Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bonanza Column 256 - Politics vs. Leadership

The Giants’ amazing performance in the World Series has got me thinking - baseball is a pretty interesting game on a lot of counts. For one thing, while playing the game requires a team of nine players, a baseball club is not a team in the same way that teams occur in other sports. Soccer, hockey, rugby, basketball are what I would call true team sports. While in all those games players have assigned roles, they require ongoing coordination among the players. In baseball coordination is required only on defense, and then usually between two or at most three players. The pitcher and catcher must coordinate ongoingly, but others only occasionally and some not at all. On offense, baseball reverts to individual contests - batter against pitcher, base runner against pitcher or catcher or the infielder barring his slide.
It may be the high requirement for individual performance that has us love baseball in the first place. The same Americans who disparage soccer for its supposed lack of action (read lack of scoring) find baseball balletic and interesting even though soccer is 90 minutes of non-stop action and a 3 hour baseball game may see 45 minutes of actual action, widely dispersed.
In soccer or any of what I'm calling "true team sports," the individual's performance is subsumed in the team's. There are stars, but even a Pele or Ronaldo can't force a win if the team is not playing. In baseball one player can make a difference, whether it's by pitching a no-hitter, by a superior batting performance, or by spectacular fielding, and I think that individuality is what makes baseball the quintessential American game.
We Americans love team effort and collective achievement, but we prize individual accomplishment more than perhaps any other people in the world. We want to believe that one person, on their own, can lead us to glory or save the day. Our political system, our business culture, and our social milieu all reflect this, and it is the demand we make, implicitly or explicitly on those who volunteer for leadership positions at every level from local government to our schools, to the Presidency, and everything in between.
At the same time we are rarely surprised when these idols we look to to lead us turn out to have feet of clay. When a Barry Bonds or Lance Armstrong or Melky Cabrera are found to be grasping an unfair advantage through use of performance-enhancing drugs, when a businessman like Bernie Madoff turns out to be a crook, when an entertainer like Charlie Sheen comes a cropper, we are disappointed but not really shocked. With the hunger for individuality and leadership comes the secret resentment that we are not the individual who is leading, and a degree of schadenfreude when they topple.
I believe that it's this culture of individual achievement that is the key to America's success, not some mystical exceptionalism that we somehow carry with us, and this culture is also what limits us as a nation. We claim to place a high value, particularly in the business world, on teamwork, but it is the highly visible, big ego executive we venerate, despite a lot of compelling evidence that the most effective leaders, particularly CEOs, keep a low profile and make sure that the credit and glory goes to those who report to them.
I’m not saying there is no place for individual excellence – to the contrary, extraordinary individuals obviously contribute to high performance – I do say that when it becomes all about the star, performance suffers, and when we ignore the importance of true teamwork – a high level of coordination and collaboration that often requires subordination of ego and personal credit to the larger interests of the enterprise – we lose important access to what makes companies, organizations, and governments perform at a high level.
When I see political leaders who are criticized for being thoughtful, for listening to points of view other than their own and their party’s, for actually seeking to find common ground rather than to capitalize on differences, I’m not surprised that the culture of America looks like it does. Hopefully, we will change that on November 6th.
Be sure to vote – it’s important.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Bonanza Column 255 - Enough of a House Divided

