likely to win the nomination.  Huntsman is probably a pretty good, reasonable candidate but doesn't seem to be gaining any traction.  Rick Perry seems to be a caricature of W, and if the Republicans think that the nation is eager for a harsher, meaner, more intolerant version of W they are even crazier than they sound.

If Chris Christie got into the race, I could get interested pretty quickly.  What little I have seen of him has been interesting.  He speaks from the heart and with courage, and he seems to have some level of maturity and intelligence.  Of course, all candidates look attractive until they enter the race, and then who they are gets scrutinized and the bloom goes off the rose.

The amazing thing is that every president has been a truly remarkable person in many respects.  They didn't get there without an enormous amount of talent.  Within a year of their presidency the whole world knows exactly what their weakness are.  Nixon was a power abusive paranoid, Carter was indecisive and naive, Reagan was ... pretty good, really on a personal level unless you hated his ideology, H W Bush was remote and out of touch with middle America, Clinton was devious and lacking in moral character, W Bush was bull headed and incurious, Obama is remote, passionless, too accommodating.  Why anyone wants to become the president so that what the whole world knows about you is what no one wants anyone to know is quite a mystery.  Ego is a strange director of one's life, but I have to give most of them credit, they seem to really want to make changes in the country that they believe in.

I just can't see what Obama can credibly run on.  Vote for me, but I can't do anything about Washington, so you have to vote out all the Republicans too?  Vote for Obama, he can't change anything... now there's a stirring campaign theme.  Republicans are evil and Democrats are powerless, vote for the powerless rather than the evil buffoons... ah the campaign slogans that await!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Rick Perry - the Republican McGovern

Rick Perry, Texas governor, is running for president.  As best I can tell, he is the Republican version of George McGovern - an ideological purist who will likely lose in a landslide.

McGovern lost in '72 as the ideologically pure liberal to run for president for the Democratic Party.  He lost every state except one: Massachusetts.  Somehow, the Democrats had decided in '72 that the country was an anti-war, nearly socialist country, and sent McGovern off to slay the Nixon dragon.  Nixon won by about a two to one ratio.

Now, some conservatives seem to think that the country is a Tea Party, Evangelical nation, and they want the hardest core right winger that they can find.  I think he is unelectable, fortunately.  

The last two presidents ran as centrists (and each ended up being amazingly polarizing).  Bush was "a uniter, not a divider", and Obama was "post-partisan."  I believe the country is even more hungry for a pragmatic, non-ideological leadership than before, and now is hardly the time for a "divider, not a uniter" like Perry to be elected.

I was pretty sure, in 2008, when Obama won the presidency, that the Republicans would do what out of power parties always do - over-react to their loss and decide that the reason they lost was that they weren't being ideologically pure enough, so they would nominate a true blue extremist from their party.  Perry certainly seems to fit that bill.

He has one positive, however, he seems to speak from the heart.  I have long observed that when presidents are replaced, the people vote for someone who is strong where the incumbent is seen to be weak.  The low character of Nixon was replaced by the perceived high moral character of Carter; the weak willed Carter was replaced by the confident Reagan; the out of touch H.W. Bush was replaced by the "feel your pain" Clinton; the vacillating Clinton/Gore was replaced by the decisive W. Bush; the close minded W/McCain was replaced by the open minded Obama.  Now, Obama's perceived weakness is his lack of engagement and emotional distance from the problems of the country. When he speaks, he speaks like a professor discussing political theory.  What little I've heard of Perry, he speaks very viscerally, from the heart and from the gut.  

But, this is not a Tea Party nation, and he will go down pretty hard, I believe.  It will be interesting to see if the Republicans fall for the ideological purity trap.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Harry Reid sabotages the Joint Special Committee of twelve, more to follow

Alan Simpson gave us all a way to tell whether the U.S. Congress has any intention of addressing our deficit crisis.  He said: 

"If you see the leadership not appointing members of the Gang of Six to the new commission of 12, you know they don't want to get anything done."

