Saturday, 6 December 2008

Auto Industry Bailout: One Simple Question

Given that:

1) The American auto industry is in trouble.

2) A large part of that trouble is derived from their massive healthcare commitments to workers.

3) Our competitors in the auto market (mainly Germany and Japan) do not have these massive obligations, allowing them to make cheaper cars while maintaining a healthy workforce.

4) We are thinking of spending massive amounts of money to bail out the auto manufacturers.

5) However, the currently bailout plan would still leave the massive healthcare burden on our auto manufacturers, maintaining their current competitive disadvantage.


Q) Is there any practical or legal reason why the government could not take over the health obligations of automotive workers immediately as part of the bailout package?

I'm seriously very interested in this as I don't have enough knowledge to know if there's an obvious reason why this wouldn't or couldn't work. However, it seems to me that this is a market-friendly solution - it focuses on equalising the competitive environment rather than artificially fixing the car market. It also seems to be the compassionate solution - relieving auto workers of the immediate burden of concern about their families health care should the bailout fail to save the manufacturers. And finally, it is a practical solution - looking at the specifics of the problem rather than throwing money in to staunch the bleeding.

So, where am I wrong?

Friday, 5 December 2008

Good Point, Well Made

From a viral e-mail that is making the rounds:

To: The World
From: The USA
Subject: Technical Notice

Dear World,

The United States of America, your quality supplier of ideals of liberty and democracy, would like to apologize for its 2001-2008 service outage.

The technical fault that led to this eight-year service interruption has been located, and the parts responsible for it were replaced Tuesday night, November 4. Early tests of the newly-installed equipment indicate that it is functioning correctly, and we expect it to be fully functional by mid-January.

We apologize for any inconvenience caused by the outage, and we look forward to resuming full service --- and hopefully even to improving it in years to come.

Thank you for your patience and understanding,

-- USA

How to Be a Democratic Party Activist

As we move into the exciting new world where the Democratic Party is the party of Government and as we absord the hundreds of thousands (millions?) of new activists and supporters generated during the campaing, I realy hope that all of you will continue to stay involved and to push for the policies and candidates that you care about. But as much as I want us to be strong and principled in how we go about our activism, I also want us to think about the STYLE of our activism.

Recently I responded to a complaint on one of the Obama Groups about a local Democrats Abroad chapter's apparent failure to engage fully with their members. Now, I have no way of knowing whether this individual's concerns were valid or not, but I did think it was useful to remind all of us Obamaites that if we are going to live up to Barack's example we need to follow his example by applying the GOlden RUle. Below is my advice written specifically for that group, but applicable to all those who seek to make Change in politics.

1) Empathy. No matter what your disagreements or concerns may be with the leadership - remember that they have their own problems. Democrats Abroad is a 100% volunteer organisation - there is only one paid staffer, and she is based in Washington. As a result, DA officers are often trying to do a full time job in their free time, often for little or no thanks. Yes, there are always ways that they could be working harder, especially to engage and involve their members but sometimes they are simply overwhelmed trying to get through the day. As a result...
2) Present Yourself as the Solution, Not the Problem. Remember, if you walk up to them and say, "you do a terrible job of engaging with your members you should be ashamed of yourself. Why aren't you...." there is no incentive for that person to listen to you - they see you as a problem and instantly their motivation is to get rid of you. But if, instead, you say, "I know that it can be a real struggle to manage our interactions with members so that there is a real consultation process in place. I had some thoughts about how I might be able to help with that..." suddenly you are taking a burden off their shoulders. But make sure you really do follow through on the suggestions you propose. Have practical steps in mind that will help you get there, and be prepared to work with them to be flexible about how that might happen (E.G., "OK, you say we don't have the money to build a website... could we do an e-mail dialog?").
3) Listen as Much as You Talk. Sometimes I've seen 3 or 4 people stand up in a meeting to make the same point or I've seen people totally ignore explanations and clarifications that are offered. This quickly becomes annoying and makes it seem like you are not respecting the other people in the room. If you have a strong view, sometimes it's a good idea not to jump into the discussion right away but rather to hold back until most people have had their say and then demonstrate in your statement that you've heard and understood the others' point of view. (Frankly, this is how I think the leadership ought to be treating their members, so it is only fair that we offer them the same courtesy.)
4) Be Concise. Your point is all the more likely to be heard if it is well thought out, clearly stated, and brief. A 20 minute diatribe will cause people to tune you out (possibly forever) but a 30 second statement of the problem followed by a 1 minute proposal and recommendation will be listened to with attention.
5) Don't Get Personal. Even if you violently disagree with someone's views on an issue, work hard to make sure your comments are directed at the area of disagreement, not the person. Attributing someone's views to their personal circumstances ("That's so typical of a rich lawyer") or to their innate bad qualities ("You don't care about grassroots movements at all") suggests that you oppose them personally, not their position. And strangely enough, no one is going to go out of their way to work with someone they see as fundamentally hostile to them. But if your objection is issue-focussed there is room for them to change their mind or, if you lose the argument anyway, to become your ally on a future issue where you might agree.

I hope that you will continue to try and play a constructive role in Democrats Abroad, or in your local party wherever it may be, because we really do need to continue growing a strong, member-led, ground-up organisation.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Clinton, Holder, Napolitano, Rice, Jones, Gates (and Biden)

Yesterday Barack Obama announced his national security team.

It goes without saying that this is a strong team, with broad and deep knowledge of America's foreign and domestic challenges and robust experience across government in helping to solve, and avert, crises. A few noteworthy points from my perspective:

  • Susan Rice, who has been an impressive foreign policy thinker, and who we heard from a lot during the campaign as an early Obama supporter, will not only serve as UN Ambassador but will take over the post as it is returned to its earlier status as a Cabinet level appointment. This is not only a smart personnel decision - Rice is expert on Africa policy, and the UN spends much of its energy on resolving issues in that troubled continent - but also great symbolism since the restoration of respect for key international institutions is going to be key to improving America's relations with the rest of the world.
  • Eric Holder, not only is a strong nominee for Attorney General but made it clear in his statement that he sees preserving our civil liberties as PART of a national security mandate and not in conflict with those goals. Hurray for that!
  • Janet Napolitano is just an outstanding public servant, full stop.
  • Joe Biden, with his appearance amongst this team, clearly sees himself having an important role in our foreign policy and national security efforts. This is great news, as Biden has for years been the most knowledgeable and respecte foreign policy thinkers in the US Senate (aided by his chairmanship of the Foreign Affairs committee). So go, Joe!
  • And last but by no means least, I am singularly impressed with the maturity of Hillary Clinton's decision to accept the position of Secretary of State. Her new role is a great honor and responsibility, but also requires her to surrender her hard won seat in the New York Senate, and to absent herself from playing a role in domestic policy issues that she obviously cares about very deeply. It's not surprising that (according to reports) she had mixed feelings about taking the post. That she ultimately accepted is indicative of a truly pulic-spirited leader. She brings to the position existing relationships with world leaders across the globe, a massive political brand that is internationally admired, and or course her legendary intelligence and determination.

    Good luck to them all. I'm audaciously hopeful.