Friday, July 15, 2011

Bonanza Column 244 - Ave et Vale

I began writing this column in September of 2004 – this particular column is number 244 and will be the last, at least for a while.
After writing about TRPA critically during the Juan Palma years, hopefully during the John Singlaub regime, and enthusiastically as I’ve watched Joanne Marchetta engage with reinventing the Agency, I’ve decided to put my money where my mouth is. Several weeks ago Joanne approached me and asked if I’d take the job of Chief Operating Officer and partner with her in transforming TRPA along the lines that, at about the same time, were being demanded by Nevada SB 271. I agreed to do so on a half-time basis so that I didn’t have to bail on my other clients and began work at TRPA on July 1.
I’ve been in the business of organizational transformation since before the discipline had a name, starting with pioneering work at IBM, moving through other companies in a variety of industries. I’ve been a contract executive before, but not with the organizational redesign portfolio, and after thirty years of working with organizational leaders at arms’ length as a consultant, the opportunity to actually get in and work inside organizational change was just too good to pass up.
Unfortunately, now that I’m on the TRPA payroll, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to continue to write a political column – even if I did, I couldn’t write about TRPA, and that wouldn’t be fair to the paper or to its readers, so with surprisingly mixed emotions, I’m going to discontinue this column and hope the Bonanza will find someone else willing to represent the Progressive view on a weekly basis.
I know there will be those who are glad, even gleeful to see my departure from print, and even a few who will be sorry. I know from letters and blog responses that I’ve really annoyed a lot of Conservatives, and that has been more than half the fun for me – the rest has been satisfaction when other Progressives told me how much they appreciated my speaking their views, and there have even been a number of thoughtful folks who have told me they didn’t agree with me, but I made them think – no writer could ask for more.
I’ve never subscribed to the definition of an intelligent person as “someone who agrees with me.” (Given the number of times I’ve been called dumb, stupid, and a moron in response to my columns, there are those around here who do subscribe to that definition.) I can’t fathom most of what Conservatives think or believe, but I don’t disrespect them for thinking it (except for the far Right fringe, but then again I feel the same about the far Left fringe). I believe that one of the key things that makes America great is our diversity – of opinion, of culture, or religion, all of it – and I originally took on this column to be sure that there was more than one voice in the Bonanza. I think I’ve done that and I hope it won’t end with my stepping down.
I consider Freedom of Speech the cornerstone of all the other freedoms we have – without free speech and a free press, if the other freedoms were abridged, there would be no way to make that known or to act against it. It’s no accident that the recent democracy movements began with acts of speech, or that repressive regimes focus on making sure people don’t have the freedom to speak. For that reason, writing this column has been a privilege, and opportunity, and a gift.
By the same token, there would be no point in speaking if no one was listening, so I want to take the opportunity to say thank you – to friends, to foes, and to innocent bystanders. Your reading made my writing possible and, not incidentally, fun.
In that first column in 2004 I quoted JFK’s definition of a Liberal. I think it’s fitting that I close with that in this last column:
A "Liberal" [is] someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal."
And don’t worry – I’ll be around, and you’ll hear from me. Y’all take care now…

Friday, July 08, 2011

Bonanza Column 243 - Who Are the GOP Working For?

