Monday, November 24, 2014

History, Told In Pictures

Fifty photographs that may surprise you, but that also how little we change as a species over time.

How Reagan DIDN'T End The Cold War

Gorbachev and the East German government ended it.  Here's how.

Proof That The Arts Mean Dollars And Sense For Cities

They helped prevent Detroit's bankruptcy settlement from being far worse financially for the city's creditors and employees.  Let's hope that Detroit, in this regard and others, become a model for other financially distressed cities.

I Know No One Likes The IRS, But ...

... that shouldn't allow churches the freedom to try and serve God and Mammon at the same time.  Obama should tell the Service to grow a spine and go after these people.  I would, without any compunctions.

Hey Democrats, Want To Start Building A Bipartisan Platform For 2016?

Start with three words:  Repeal Citizens United.  Hammer them home at every opportunity that you have.  And it wouldn't hurt if you shoved this article in everyone's faces on a regular basis.

How To Save The Planet And Grow The Pie

Solar bike lanes.  Place along public roads, they can reduce pollution, and create a revenue stream for state and local governments.  Are you listening, Governor-in-Waiting Mizeur?

The View From An Independent

Take a look.  I agree with it, especially the part about the 50-state strategy.  Obama would have been nowhere without it.

Capitalism Explained

And yes, this really IS so funny that it hurts.  Especially since it's all true.  In any case, a reminder that, in real life, the only thing that capitalism has in common with the theory is the name.

THIS Is The Kind Of Minister Whose Political Views SHOULD Be Heard

The kind who reminds us that we are the change we seek.  I said that myself in an earlier post.  But perhaps not quite this well.

And A Memo To Maryland Republicans

Dump this guy.  Now.  Or Larry Hogan's puny hand of cards will get even smaller in a hurry.

Don't You Just Love It When They're This Honest?

I mean, about that N-word, Obama?  And my side is supposed to feel humiliated about Election Night?  Please.

Memo To Maryland Democrats: Get Over It

You nominated a gubernatorial candidate with no political instincts, despite the fact that he was given eight years to develop them.  In that sense, you deserved to lose.  Trust me, this is 2002 all over again.  Let Larry Hogan have his four years of incompetence.  It'll remind Marylanders of why they make the Free State a blue one.

And, best of all, this candidate will be waiting in the wings.  Someone who knows how to grow the pie, instead of just carving it up or raising its price.  Go, Heather!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Warren Anderson: A Portrait Of A Corporate Predator?

This New York Times obituary for Warren Anderson, the former chair and chief executive of Union Carbide Corporation, made me reflect on the life and times of his former corporation, some of which is (of course) is related in the obituary.

The obituary goes into considerable detail about the Union Carbide chemical plant disaster in Bhopal, India.  The tragedy, in addition to the horrific Indian loss in lives, turned Mr. Anderson effectively into a fugitive from Indian justice for the rest of his life, while the financial toll from the settlement with Indian authorities and the public relations toll from the accusations made by Indian officials, employees and residents eventually took Carbide from the top of the Fortune 500 ranks to its current status as a subsidiary of Dow Chemical.

I can't say that anyone foresaw the Bhopal tragedy.  Certainly, I didn't.  But I can't say that I was completely shocked by it.  By the loss of life, yes.  But not by Carbide's evasive manner of dealing with it.

Union Carbide came on my radar (apart from Eveready commercials) during the 1970s, when my fascination with New York City, which began with the World's Fair, led to an obsession with media stories about the city's decline and near-fall.  On the economic side, a major part of that decline was the departure of corporate headquarters to the suburbs or the Sunbelt.  When Carbide announced, in 1976, that it was moving its world headquarters from New York City to Danbury, Connecticut, it was an especially devastating blow, as 3,500 employees were leaving the city with the headquarters.  Pleas from city and state officials were to no avail, as Carbide officials cited "quality of life" considerations (i.e., getting away from the city's soaring crime rate, but also easing the commute for top-ranking executives who lived in the suburbs).

At the time, departures such as Carbide's were considered to exemplify the superior wisdom of nimble private-enterprise management, compared to the bureaucratic, tax-hungry perspective of public officials.  But corporate relocations--and the public incentives that often fuel them--have nothing to do with capitalism.  If anything, they reflect the laziness of both public and private officials who would rather play games than do the hard work of thinking about new and creative ways to make their companies, cities or states better.  Capitalism shouldn't be fueled by public-sector bribes, and governments shouldn't play favorites with their treatment of businesses.  Both practices are breeding grounds for corruption.

I'm not saying that, had Union Carbide remained in New York, the Bhopal disaster would never have occurred.  I am saying that the basic, looking-out-for-Number-One mentality that fuels these decisions, and the assistance provided in making them by public officials charged with looking out for the public interest, can be seen as the start of a slippery slope that begins in Danbury and ends in Bhopal.  If you are treated like a God, over and over again, you will be tempted to think you are infallible.  And, because you are not, that mindset makes you an inevitable, if not willing, agent of tragedy.

Perhaps Warren Anderson took to his grave the answer to question of what happened in Bhopal, and why.  Maybe it had nothing to do with the mindset that took Carbide to Connecticut.  But he was in upper management at the time both decisions were made.  It might have been his greatest gift if he could have found a way to share some insights into the Carbide mentality.  The corporation began its death spiral on his watch.  What he knew, or didn't know, might help other corporations, or public officials, from making the same mistakes.

A Little Advice By Way Of John Wanamaker

... you STILL are the change you seek.

I'm talking to progressives everywhere when I say that.  But I'm specifically talking to you, millennials.

This guy is partially right.  Obama and the Democrats need to offer you more to earn your vote.  But here's a little hint about the way in which democracy works:  you don't have to wait for them to do it.