You’d think that with the election two weeks away there’d be a lot of fodder for a political column, but having written already about the IVGID and County races, I find myself seized by a curious lethargy where the other elections are concerned. It’s not that I don’t think they’re important. I believe that the outcome of the Presidential election will determine the future of this country for years to come. It’s the state races that have me fundamentally bored to tears. Dean Heller is unimpressive to me. He’s a party-line Republican for whom, as near as I can tell, an original idea would either frighten him to death or go unrecognized. Shelly Berkley, on the other hand has shown me equally little in terms of leadership, and while I don’t believe she’s as corrupt as the GOP is painting her, it’s hard to imagine there’s not something rotten in that particular Denmark, so I just can’t get excited. Mark Amodei versus who? All in all it seems like a bunch of sleepy races.
Jim Clark covered the State and County propositions well last week, and I agree with him. If the Legislature needs to meet more often, than make it a regular annual session, not some jury-rigged special session. I have no interest in our getting involved in the spitting contest between Reno and the County over emergency services, and the business of raising vehicle registration fees is too vague to be useful. I’m going to vote “no” on all three.
That leaves the Presidential race, and no one who’s read three words of just about any column I’ve written will be surprised to learn that I’m voting for Obama/Biden. I haven’t written too much about this race because it won’t be decided here – this one will be decided in two areas – the very few undecided or swing voters and that ill-conceived vehicle of elitism, the Electoral College. I don’t think there are very many undecided voters in our community, and while Nevada is considered a swing state in the Electoral vote, Clark County and the rest of Washoe County will carry far more weight in that swing than we will.
Still it’s worth considering the impact this election will likely have. The far right have hijacked the Republican Party away from its historic base and Governor Romney has shown that he will bend in the direction of whatever will get him elected. We can expect then that a Romney presidency, with the ultra-right Ryan as his Tea Party Jiminy Cricket will do its best to move the country far to the right of where it has ever been and where a majority of clear-thinking Americans want it to be. The impact of that on everyone but the very wealthy, the proverbial 1%, is likely to be devastating, with the extent of devastation increasing as you go down the socio-economic scale. Re-electing President Obama will affirm that this is still a country of more-or-less equal opportunity, a country that takes care of its poor and its veterans, and that recognizes that in the modern world certain things like decent affordable health care are a right, not a privilege.
But whichever side of the argument you’re on, one thing is sure - as a nation we are at loggerheads, and a slim or indecisive result won’t change that. Get out and vote – our best hope lies in a clear outcome; as Lincoln said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” Whoever is elected needs a mandate and a clear commitment to bring us together; we can’t give him the second but if we vote in record numbers, there’s a shot at the first.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Bonanza Column 254 - The Race for County Commissioner

I finally had a week when I was not traveling coincide with a Bonanza/SNC Candidate Forum, so I was able to attend the Q & A session with the two candidates for Washoe County Commissioner District One. Unfortunately I was one of the few IV/CB residents who did. If you subtract the press and moderators as well as the IVGID candidates who were there, it was less than 20 people, a poor turnout indeed for information about an office that could have a major impact on our community in the months and years to come.
District One is huge – it stretches from the Washoe County line on Route 28 down the hill to Lakeridge, north through Caughlin Ranch to the North end of Reno. While much of the area of the District in the valley is within the City of Reno, the County Commissioner represents those areas in matters to do with the County as well as representing the unincorporated areas of the District, which includes us. There are over 56,000 registered voters in the District, with about 7,000 of those voters within the Incline/Crystal GID. In other words, our community accounts for about 1.8% of the registered voters in the District.
One of the main points made by those present at the Forum and in questions submitted to the Bonanza in advance was the need of our community to be represented. As you’d expect, both candidates hastened to reassure us that they would represent us and not neglect us in favor of the rest of the district. Both acknowledged that (a) this community is not like the rest of the District due to altitude, weather, the Lake, etc., (b) IV/CB residents rightly feel that we don’t get enough of our tax money put back into the community (i.e., we’re subsidizing the rest of the County), and (c) we have in a number of instances not been treated equitably by the County (cf. the tax revolt).
All that is well and good, and both candidates said the right things. The execution of those promises may be a different matter, though. Let’s say that our only real competition for the Commissioner’s attention is the unincorporated areas of the District – maybe then we get up as high as 10 or 20% of the population, maybe higher – I don’t know how to calculate it, but even if, of the 49,000 voters not within IVGID’s area, 30,000 live in Reno, we are still 9,000 out of 19,000, and I think that figure is likely to be generous. It’s going to be very difficult at times for whomever gets elected to stand for our interests when they conflict with those of voters down the hill.
This is important because the TRPA Regional Plan Update has greater local control of community character as one of its mainstays. For a community like South Lake Tahoe, this means the city government. For us, it means the County, and if history is any indicator, that’s not good news. Again, both candidates said the right things – they think we should have more local control, but it was clear that this was an area where neither had done extensive homework – both were very sketchy on the TRPA plan, and seemed more or less ignorant of what has already been tried with regard to gaining a greater degree of independence for the community. By way of refreshing everyone’s memory, early efforts to form a county were stopped in the Legislature, and there is little to suggest that today’s Legislature has much more of an appetite to form a new county than did the Legislature under Governor Miller. Analyses of the possibility of incorporating as a city don’t pencil out economically, and two years ago voters rejected becoming a town, which would have only expanded the purview of what is now IVGID, but still would have left us subject to the County as the final word on most things.
So to paraphrase Princess Leia “help us, Washoe County Commission, you’re our only hope.” Our last two Commissioners did a pretty good job of keeping up on our concerns and representing us – hopefully whichever candidate gets elected will also, but it will take close vigilance on our part to ensure that they do. Of the two, Andrew Diss seemed to me to have the greater grasp of important areas and less prone to predetermined solutions, so I’m going to give him my endorsement.
Most of all, vote. It’s important.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

