Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ron Klain is.............Czardoz!

Klain is amazing. Faster than a speeding bullet, he dodges questions from Fox News reporters with lightning speed and agility. More powerful than a Goldman-Sachs vice-president, he twists news media to his will. Able to leap to totally unwarranted conclusions in a single bound. It's a lawyer. It's a spin doctor. It's Czardoz!  - The Huffington Post

Strange creature from Harvard Law School, Czardoz and his willing accomplices in the media wage a never-ending war against truth, justice and the American Way!    - Al Gore

When I saw him step out behind that podium, a tingle ran right up my leg. - Chris Matthews

I want to have his children!    - Gwyneth Paltrow

© 2014 by Tom King

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Building Sidewalks

Sidewalks don't need to be this fancy or expensive
nor require a federal grant or expensive "program".
Just build the danged sidewalk!
Community "Issues" Aren't Always What the Community Organizers Tell You They Are

One forgets sometimes how insular is the life of many a pundit, reporter, editor and publisher that we rely on for information and opinion in our daily news consumption. I saw a case in point this morning in an email from Ruth McCambridge, editor of The Nonprofit Quarterly. She was announcing the addition of a new cadre of on-the-ground reporters to broaden the coverage of nonprofit activities in the Good Old U.S. of A. and explained a bit about what she saw as their role in the new and improved NPQ.

  • We believe in the intelligence of those who are doing and negotiating the grounded work in communities. You are the ones who have to understand the patterns of your operating environments—what it will mean if this philanthropic leader leaves her post, or if that organization embarrasses itself, or if such and such city decides that the CDBG money is needed for sidewalk repair instead of housing. You watch all of these interconnected dynamics, and if you are worth your salt, sometimes you understand what that will mean for the work you do. 
Ruth has an excellent point. The only thing dangerous is in listening to only one of those on-the-ground voices. I suspect that, given the left lean of NPQ, that the editorial staff may jump on reporting by on-the-ground voices which echo their own sentiments before they accept opposing voices. They may not even hear opposing voices, I suspect, as many of those on-the-ground voices don't even read NPQ or know that they are looking to hear such voices.

To be fair, NPQ has attempted to report opposing viewpoints. They've even published articles by me (unpaid, of course), so they can claim to include views from both sides of the political spectrum – me being unabashedly conservative and all. Even then, there is a danger of getting things wrong. That's why reporters who really do want to get their facts straight and unbiased should probably, almost always, do a part 2 to any controversial article in which they do follow up investigation with reference to the criticism their first article received in the comments section. That's how I'd do it if I were the editor.

Case in point: McCambridge mentions an issue in which the city decides that Community Development Block Grant money is used for sidewalk repair instead of housing. CDBG is a federal block grant for cities. Cities have relatively broad latitude so far as what to do with CDBG funds. Housing is one of the areas CDBG goes for. Transportation is another. Infrastructure repair and upgrade is another. While a lot of community activists might get their hackles up if money were diverted to sidewalk building and repair instead of housing and let out a howl, it would be wise for any reporter tempted to wax critical of the city to stop and take a deep breath and TALK TO SOMEBODY ELSE.

I worked as a transportation activist in a small urban center where this issue came up. The city was originally laid out along old trails and cowpaths. Roads were narrow and, as it was Texas, house lots were large. As cars came along, roads were widened, but there was a limit to how far you could widen them. In the oldest part of town, there were sidewalks that connected the neighborhoods that surrounded the city center to the old Interurban trolley stops. Citizens who wanted to go anywhere, walked to the trolley stop on sidewalks that kept them up out of the horse manure and mud. Once the Interurbans were shut down and everyone began to drive cars, roads and new suburban neighborhoods went up. No one thought much about poverty and disability during the oil boom years because it wasn't much of an issue. No one needed sidewalks because they drove cars, so sidewalks were deemed an expensive luxury that nobody would use.

Fast forward to the 21st century. Jogging is popular. Twenty-five percent of the adult population cannot drive because they are elderly or disabled. More people live through accidents with disabilities thanks to modern medicine. They can get motorized chairs and scooters, city buses are accessible, but people with disabilities have to drive their scooters in the street to get to the bus stops because there are no sidewalks or curb cuts throughout most of the city. While all city buses are wheelchair accessible, the bus stops are miles away from many older neighborhoods and accessible bus service is expensive. In my town, housing was important and the housing advocates shouted down any idea of improving the sidewalks or worse building new ones.

