Posts Tagged ‘politics’

Changing Time

What does a government shutdown look like in Washington DC the day after the vote?  This was my experience during the last shutdown.  I suspect it is about the same today.

Monday, September 30, 2013, the day our government shut down at midnight. I was fortunate to be in Washington D.C. the next morning to observe the impact of the shutdown. Listening to numerous news stations predicting the end of the world, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

On Tuesday, October 1st, I arrived by metro train at the Archives/Navy Memorial Station at 9th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue around 9:30 am. Turning toward the Capitol, I stopped at the Newseum Center on Pennsylvania Ave. to scan some of the dozens of newspaper front pages from across the country they had displayed outside their building. Many had bold three-inch headlines such as SHUTDOWN! and Government Closes. I thought to myself, this can’t be good.

As expected, government buildings were closed, monuments barricaded or chained off, museums shut down, and security perimeters extended around the Capital and White House. Yet, the streets were crowed with tourists and lined with vendors. As I wandered along the Washington Mall, I observed news crews from around the world interviewing people. As you can imagine the ‘people’ blamed both Democrats and Republicans for our situation. What was telling though is that the international interviewers were really confused about what was going on in our country; their perspective ranged from the U.S. must be in big trouble, to our country is losing its mind. For the most part, when possible, tourists simply walked around barricades or stepped over chains to see the monuments. Nowhere was this more observable than at the Vietnam Wall Memorial where I helped to move a barricade.

Around 11:00 am I decided to get lunch at my favorite Washington restaurant, the Old Ebbitt Grill near the White House. When I walked in I was surprised to see how crowded it was, especially the large bar area, which only had one seat left available. Tony the manager, a friend and fellow Marine, showed me to the seat; I ordered a sandwich. All of a sudden, shot glasses were placed in front of everyone at the bar except me. One man then lifted the shot glass and shouted “furlough” and everyone drank up. Apparently, the bar was filled with furloughed federal workers who had come in earlier to sign papers and then celebrate the shutdown. About fifteen minutes later another round of shots was distributed. Another person hoisted the shot glass and shouted “vacation” and the shots went down.

Later that afternoon I returned to Alexandria, Va., where I was told that many establishments had half-off drinks for furloughed workers; all-day happy hour for furloughed government workers! You even saw people wearing T-shirts with “Furloughed Fed” in bold red letters on the front.

Early on Thursday morning, I went to Arlington National Cemetery to visit my father’s grave. (Although, the Visitors Center was closed I have a pass to enter the cemetery.) While there I observed a handful of burials of military personnel who, I’m sure, would have never shut down on their job. Yet, our military personnel had commissaries and other facilities shut down on their bases. Why? Next I returned to downtown D.C. and talked to several more establishments about what they were seeing. The word “vacation” comes to mind.

My last stop was for a late lunch at a restaurant at 15th and E Streets and then a walk back down Pennsylvania Avenue to catch the metro at 9th Street; I missed the car/shooting incident by 30 to 40 minutes. Thank goodness the “essential federal employees” were at work even though they were not getting paid.  (Oh, our Congressmen and Senators were getting paid!)

Reflecting back on my initial perception of the Newseum headlines and what I actually observed, I wonder if anyone in Washington is connected to reality. More concerning, do they care? In the meantime, people and businesses in general are struggling to figure out how to cope with this political quagmire and its potential impact on our economy. So, what’s next?

On Saturday, October 5th, the House voted 407-0 to give retroactive pay to furloughed federal employees. Let’s do some more shots!!!

Hold that thought!


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One of my early recollections of a ‘sound bite’ was “War is Hell.”  Our fathers, the greatest generation, had returned from WWII and this expression was occasionally heard in those rare conversations about the war.  What was the substance of this simple snippet?  Four years of global war that touched every family in this country.  It was a fact; war is hell.

With the onset of the digital world, social media, instant news, and our rushed lifestyle, we have become more dependent on sound bites to find out what is going on in the world.  Just look at the number of twitter messages you receive in a day.  The problem is you cannot determine the substance of these sound bites/snippets.  Let’s look at what I believe was the biggest sound bite used in our recent political campaign.  First, let me say that I am not taking a political position on this example.

Make American Great Again. – How many people cast votes driven by this slogan?  I am all-in on wanting a great America; we all do.  Personally, I think we are still great.  However, I wonder about what is meant by ‘again.’  Greater than what period?  Pick a decade in the last 100 years that defines the point of reference for the word ‘again.’  What do you want to return to?

In the months following the election, I have had the opportunity to occasionally ask people what the slogan meant.  There were many responses that identified singular issues that bugged them, e.g., taxes are too high.  Others were more general, e.g., Washington D.C is broken.  However, no one could adequately describe the ‘again.’  To many, it was a catchy ‘feel good about America’ statement, so they ran with it.