Well, the suspense is over, Harry Reid, Democrat leader of the Senate appointed Patricia Murray, who is the chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, as the co-chair of the committee for the Democrats.  That very clearly states to all of us that the Democrats' main concern in this committee is political advantage for the 2012 elections rather than finding ways to come up with a workable fiscal approach.  He also appointed Max Baucus, and John Kerry.  

The main point is that none of the Democrats who were on the Gang of Six will be on the committee of 12.  They were Mark Warner, Kent Conrad, and Dick Durbin of the Democrats.  These three have already done the hard work of hashing out a negotiated compromise for deficit reduction along the lines of the Simpson-Bowles Commission.  They are being ignored, and it is clear that compromise will be ignored as well.

Once Harry Reid laid down the gauntlet of uncompromising liberals in the committee of 12, the rest will have to follow suit.  Of course, McConnell already had announced that he wouldn't appoint anyone willing to consider tax increases, so I suppose my hope for a Gang of Six or Simpson-Bowles type of plan that cut spending and raised revenues was a cruel one destined for disappointment.  

Too bad.  Our government is being given opportunity after opportunity to get our fiscal house in order, and moves relentlessly toward deeper and deeper polarization and ideological war.  

The American people deserve better than this, much better.

Monday, August 8, 2011

AA rating sounds like an honest assessment to me

Many people are upset at S&P for downgrading the U.S. to AA from AAA ratings.  I think that is just a case of shooting the messenger.  The U.S. is borrowing over 40 cents on each dollar it spends.  This is not the actions of a country that should be considered a AAA rated country, as far as I can tell.  

Those opposed to the downgrade, mostly on the political left of the isle, cite S&P's bad record during the housing bubble meltdown of the financial industry as reason to discount this new rating of the U.S.  But, it seems to me that the criticism of S&P in the past was that they did not downgrade financial institutions when they should have.  Now, they are downgrading a rating when they should.  Looks like an honest appraisal to me.

This should be a wake up call to the ideologues in Washington, on both sides of the isle, that they must reduce the deficit.  That means tax reform that raises revenues (in a way that also stimulates the economy by lowering tax rates) and cuts spending (cut the real spending of entitlements).  Entitlements are the third rail for Democrats, and raising taxes is the third rail for Republicans.  But they must do their actual job, governing the nation, rather than just do their political job, which is to get re-elected.  What value are they to anyone if they don't do their job?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What they didn't do

So, we all take a deep sigh of relief that Washington didn't destroy the economy and finally passed a deal to raise the debt ceiling.  That's nice.  But, what didn't they do?

They didn't do tax reform. And they must.

They also didn't touch entitlements.  And they must. 

(However, they did threaten defense spending, so that is a hopeful sign)

Tax reform - Obama has a trigger that can force tax reform on the Republicans, so it should happen, right?  The Bush tax cuts expire next year and Obama can use it as leverage, correct?  Probably not.

Obama didn't take the Simpson-Bowles report last December and push it through Congress because, well, he just doesn't do that kind of thing.

Then, the Rivlin-Domenici commission also came up with a spending cut and tax reform plan to reduce the deficit.  I don't think Obama has mentioned it.  

Then, there is the bipartisan Gang of Six that has come out with their version of cutting and tax reform to raise revenues and reduce the deficit.  Obama has given it some lip service, but can he draw a line and insist on it?

Unfortunately, Obama will likely use the deadline on the expiration of the Bush tax cuts to talk idealistically about taxing the rich, and trot out focus-grouped phrases like "billionaires" and "corporate jets" and promise that there will be no tax increases on the middle class if he is elected.  So, he will likely squander his leverage to create real tax reform for this country that would both raise revenue and stimulate the economy (lower rates, close loopholes and eliminate tax earmarks).  Actually, in order to get it done by then he needs to start now.  But, oh yeah, there is that much more important thing - his re-election, or making sure that nobody gets too upset at him, or something, I'm not sure what it is that he is really concerned about.  

We know what the Tea Party believes and will fight to the death for, even though I think they are moronically wrong, but I still don't know what Obama believes enough to fight for, to be in the lead and advocate for, to push for, to fight to the political death for.  It is time for him to show himself and get in front rather than "lead from behind."