It was hard to make people see that $2000 worth of asphalted trails or concrete sidewalks could, in time, save the city many more thousands of dollars annually by creating a safe path for elderly, low-income and disabled individuals to get to the bus routes without having to call for expensive para-transit buses. In addition, the sidewalk network would mean that instead of waiting for the city to build expensive accessible housing for seniors and people with disabilities, a majority of them could remain in their own homes and access goods and services they need by sidewalk and bus at very low cost to both the users and the city. I hope that NPQ and other news agencies who report on community issues and activities will take the time to think outside the usual liberal activist box. Sometimes there are other ways to do things than simply by squabbling over who gets what federal funds. Communities often come up with very powerful solutions all on their own without any advice at all from the graybeards in Washington DC.

My friend Darrel, for instance, lived in a small East Texas town with lots of old people living around the area. Most were on fixed incomes. Many were fast losing the ability to drive. Darrel got busy, rounded up some old school buses and with the help of the local churches, began running a twice a month "trip to town" for retirees on the dates that social security and VA checks came out. They'd pick them up early in the morning. Walmart would host a bingo tournament in the McDonald's providing the game callers and even some prizes. The bank inside the Walmart had a bank location, a beauty salon, a pharmacy and Walmart's wide selection of grocery and retail goods. If the folk wanted to visit downtown or any other stores, the volunteer driver's were very flexible. They even rigged one of the buses to be wheelchair accessible. The thing ran until Darrel's death and I think may be running yet. They didn't get any federal money. Each church adopted and shared a bus. They didn’t charge a thing to passengers. Drivers were all volunteers. They did things that the "official" rural transit system refused to do or claimed was impossible.

Those are the "Little Engine That Could" kind of stories I'd like to see NPQ and other media report on. The only thing is that most of such organizations that do what Darrel (not his real name) did don't want the publicity lest some activist spot them and report them for not doing it the "right" way. What they usually mean by that is the way that brings in federal or state dollars that they can control. Forgive me for being a cynic, but 40 years in the nonprofit sector has taught me that.

As a member of the local disability issues review board in my town, I once suggested what I thought was a clever and economical solution to a disability issue we were discussing. The other members, more seasoned fellows than myself, told me it would never work.

 "Why?" I asked

 "Because," they answered, "It makes too much sense."

 Which is why I've changed my status from that of nonprofit professional to nonprofit amateur.

© 2014 by Tom King

Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Puffer Fish Problem

Kim Jong Un - the only fat man in North Korea.

Korea's in turmoil again and the diplomats are all a-flutter. Unfortunately, given the apparent philosophy under which our current diplomatic corps operates, we may see the situation escalate rather than improve if the Obama State Department tries its usual disastrous tactics.

The administration is fond of a tit for tat strategy of diplomacy with us being the "tat" and the tat being too little, too late. Tit-for-tat is also sometimes called mirroring. It’s a mistake to use mirroring as our primary diplomatic strategy, especially with N. Korea. Such an approach places all the power in the hands of the North Koreans.  They know now that we will only do back to them exactly what they do to us.  Kim Jong Un figures he can win a conflict like that because his people will see the US as the bad guy and rally behind him. By luring us into a retaliatory game of tit for tat, he expects to inflame North Koreans against the US by casting us as the aggressor. He assumes that his people will endure any damage we do to him.  He also believes, like the Japanese did prior to the Second World War, that Americans will not tolerate having their hands spanked, but will surrender almost immediately and give the aggressor whatever he wants. Why not? It's worked for Hamas.

Mirroring as a diplomatic strategy makes the misguided assumption that your opponent wants the same things you want. Americans want freedom and prosperity through our own efforts. North Koreans are starving,  Kim Jong Un wants the international version of food stamps. North Koreans don't have the same ideals that we do. It’s woefully short-sighted to believe they do.

A couple of  examples from history show where the politicians got it wrong by expecting their nation's rival nation-states to want the same things their own citizens wanted.
  • Chamberlain wanted peace.  Hitler wanted conquest.
  • The US wanted peace.  Japan wanted conquest of the Pacific.
  • Queen Elizabeth I wanted open trade and competition for colonies in the New World. She was willing to divvy things up with Spain. King Philip wanted world domination.
It all led to war.

Many small dictatorships and leaders like Kim Jong Un adopt what I call the Puffer Fish Tactic when dealing with large Western democracies.  Like the puffer fish, they blow themselves up to look far larger and more dangerous than they really are in order to win concessions from their enemies.  They assume that our leaders are working from the same motivation that they are – the acquisition and maintenance of personal power.  If there is an imbalance between what motivates the two sides in any negotiation, mirroring becomes a useless negotiating tactic.
This happened to me last year with a client.  I made a proposal for a grant-writing project. The Client accepted it and then proceeded to negotiate a 20% decrease in my hourly rate and rejected my retainer fees.  I tried to accommodate the client assuming the client was interested in writing a good grant and turning it in on time.  After I went ahead and invested 30 some hours of unpaid time, the client canceled the grant and proceeded to trash me to my agency.

