Monday, January 14, 2008

Mike Huckabee's Bad Sunday School Lesson

This past Sunday, Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist preacher, gave the sermon at the 2,500 member First Baptist Church in North Spartanburg, South Carolina. Mind you, the Republican Presidential Primary will be held in that state next Saturday, and Huckabee's sermon to potential voters in that primary is the ultimate in unctuous bad form, on the parts of both Candidate Huckabee and the leadership of the First Baptist Church.

Consider, for a moment, the sensibilities of those church members who support Mitt Romney, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, or Fred Thompson. First Baptist Church has abused its position as a theological authority to these members. Religious services --especially evangelical Christian services -- should be above partisan political preferences, and nothing indicates preference better than the invitation to give a sermon to the entire congregation.

It also raises questions as to the tax-exempt status of the First Baptist Church in North Spartanburg. Clearly, the invitation represented a political endorsement of Huckabee by the leadership of that church. Indeed, it could be argued that the exclusive communication opportunity to address 2,500 potential voters represented an in-kind political contribution, which is also probably illegal.

Are Romney, McCain, Giuliani, and Fred Thompson not entitled to an equal opportunity to address those 2,500 church members ?

It is precisely this kind of seedy blending of religious and political directives under one roof that make so many Americans uncomfortable with Mike Huckabee's brand of politics.

We'll see what the voters of South Carolina have to say on Thursday.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Mitt Romney Shows Why Business Experience Matters in the 2008 Presidential Campaign

John McCain demonstrated today why Mitt Romney's business experience makes the former Governor of Massachussets better qualified to be President of the United States.

The two men are engaged in a tough contest for victory in this Tuesday's Michigan Republican Primary. Michigan is a state that's been hit hard by the reverses in the American auto industry, with both Ford and GM headquartered in Detroit. Romney's father, of course, served as Governor of Michigan during the 1960's, and before that was President of American Motors, at the time the fourth and smallest American automobile manufacturer.
Remember the Rambler ? That was an American Motors car.

In Saturday's debate, held in Michigan, Senator McCain made a statement that you might expect to come from a big government Democratic Senator with no business or private sector experience whatsoever.

The Federal Government, he argued, had helped American automakers by passing stricter fuel efficiency standards last month. McCain's loopy reasoning was that the standards would motivate manufacturers to develop more fuel efficient cars that relied less on foreign oil.

"I have great faith in the auto industry that they'll be able to meet these ... standards, we'll move to hybrid cars, we'll move to hydrogen, we'll move to batteries, and I as president will do everything I can to help them do that,"
he said.

The practical Romney, whose business success was the result of an ability to differentiate wishes from reality, understands the situation more clearly.

Arbitrary standards, he argues "help the foreign manufacturers and hurt us."

Romney's quite right in that assessment.

American manufacturers typically have a product mix that features larger cars which naturally have less fuel efficiency. Fleetwide standards force American manufacturers to change their product mix in ways that are not advantageous to their niche in the market.

McCain's comments show a fundamental misunderstanding of how business organizations actually work and get things done. Apparently, McCain thinks that business executives, and auto executives in particular, are a bunch of dullards who are not smart enough to determine the right strategy for their business. Only the "smart people" in Washington, it seems, know that the right strategy for the American auto industry is to make automobiles with a particular fuel efficiency ratio. Oh, and by the way, the Washington "smart people" know EXACTLY what that fuel efficiency ratio should be !

From a strategic and operational viewpoint, there's no question that some component of the decline in the performance of the American auto industry is the consequence of poor strategic decisions by American auto executives, and good strategic decisions by executives at Toyota, Nissan, and Honda. Part of that is as it should be -- Toyota Camrys run forever and rarely need service, so the marketplace CHOOSES Toyota Camrys.

But consider the real economic harm--the interference in free market forces-- caused by the arbitrary increase in fuel efficiency standards recently imposed by Senator McCain. The marketplace says-- we like the large SUVs made by General Motors, especially the Tahoe. Raising the fuel standards across the fleet increases the costs of producing a Tahoe significantly more than it increases the costs of producing a Toyota Camry. Why ? It's a much bigger car, and the resources required to hit the new target are greater.

To get around some of this silliness, many American automakers have focused on making pickup trucks (which have different standards than passenger cars) look and behave more like passenger cars. A great accomplishment in itself, and a good fall back position, but without Washington's intervention, Ford and GM might well have placed their resources in other areas of innovation -- areas that the marketplace values more highly.

If McCain ever had a job that depended on understanding the market, he would have known this. A McCain Presidency, on the economic front, would look a lot more like the command and control economic failures of Jimmy Carter than the free market economic successes of Ronald Reagan.