The greatest contribution each of us can make when referencing a sound bite/snippet that we find interesting is to investigate the substance of its meaning, and then, describe it in our own words.  Don’t just pronounce it like everybody else.  Doing so you are accepting the absence of identifiable substance, and missing the opportunity to add real value.  You either help to debunk it, or support its message.  Either of which is of real value

One symbol and motto, widely used in the election, would have been better served if its “history” was known.  Two hints: it first appeared on a drum and Marines.  What is it?

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square peg round hole

Did you ever watch a toddler trying to put the pieces of a wooden puzzle in the proper hole?  Over and over again they try to find a way to get the round peg into the square hole.  It is an interesting learning and discovery process to observe.  Eventually, they discover the right hole and then move on to the next piece repeating the process.  Over time, they figure the puzzle out.  Interestingly, as adults, we have a natural tendency to continue to play this game.  The difference is we don’t know we are playing it.

While the world has gone through significant change over the past five to ten years, some have struggled to adapt to the changes.  Harder and harder they bang on the round peg believing that it must fit into that square hole.  Nowhere is this more apparent than with our political system.  What they fail to realize is that what we are experiencing is nothing like what we have experienced in the past.  It is a new playing field all together.

Unfortunately, the strongest point of reference for dealing with the “new” is often what worked for us in the past.  In effect, we tend to see the new through ‘old’ glasses.  So, our options quickly come to the surface.  And then we get upset with the results.  Maybe if we hit the peg harder.

What is interesting about change is that most businesses quickly figure it out, younger generations embrace it, and advanced institutions are riding it into the future.  However, many of our political pundits are stuck in the government labyrinth and will never figure it out. –  It looks impossible.

Many years ago, I came up with the following quote: “Nothing is more disruptive to the current state than a change in reality.”  What we are dealing with today is a change in reality, and it is disruptive.  No matter how hard they hit the round peg it is not going into square hole.

I wish I had an answer for our political quagmire; because it is painful to watch.

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I find it somewhat amusing that the term “unintended consequences” has been surfacing in the political discourse of the presidential campaigns.  It has been introduced as a new discovery.  Wow, look what happened when ‘they’ did that.  That’s awful.

There are always unintended consequences to a decision; some good and some bad.  It is not just recognizing that there will be unintended consequences to your decision that is important; it’s also thinking about how these consequences might occur.  – And, planning what to do if they do emerge.

In two earlier posts The Second and Third Order Consequences (https://thinkinthingsover.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/the-second-and-third-order-consequences-8/) and The Second and Third Order Consequences – Part II (https://thinkinthingsover.wordpress.com/2015/09/27/the-second-and-third-order-consequences-part-ii/) I give examples of how unintended consequence occur.  They are not random, and they should, in most cases, not be a surprise.  You have to think beyond your decision about possible reactions outside of what you are trying to accomplish.  I am not talking about decision science or some predictive algorithm; it’s “common sense.”

By now you have probably figured out where I’m going with this.  Political discourse → unintended consequences of government decisions → lack of common sense.  Yep!


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Capital Dome

…Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government… it is their Right, it is their Duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future Security.

Thomas Jefferson, The Declaration of Independence.

Over the past several decades I have come to realize the emergence of two realities.  –  The reality of what really is, i.e. the real world, and the reality of the distorted perspective of a group of powerful individuals, i.e. their view of the world.

The focal point of my concern is with our elected officials; specifically our House and Senate leaders as a group.  This is not about Democrats, Republicans, Independents or specific ideologies; it is about governance.  The reality of this group is out-of-whack with the reality of what the citizens expect from our elected officials.  Our citizens expect our elected officials to govern this country on behalf of its citizens; all citizens.  They expect its leaders to do what is in the best interest of our ‘society.’  They expect honesty of purpose, integrity, informed judgment, and the courage to do what is right.  It is that simple.  What I am observing in our elected officials is bizarre.

It seems as if Washington, D.C. has become disconnected from the rest of the country.  They stand for and represent either nebulous constituencies or powerful political action committees (PAC).  As I look around my community and talk to others, I don’t see a manifestation of these nebulous constituencies. or the standard-bearers of the PAC’s.  It is like trying to grasp fog; you can’t get your arms around it.  When I question my elected officials, I usually get a canned and non-committal response from an aide that leaves me more at a loss.  Consequently, I believe that a critical mass of our elected politicians do not have the substance to govern.

The problem is that this pervasive misalignment of reality in Washington, D.C. is having an increasingly negative impact on society in general and business in particular, whereas, it appears the Washington, D.C. group remains unscathed.  Let me give you a comparison.  If business owners ran their companies the same way as Washington, D.C., they would go out of business.  Let me say that again, they would go out of business.  Business owners focus on what is in the best interest of their company and its stakeholders, which includes the community, and perform accordingly.  They either succeed or they fail.

As I watch the theatrical performance of the cast of characters running for our next President, I ask myself; are we at the point Thomas Jefferson was talking about in the Declaration of Independence.  Remember, society is always perfectly positioned to get the government it deserves.  If you leave government unattended, this is what you get.  We have left it unattended for too long.