The New York Times reports that high-ranking executives at 200 of the biggest U.S. companies saw their pay increase an average of 23 percent from 2009 to 2010, bringing them close to pre-recession earnings. Those big paychecks didn't trickle down to the rest of the workforce, with the average American employee seeing less than a 1 percent increase in pay. The average CEO made $10.8 million last year, with CEO Philippe Dauman leading the pack with a whopping $84.5 million.
You read it right – eighty-four and a half million dollars. Now I’m sure Viacom is a very nice company – they are in the entertainment business, and it’s hard to fault that. Still, after a lifetime of working with some top CEOs, I can’t imagine anyone being worth that kind of money, or even $10.8 million, particularly when the people who are actually doing the work that earns the company its money get a 1% increase against 23% for top executives.
In addition to working with CEOs and top executives as a consultant, I’ve been an executive myself, and I don’t subscribe to the view that “the suits” or “the people on the top floor” don’t produce anything of value. On the contrary, it’s been my experience that the work of strategic design and strategy execution are what allow companies to grow, innovate, and be profitable and what allow employees to focus on customer service, quality, and sales. Still, if the top salesperson in a company makes, say, $250,000 per year and top executives make $10 million, it’s hard for me to imagine that what the executives do is worth 40 times more to the company than what the salesperson does.
All this becomes more relevant when you consider the current debate between the GOP and the Democrats over closing tax loopholes for the wealthiest Americans (In case you’ve been living in a cave, the GOP opposes this). Now the Right would have you believe that the debate is over raising taxes “on the American people,” but what the Obama Administration and Congressional Democrats want is to raise revenues by closing tax loopholes and exceptions for the very wealthiest Americans, not for the middle or working classes. Republicans, on the other hand, under the dubious banner of “no tax increases” would reduce spending by cuts in programs like Social Security and Medicare.
However they clothe it, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the GOP, or at least the right wing of the GOP, which seems to be driving the Republican train, don’t really care about the vast majority of Americans. According to, roughly one family in 50 will make over $250,000 this year – that’s 2% of the population that would be affected by closing tax loopholes or even raising taxes on those making more than a quarter million a year. Said another way, the GOP is fine with protecting this 2% at the expense of 98% of the people in the US.
I know this is not a popular argument here in Incline Village, where probably the percentage with incomes over $250k is considerably higher than 2%. But for humanity’s sake, what happened to noblesse oblige, the idea that people born into the upper social classes must behave in an honorable and generous way toward those less privileged?
If the United States is not to become a two-class society¸ with a huge working class supporting a privileged few, Republicans in Congress will have to stop pandering to their wealthy patrons and lying to people about who is paying their freight, and start thinking in terms of what’s good for the people who elected them.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Bonanza Column 242 - Politics vs. Ideology

As the state’s new fiscal year begins, I guess you’d have to say we’re in better shape than Minnesota – at least our state government is open for business. At the same time, with Washoe and Clark Counties demanding the return of a total of $123 million from the State to County coffers, it’s clear that Governor Sandoval has a tough row to hoe in managing the state’s economy.
I’ve been an outspoken critic of the past two governors, both Republicans, and the long-time reader of this column (and I’m sure there is one, even if it’s only my brother) might expect me to continue that course of criticism with Governor Sandoval, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you for now. My disagreement with Governor Guinn was largely ideological – he was farther right than I like to see in the State House. My antipathy for Governor Gibbons, while also ideology-based was also based in my distaste for his arrogance and his ethics.
Despite his being a Republican, I’ve liked Brian Sandoval since he was Attorney General, and as I’ve said in earlier columns, his giving up a lifetime appointment to the Federal Bench to re-enter electoral politics and run for Governor bespeaks for me an authentic commitment to public service and to serving where he can make the most difference. We do not always agree on the means for making that difference, but we differ very little about the ends. I supported Rory Reid in last Fall’s election because I thought (and still think) his plan for rescuing our suffering educational system was the better one, but I’m willing to give Sandoval’s approach a chance now that he’s in office.
And I think he’s off to a good start. Because of the timing of the governor’s taking office and the budget’s taking effect (January and July, respectively), most first-term governors go with the budget they inherit from their predecessor. To Sandoval’s credit, he built his first budget from the ground up and, again, while I don’t agree with significant parts of it, it reflects his commitment to resolving the state’s economic ills, and I can respect that and give it a chance to work rather than condemning it out of hand as some of my fellow Progressives might expect me to do.
The point, for me, is this. There is politics and there is ideology. Both involve belief systems, and no one can say that a given belief system is totally wrong or without merit except maybe at the extremes of the political spectrum. But politics goes beyond belief and into persuasion and, as Machiavelli said, into the “art of the possible” – where can we find common ground despite our different beliefs and move forward? At its best, politics is about finding the values that, at the root of it all, we have in common and resolving our differences in favor of those values. Ideology, on the othe r hand is too often about dogma and beliefs that we are certain are right. Concomitantly, any beliefs other than ours must be wrong, and we focus on differences rather than common ground. Too often, ideologues use either force or isolation to deal with those of differing beliefs, and both of those are impediments to progress.
So Progressives can differ from Governor Sandoval politically and not turn it into an ideological battle of who’s right and who’s wrong, but rather have our differences be the heat that forges new ideas and real progress. In an era where national politics has become almost essentially ideological, perhaps Nevadans can demonstrate that real political progress is possible. Let’s hope so, anyhow.