I thought the client wanted the same thing I wanted – the success of the grant.  I acted from that assumption.  I bent over backwards to make the thing happen, invested time and energy to insure we could hit the ground running.  My client’s motivation as it turns out was evidently not the success of the grant.  I trusted the client. The client did not trust me.  There’s nothing more frustrating than arguing at cross purposes.
The experience was not without value, however.  In my work on the feasibility part of the grant, I discovered that the grant was likely to fail.  The work that had supposedly been done had not been done. The financial capacity of the partner was limited and there appeared to be some problems with its operational history that the client was anxious to gloss over.  It appears to me the client, who said she was a grant writer, wanted to hire some help because she was in over her head. I think she had charged the lead agency for her services and needed me to turn in work so that she could turn in work and be paid for it.  It would explain, given the tiny budget of her unregistered nonprofit agency, why she was unable to pay my retainer and why she was reluctant to have me talk with the lead agency.

My purpose was saving the grant.  I mirrored her behavior based on the assumption that her purpose was the same.  Her purpose seems to have been saving her ass and that’s why my actions made no sense to her.  I was not helping her save her fuzzy butt, so she turned on me.
There is a powerful lesson there with regard to diplomacy.  The error to which the liberal left and the libertarian Ron Paul right fall into is assuming that Islamic dictators, terrorists and Islamo-facists want the same thing we do – peace and prosperity.  Ronald Reagan understood far better than any president since Teddy Roosevelt and possibly Dwight Eisenhower how to deal with evil people.  When Libya bombed an airliner full of civilians we didn’t conduct an embargo, file a protest and leave it there.  We didn’t shoot down one of their airliners.
We flew a bunch of F-111s to Libya, wiped out their air defenses, left them defenseless and bombed Muhammar Ghadafi’s house to boot.  Colonel Ghadafi shut up, quit running terrorist ops against Americans. When GHW Bush ran Iraq out of Kuwait, Ghadafi promptly apologized for the Pan Am bombing. When GW Bush overran Afghanistan and Iraq, Muhammar publicly disavowed his nuclear program and started trade negotiations with the West.
That’s how you negotiate with evil men and evil governments.
There isn't anything else that works.  The Libertarian policy on defense and foreign policy is wrong-headed.  It's basically the same policy as the liberal left.  It presumes "they" want what "we" want.  If you pay attention at all to history, you'll quickly see that this is not true.

  • We wanted peace and free trade, the Japanese wanted to rule the Pacific and Asia.  The result -  Pearl Harbor.

  • Neville Chamberlain wanted peace and assumed Hitler did too.  Result - the Anschluss, blitzkrieg, Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain.

  • America wanted to restore nations and have peace and free trade and Russia wanted to "bury" us.  The result - almost 50 years of Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation.

  • We assumed China wanted peace and would work out its own government.  Chairman Mao wanted to run China according to his own peculiar ideology.  Result - the Great Leap Forward and hundreds of millions dead.

  • We want peace and free trade and the libs (both kinds) assume the Islamic world does too.  The beating heart of Islam wants the coming of the Caliphate and the submission of all nations to Shariah Law (read it, it's in the Koran).  The result - repeated attacks on Israel, terrorism and the political expansion of the Muslim world in every corner of the globe.

If our global neighbors were like us, we could stand down our armies and cuddle up together behind our borders without fear.  Unfortunately as more than a billion people discovered too late to save themselves in the 20th century - not everyone out there loves peace and free trade.

That's just how it is.  The diplomatic tactic of tit-for-tat or "mirroring" only gives a tin-pot dictator like Kim Jong Un a tool for manipulating the United States into a conflict of his choosing.  If we do that all over the world, we get another Cold War and buy time for the lunatics out there to rebuild their strength.

Reagan had the right idea.  Don't mirror.  Do as Sean Connery told Kevin Costner in the movie "The Untouchables", "If they come at you with a knife, you bring a gun.  If they send one of your men to the hospital, you send one of theirs to the morgue."

The Chicago Way turns out to be an effective diplomatic tool as demonstrated in Libya and with the ending of the Cold War. As a great power we're really the only ones on the planet who can maintain any sort of peace. Really, we're the only ones who can do it, and if God gives you a job, you shouldn't refuse it just because it is hard.

Much as many of us hate the idea of a Pax Americana, what's the other choices?  A Pax Russia? A Pax China? Worse yet, a Pax Islam?  When Islamist say their religion is a religion of peace, they are talking about the kind of peace that Napoleon, King Philip, Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, the Caesars and all the rest wanted. No ten-toed steel and clay United Nations is ever going to be able to insure peace. Their soldiers don't carry loaded weapons and they wear helmets that make them easier to see. How's that going to work?

© 2014 by Tom King