A Tale of Two Sisters

My friend Keith Raffel, to my mind the gold standard of emerging mystery novel writers, has a post on his blog from yesterday about his recollections of Benazir Bhutto, whose assassination last month has thrown Pakistan into political chaos.

Keith and Ms. Bhutto (who was known in those days as "Pinkie") were students at Harvard together, and later at Oxford as well. Keith recounts his memories of her, as well as their loud arguments in his blogpost.

I was an undergrad at Harvard a few years later, and I knew Benazir Bhutto's younger sister Sanam Bhutto, because she dated one of my friends. Sanam's American nickname was "Sonny".

Sanam "Sonny" Bhutto

Where Benazir was passionate about politics, and followed her destiny into that world, Sonny did everything she could to avoid it. Her interests were fashion, jewelry , and looking good. She excelled at all three.

Pinkie followed her destiny, and is dead now, as are Sonny's two brothers, both of whom died under mysterious circumstances. Sonny lives in a very fashionable house in London these days, is probably protected by bodyguards, and has nothing to do with politics.

Which is probably why she is the only child of former Pakistani Prime Minister Ali Bhutto (himself executed in 1979) who is alive today.

The Empty Suit that is Barack Obama

I like Barack Obama.

He's a very pleasant fellow, a compelling speaker, and looks very Senatorial.

The problem is, besides writing two best selling books (no mean feat), he hasn't done much of anything.

Sure, he graduated from Harvard Law School (as have thousands of others), "organized" community groups in Chicago, practiced law a little, got elected to the Illinois Senate in 1996, and then to the United States Senate in 2004.

Those are all personal achievements, of which he and his family should be proud.

But what has he done ? How is the world different because of his actions ?

It isn't different in any significant, or even minor way globally or nationally, though his publisher's financial performance has been better of late due to the success of his books.

His legislative record can be summed up as follows: a big fat nothing happened on his watch.

We know, of course, because he has told us repeatedly that he will bring CHANGE to the country.

His policies, however, don't sound much like change, they sound more like the standard gospel of interventionist liberal policies that have been largely discredited in the marketplace over the last half century. His foreign policies are naive at best, and he has absolutely no military experience or understanding of matters military.

I can think of only one possible positive change that a President Barack Obama will bring to the United States.

For about a month, the foreign press will have good things to say about America.

Hillary Clinton, Smartest Woman on Earth, and Agent of Change

Bill and Hillary Clinton, circa 1970.

I rest easier at night knowing that Hillary Clinton, not only the smartest woman on earth, but also the potential next President of the United States, is the candidate most likely to bring about change.

Senator Clinton demonstrated her brilliant policies of change yesterday when she announced her economic stimulus package.

Here are the key components of the change she envisions:

1. Creation of a $30 billion Emergency Housing Crisis Fund for U.S. states, administered by the same people who brought you the IRS, the Housing and Urban Development Department, and the INS, to help families unable to make mortgage payments.

2. A limited re-introduction of wage and price controls, targeted at the home lending industry, which would include a 90-day moratorium on subprime foreclosures and a 5 year freeze of subprime mortgage rates.

3. A Federal government program that will give $25 billion in emergency funds to help people pay expensive heating bills.

4. $10 billion more for unemployment insurance for the jobless.

The creation of a multibillion dollar federal program designed to transfer income from taxpayers who make their mortgage payments in a timely manner to residents (presumably a mix of taxpaying citizens, non-tax paying citizens, legal aliens, and illegal alients) who don't make their mortgage payments on time is certainly a change from the policies of Herbert Hoover's administration. It's the kind of new, revitializing change that was first introduced 75 years ago by FDR, then broadened by Harry Truman, then broadened by Lyndon Johnson, then broadened by Richard Nixon, then broadened by Jimmy Carter, then broadened by George H.W. Bush, then broadened by Bill Clinton, then broadened by George W. Bush.

It's easy for voters to grasp the newness of Hillary Clinton's proposal, the freshness of the content, and the intellecutal brilliance required to envision it.

Senator' Clinton's re-introduction of a limited version of wage and price controls also represents change--from free markets to government control. Demonstrating her clear command of the bipartisan nature of great ideas, she borrows this insightful program from Republican President Richard Nixon, whose attempt at wage and price controls in the 1970's was perhaps one of the most memorably disastrous economic policies in the history of modern America.

Hillary Clinton, the candidate of change.

I can't wait.

Monday, January 07, 2008

LSU -- our 12-2 National Champion !

LSU beat Ohio State 38-24 tonight to win the BCS College Football National Championship.

A 12 win and 2 loss National Champion ?

I guess so, but the entire evening just left me with one reaction.


I like the good old days of undefeated National Champions.

Or the apparently yet to arrive good new days of an 8 team playoff winning National Champion.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Trying to Understand Mike Huckabee's Vertical Politics

Try as I might, I can't help but notice the continuing flow of odd ideas generated by Mike Huckabee as he attempts to carve out a niche as the Republican candidate for "change."