And I'd like to offer a little inspiration from an unexpected source:  a one-percenter from an earlier century by the name of John Wanamaker.

If you're from Philadelphia, you already know who Wanamaker was.  The founder of what is believed to be the first department store in the United States, Wanamaker also was a major philanthropist in his home town of Philadelphia, and served as Postmaster General under President Benjamin Harrison.  In spite of those facts, his memorial at Philadelphia's City Hall has a simple inscription:

(Photo taken from http://www.panoramio.com/photo/95213334)

CITIZEN.  That's what John Wanamaker was to the people of Philadelphia, after he died.  More than a merchant, a government official or a philanthropist, he was a citizen.  He was involved in all aspects of his city's life.  "Citizen" was, as a consequence, the greatest title he could have been given.

Those of you who are experts on Wanamaker know that he was not a point-by-point progressive.  But that is not the point.  Rather, it is what his life meant to Philadelphians, and how they chose to honor him.

To be truly a citizen, one must be involved in all aspects of the life of your city, your county, your state and your country.  Not once in a while, and certainly not just every two years.  Or, for that matter, every four years, when the presidential elections show up.

You don't have to wait for Obama.  Or, for that matter, the next Obama.  And you certainly don't have to wait for the next opportunity to vote.  Why not decide to be the next Obama?  Run for office.  Follow the example of the GOP, and seize control of the Democratic Party at the local level.  Get yourself elected to local and state positions in government.  And run for Congress as well.

And, if you're not comfortable with being in the public eye, get involved anyway, and stay involved.  Organize.  Donate.  Register voters.  And never lose sight of the fact that Obama would never have happened in the first place, without you.  And someone like him will never happen again, without you.

Whatever you do, don't despair and drop out.  That simply guarantees the outcome the other guys want.  And it is never guaranteed.  They don't have to be in charge.  You're the ones who get to decide whether or not that happens.

So take this guy's advice.  And this one's.  And be a citizen.  Today, tomorrow, and the rest of your life.  You won't regret it.  And neither will your children and grandchildren.

Unsolitcited Advice For The President And His Party

President Obama's post-election news conference was a relief, after last week's disastrous election.  And, I have to admit, I wasn't expecting that.  Especially in the run-up to it, before he appeared at the podium, with reporters debating amongst themselves how far the President would go to offer terms of surrender.  Would he crawl in on his hands and needs?  Would he offer up a singed copy of the ACA on a silver platter?  You get the idea.

And, while there were a few moments of platitudes about cooperation, which is about all the similar GOP platitudes deserve, I was, for the most part, pleasantly surprised.

He didn't back off on his willingness to take executive action, especially with regard to immigration reform.  He didn't offer an apology for any of his accomplishments to date.  And he rebuffed the attempts of a reporter (from Fox, of course) to goad him into surrendering the last two years of his presidency to Congressional Republicans.

As Politico reported, there was no Clinton-style "pivot" designed to make Republicans or their supporters happy.  And that's exactly the right thing to do, after an election where two-thirds of the voters stayed home, and most of those people are your supporters.  And props to Obama for acknowledging that fact.

Like many of you, I have long been frustrated with the president's seemingly bottomless desire to start out on his knees in facing his opponents, and work his way down from there.  I'm taking the post-election news conference as a sign that those days are over.

They should be.  For him, and his party.  This is the essence of my advice to Obama and the Democrats:  break out of the "bipartisan" urge to surrender, and acknowledge what you are:  liberals.  Especially after an election in which liberalism won

Here are a few reasons why:

This election was not an anomaly.  It was the sixth year of a Democratic Presidency with a large number of red states in play.  There's nothing unusual when the party out of the White House loses seats after six years in power.  It happened in 1966, in 1974, in 1986 and in 2006.  Only the media, with its vested interest in being seen or read, says otherwise.  And it's high time for Democrats to stop worrying about whether the media likes them or not.  They don't.  So get over it, and get on with it.

You can win in a tough electoral environment for your party, if you don't apologize for who you are.  Going into this election, Republicans moved heaven and earth to make the Michigan Senate race a potential pick-up opportunity for them.  It didn't happen, because Gary Peters refused to run away from Obama.  Of course, it also helped that his opponent proved to have a talent for wackiness.  But so did other Senate Republican candidates, and they won.  Peters' willingness to stand up for his president and his party's values made the difference.  When 2016 rolls around, Democrats, and their patrons and voters, should look for more candidates like him.  Which leads me to this:

The 2016 electorate will not look like the 2014 version.  It will be bigger.  And younger.  The Republican base is essentially a dying base, that will diminish with each successive election.  President Obama and his allies in Congress need to remember that.  I expect that the president will remember that; I'm not so sure about his allies.  But I hope that I'm wrong.

The GOP controls Congress, but not the issues.  They spent the entire election running away from the issues.  Climate change is perhaps the biggest example; in fact, climate change cost them an election in this cycle, in deep-red Nebraska.  And it's not the only issue that going to haunt them over the next two years; with the expiration of the PATRIOT Act, the Republicans (to say nothing of the Democrats) will have to weigh the public's concerns about privacy in deciding whether or not to renew it, and to make changes in it.  This is one huge area where Obama and Democrats can take the lead, and recapture the loyalty of younger voters.  Students loans represent another.  As for the ACA, Republicans should be careful what they wish for; in its present form, the law has the potential to help people in states they control.  How far do they want to go in disrupting that potential?

It's no wonder that The National Review is telling the GOP not to govern.  The GOP has the election results.  Not the issues, not the majority of the people, and not the future.  Just a short-term election win in the long-haul struggles to make the greatest nation on earth even better.

Obama and the Democrats should not lose sight of any of this.  And neither should you, because ...