The BSA and DADT

The “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy in the military was repealed September 20, 2011. Prior to its enactment by President Clinton, service members and others had said that having openly gay troops would harm the military.
The Palm Center, which is part of the Williams Institute, an independent think tank conducting research on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy, at the University of California Los Angeles, School of Law, conducts research on sexual minorities in the military. They convened a panel of nine scholars, some of them professors at military academies, to conduct a study that began six months after the policy ended and concluded at about the one-year anniversary of the repeal. The panel interviewed opponents and advocates of the repeal as well as active-duty service members. They conducted on-site observations of four military units and reached out to 553 of the nearly 1,200 flag officers who signed a 2009 letter saying the repeal would undermine the military. Thirteen of these generals and admirals agreed to be interviewed.
From the study: “Our conclusion, based on all of the evidence available to us, is that DADT repeal has had no overall negative impact on military readiness or its component dimensions, including cohesion, recruitment, retention, assaults, harassment or morale. Although we identified a few downsides that followed from the policy change, we identified upsides as well, and in no case did negative consequences outweigh benefits. If anything, DADT repeal appears to have enhanced the military’s ability to pursue its mission.”
The research also showed that the repeal hadn’t been responsible for any new wave of violence or physical abuse among service members and appears to have enabled some gay troops to resolve disputes around harassment in ways that were not possible before.
Then we have the Boy Scouts of America, with its own version of DADT, a long-standing ban on “open or avowed homosexuals” both in the leadership and the membership of the organization. Many scouting families, in their own version of DADT went on with their participation in the hop that the antiquated rule, which was at times ignored, would be changed sooner rather than later.
But last week the BSA made it clear that the old policy was still in force. Ryan Andresen, a teenager who had completed all the requirements to become an Eagle Scout, was denied the highest Scout honor because he recently told his friends and family he is gay.
That local decision adhered to the BSA's ban on membership for gays, a policy officially recognized in 1991, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 and strongly reiterated by the organization in a July ruling. The rule, decided by a panel in Texas, was clear: No openly gay members.
By way of full disclosure, I was an Eagle Scout back in the day, and in fact was told at the time that I was, for a while, the youngest Eagle Scout in the US. I have always been pro-scouting and encouraged my children to participate. Scouting is good. This policy is not. As a private organization, the Supreme Court ruled the BSA could make its own rules, and I’m not questioning their right to do so – I’m saying that having the right doesn’t make it right. I was a Scout in an era when being gay wasn’t discussed, but there were always a few kids we knew were “that way,” and it didn’t affect anything – not in camp, not at the National Jamboree, and not in the troop, and it won’t affect anything now.
When Ryan’s mother Karen Andresen took up the fight this week for her son, support was immediately forthcoming, with more than 339,000 people (as of Sunday) listed on a petition urging Scout leaders to sign the teen's Eagle Scout paperwork. It would be an act of moral courage for them to do so. If repealing DADT didn’t harm the military, it won’t harm the Boy Scouts.