The latest oddness comes in the form of his concept of abandonning what he calls "horizontal politics", in favor of "vertical politics."

The image above tries to unravel Huckabee's own definition of "vertical politics," which I take directly from his website:

Ultimately, people don't care about whether an issue comes from the left or the right, . . .

what they want to hear about is an idea that lifts America up and makes us better.

It's what I call Vertical Politics.

Let me attempt to translate what Huckabee is saying here:

Vote for me, because I won't fight with Democrats over fundamental issues about the proper role of government. I'll join hands with them, and together we'll discover that idea that "lifts America and makes us better."

Sounds like Huckabee is signalling Democrats that he will cave on everything they ask for in a Huckabee Administration.

Are the Individual Rights of Roger Clemens Being Violated ?

Major League Baseball, it appears, is filled with players who cheat.

Bud Selig's earlier statements to the contrary now sound like Claude Rains' comment to Humphrey Bogart in the film classic Casa Blanca -- he was "shocked, shocked, that gambling is going on in Casa Blanca."

One need only look at the transformation from skinny kid to superhero physique of Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and Jose Cansceco to know that something out of the ordinary was going on.
First, former Senator George Mitchell's long anticipated report names almost 100 major league ball players as users of steroids or human growth hormone based on potentially questionable testimony. Clemens is named in the report as a user of human growth hormone based on the testimony of a clubhouse trainer, and now the superstar is presumed guilty by the public at large.

The whole circus is painfully reminiscent of the Senator Joe McCarthy hearings in the United States Senate of the early 1950's, where reputations and careers were ruined by sometimes unfounded charges and allegations.

Apparently, a number of people don't like Mr. Clemens. He's an arrogant prima donna, they say. He's selfish, they say.

Perhaps so.

But even wealthy arrogant jerks who are American citizens are entitled to fair trials by jury conducted under rules of evidence.

California Congressman Henry Waxman, a Democrat and Chairman of a powerful committee in the US House of Representatives apparently thinks Mr. Clemens public denials of the allegations against him in the Mitchell Report require a public show trial, and has issued a subpoena to Mr. Clemens and his accuser, a former Yankees trainer, to adjudicate the matter later this month in public testimony before a committe of the US Congress.

Is this fair ?

I don't think so. It sounds like a circus, intent on creating headlines for politicians, and oblivious to the individual rights of Mr. Clemens, the trainer in question, and certainly not something likely to do very much to solve the problem of steroid and human growth hormone abuse in Major League Baseball.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Secret Reasons Hillary Clinton is Faring Poorly

The secret reasons Hillary Clinton is not doing well in the early results of the 2008 Presidential Campaign are these:

She's an unpleasant person.

People don't like the sound of her voice, which is gratingly irritating.

People don't like being talked down to by a know it all.

People don't think she is sincere.

She suffers a charm deficit, especially when compared to her husband.

Donald Trump, Omarosa, and the Train Wreck Philosophy of Project Management

For those of us who make our living in the business discipline of project management, the antics of the infamous Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth in last week's premier episode of Donald Trump's Celebrity Apprentice provide a case study in how NOT to be a project manager. For those who are not familiar with The Apprentice format, each week a group of contestants are split into two teams, each headed by a project manager, who compete to win a task. At the completion of the task, one team is declared the winner, the other the loser, and one member of the losing team is "fired" by Mr. Trump in a Board Room session designed to encourage nasty communication and backbiting in front of an all powerful arbiter.

In last week's episode of Celebrity Apprentice, a dozen "B" list celebrity contestants were broken up into two teams-- six men on one team, six women on the other, who competed to see who could make the most money selling hot dogs from a street stand in New York City on one day.

The irritating and self-promoting Ms. Maginault-Stallworth, who promotes her particular style of interpersonal lunacy under the one word appelation "Omarosa", jumped at the chance to be the project manager of the women's team. Mr. Trump, apparently eager to secure the ratings associated with the programmatic theme of a villainess, was only to happy to grant Omarosa's request.

Omarosa then proceeded to display her understanding of what it means to be a project manager by dealing with her team members in an arrogant, abrasive, condescending, and dictatorial manner from the very first minute. While all the members on her team advised her to take advantage of their celebrity status and sell the opportunity to connect with that celebrity status for a high priced hot dog, Omarosa delusionally rejected that common sense advice, and chose to focus the benefits of the hot dog. As if actress Marilu Henner, she of Taxi fame, can make a better hot dog then Joe the hot dog vendor !

The men's team, inspired by the intelligent and amusing Gene Simmons of Kiss, made the obvious decision to sell not hot dogs, but highly visible opportunities to connect with celebrity by "buying" a hot dog at a high price and focusing on the charitable use of the proceeds that was part of the task's rules.