Let me close by saying that I truly believe that our country has a great future.  The substance of our ‘citizens’ is incredible.  All you have to do is observe the selfless generosity and courage of people in times of crises, the millions of the small business owners who put their personal capital at risk to drive our economy and employ two-thirds of the workforce, the hordes of volunteers who serve our communities, and the bravery of our military community who stand their post in harm’s way so we can enjoy the benefits of this great country.  Our substance is in place, now we need to change Washington, D.C. so they see the real world.

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Recently, I was talking to a business owner about his strategic perspective of the future of his growing manufacturing business. As expected, we got into a discussion about how difficult it is to plan with so many uncertainties in Washington (D.C.), coupled with the tendency of our government to over regulate all aspects of our economy. He said, “they are like helicopter parents hovering over our every move waiting to intervene”. The past six years have been some of the most challenging times for businesses, especially small businesses. First the collapse of our economy, followed by a dysfunctional Washington.

Businesses, for the most part, are resilient in times of economic crisis. They get knocked down, shoved to the side, tripped up, mulled over, and sometimes destroyed. But they never stop fighting for their survival. They do without, sacrifice things the rest of us take for granted, and put more of their capital at risk; they do whatever it takes to survive and prosper.

The sad part is that it is not just economic conditions they are fighting. A good part of their effort is dealing with the uncertainties being touted by the town criers of Washington. It is not my purpose to get into a political debate; I’m not looking for who did what. Regardless of why certain things happen in Washington, businesses have to make decisions about how they run their organizations in response to what is happening, or what they think may happen. Business decisions involve resources, which are time, people, and money. This is not a game or political jousting; it’s real. They know that the survival of their business depends on good decision-making.

“So, how do we factor in the multitude of political perspectives on healthcare, immigration, minimum wage, energy, taxes, climate debate, foreign trade, sequestration (debt limit), Middle East, etc., etc., etc. into our decisions, when there is a lack of earnest debate or compromise amongst the parties” he asked. “Where are we headed?” “What should I bet on?”

As we were wrapping up our conversation he said something thought-provoking; “Just give us a fighting chance to run our businesses. We can improve the economy, provide jobs, benefit our communities, and pay our fair share of taxes. All we want is a fighting chance.”

Just give us a fighting chance. – Are you listening Washington?

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WWII medal

In recent weeks I have watched with interest the growing concern over the situation in Syria. The reported actions of Bashar Assad’s regime have, in effect, shocked most of the civilized world on a scale not seen in decades. Countries around the world have condemned the cowardly acts of Assad. We should do something! How can we sit back and let over a 1,000 innocent men, women and children be gassed? We should strike Syria; they have crossed the red line.

“We should do something.” What thought-provoking words; safe to some but terrifying to others. These are safe words for those who are not at personal risk if military actions are taken; terrifying words to those whose family members have to do it. When I ask someone who thinks we should strike Syria who is WE, they quickly respond, the United States. Then I ask them if anyone in their family is in the military and is part of the WE, or are they talking about members of someone else’s family that are in the military. One lady who thought that we should attack Syria actually told me that ‘I would never want my kids to be in the military;’ so I guess that leaves my family.

Responses to my question often include the comment that those in the military “volunteered” to serve; they knew what they were getting into. Interestingly, the oath taken by enlistees is as follows:

“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

If you go back and read the history of the oath, its purpose clearly focuses on “enemies” of the United States and the protection of our Constitution. I understand that. What I don’t understand is describing many foreign conflicts as a threat to the United States, and then wanting to send our military to get involved. Some even going as far as calling it a sign of weakness if we don’t take military action. We should not be the world’s police force. The fact that the United Nations is incapable of carrying out its responsibilities in these situations is not a reason for the United States to shoulder the burden. Additionally, terms like ‘limited’ and ‘surgical’ are meaningless in war.

My family has served in this Country’s military since before the Revolutionary War; we have eight generations of military service. We fought with the British against the Shawnee and Mingo Indians at Point Pleasant Ohio in 1774, as part of the Virginia Militia and then in every war since. There are twenty-nine of us that have served this Country; with one still serving. I know families that have had family members serve four and five combat tours in the last six to seven years, seen families devastated by the loss of a loved one; watched burials at Arlington Nation Cemetery, watched a lone flag-draped casket taken off of a plane at a local municipal airport, watched a wounded warrior try to make his way around a Bass Pro Shop in his wheelchair, and listened to a young widowed Marine Corps wife at a gravesite try to explain to a toddler where daddy was. — This is the WE!

In the past decade, which has been the longest period of sustained conflict in America’s history, less than one percent of American’s have served on active duty in the military. Around twelve percent of the Senate and nineteen percent of the House are veterans. According to a New York Times article in May 2013, only a handful of them have children serving in the military.

I know who WE is. Do you?

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