Following Omarosa's ridiculous pricing strategy initially, the women's team lagged in sales until Ms. Henner, defying Omarosa's edict, decided to pull in her personal contacts and make some high dollar "charity" hot dog sales. Ultimately, Ms. Henner's contacts contributed $10,000 of the women's teams $17,000 in sales.

The women's team, under Omarosa, was thoroughly defeated in the task by the men's team, which sold $52,000, because project manager Stephen Baldwin actually listened to the intelligent pricing and marketing strategy proposed by team member Gene Simmons and supported by all the other team members. Every other member of the women's team advocated a similar strategy for the women's team, but the tin eared and narcisstic Omaraso rejected that approach, with disastrous results for her team.

Showing her true snakiness and exploiting Mr. Trump's need for the ratings that her continued public villainy provides, Omarosa was able to avoid being fired by pinning the blame for her failure on a pleasant but hapless Playboy centerfold, whose main sins were being a nice person, following Omarosa's "don't sell your celebrity" policy, and failing to defend herself against Omarosa's vicious attacks.

Omarosa's conduct is certainly something to be expected from a woman whose claim to fame was being

"banished from four (low level)jobs in two years with the Clinton administration.

At her last one, "she was asked to leave as quickly as possible, she was so disruptive," says Cheryl Shavers, the former Under Secretary for Technology at the Commerce Department, where Omarosa worked several weeks in 2000. "One woman wanted to slug her."

She was also bounced from a previous position at Commerce, says another former administration official, "because she couldn't get along with people."

Anyone interested in learning what project management is REALLY about, should go The Agile Project Leadership Network or The Project Management Institute websites.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Deja Vu All Over Again -- Huckabee and Romney, Carter and Udall

In my misguided youth I was a Democrat.

I excuse myself for this by remembering Winston Churchill's famous quote:

"If you're not a liberal when you're twenty, you don't have a heart. If you're not a conservative when you were forty, you don't have a brain."

Back in 1976 (thirty two years ago for those of you counting) I ran as an alternate delegate to the Democratic National Convention in New York State's old 39th Congressional District committed to Mo Udall, the Arizona Congressman who was also a Mormon.

I recall watching in disbelief the political rise of a Southern Baptist former governor of a small Southern state who was obviously in way over his head on matters of foreign policy.

When the New York Democratic Presidential Primary was held in April of that year, my candidate and my slate lost to that Southern Baptist former Governor. Seven months later, that governor was elected President, and the country suffered through four years of the worst Presidential Administration in American history (with a tip of the hat to Franklin Pierce's ignoble four year term from 1853 to 1857, which was ALMOST as bad).

Fast forward to January, 2008. A Southern Baptist former governor of a small Southern state has just defeated another highly qualified Mormon candidate in the Iowa Republican caucuses. This time, it's Arkansas' Mike Huckabee defeating Mormon and former Massachussets governor Mitt Romney.

Once again, I'm backing the Mormon, this time as an at-large delegate in the February 5th Republican Presidential Primary here in Tennessee.

We've seen the first part of deja vu in Iowa. Let's see if we have the second part of deja vu in Tennessee, or if there's a break in the pattern !

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Huckabee was FOR the Writers Guild before he was AGAINST the Writers Guild

I was hoping to give readers of this blog a break from Mike Huckabee, but the erstwhile Presidential candidate continues to provide material which just cannot be resisted.

He crossed the Writers Guild Association picket lines to appear on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno tonight, the day before the Iowa caucuses.

For a Democratic candidate crossing the picket line would, of course, be worse than original sin, but Huckabee appears to want to be both FOR original sin and AGAINST it.

First, he issued a statement in support of the Writers Guild Association, saying he was on their side, and that everyone should support them and no one should support the producers.

Then, when informed that his appearance tonight would require that he cross picket line of the organization he allegedly supports, his disingenuous response was to say:

"Oh, I thought the late night talk programs had reached a separate deal with the Writers Guild !"

Does he think anyone actually buys this lame excuse ?

Anyone who listens to the news on the broadcast and cable networks, or on any of the popular radio talk programs for more than a minute at a time these days knows that David Letterman cut a separate deal with the writers, but Jay Leno and The Tonight Show did not.

I suppose, as he has so many times before, Huckabee will blame his ignorance/disingenuousness on being misinformed by his staff or by a news report.

Why is a Presidential candidate entangling himself in this dispute ? The free publicity of a Tonight Show appearance must have been a temptation that Huckabee just could not resist. Consequently, he apparently let his desires overwhelm his common sense. If he can't avoid stumbling into this dispute, can you imagine the disputes he would stumble into around the world in a Huckabee Administration ?

Deliver us, O Lord, from any more of this guy's shenanigans !