On more than just local government

Wednesday, July 28, 2004


Every once in a while, you get a feeling that you are seeing something important happening in real time. Something you are going to remember. Barack Obama's keynote speech to the Democratic National Convention last night was one of those occasions.

I was a delegate to the 1996 Democratic convention.  These conventions are, basically, three things. First, they are an infomercial for the party and its candidates. Second, they are a scmoozefest, where campaign financing deals are worked out and parties try to outdo each other to gain the "title" of "hottest ticket."

Finally, it is the testing ground of new talent.  Over the years, many people have been given the opportunity to strut their stuff.  Few have made it to The Show. Some who messed up their chance, like Bill Clinton in 1988, still made it to the Big Leagues. Others, like Mario Cuomo, aced the exam, but then decided they didn't want to jump into the deep end of the pool.

It remains to be seen what happens to Obama.  He still doesn't have a rival for the U. S. Senate seat in Illinois, due to his former opponent's penchant for kinky sex locales. Many have made it to that plateau and never moved beyond, like Joe Biden.  But, for some reason, I think we may be looking at the first African-American Presidential or Vice Presidential candidate.

His resume is the stuff of political dreams. He has almost as many ethnicities as Tiger Woods.  He has a family most political consultants have to invent.  And, he is smart as they come.

All he has to do is to avoid the downfall of many, the hubris that comes with high political office.  If he keeps grounded, there is no limit to his potential.

We shall see.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Safer, but not safe

In Joseph Heller's glorious "Catch-22," the pilots are in the officer's club and one muses about how old they all are.  "Old?" one asks. "But, we are in the flower of our youth." "We are one day away from our death," the first pilot says.  "You don't get much older than that."

If you are not safe, how can you be safer? But, that is what the 9/11 Commission told us yesterday.  It seems to me that if you are on a plane, you are either safe or dead. There isn't anything in between.

The 9/11 Commission probably did the right thing by not making their report a political diatribe.  However, despite losing over 3,000 people, no one has been blamed for anything?  No one, it seems, has lost their job over this monumental screw-up.

We hear a lot about "leadership" in political campaigns.  In management, leadership means having the guts to fire people when it is appropriate.  The failures of 9/11 meet that test of appropriateness.

"Leadership" also means being able to tell people bad news honestly.  We are not safer, because we are not safe.  It is time the political doublespeak ended and the discussion of what "the new normal" is going to be begins.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Blocking the view

It is an interesting "revelation" that Sandy Berger, the National Security Adviser under President Clinton, may have taken classified documents with him while researching his 9/11 Commission testimony.  What is interesting is that an event investigated nearly nine months ago should suddenly pop up two days before the Commission's report is to be released.
Now, Berger knows the rules about documents like this.  And, no matter what miniscule impact it might have had on the 9/11 Commission's work, it was stupid.  However, it should not be used as a smokescreen to obscure this bipartisan and, according to press reports, scathing analysis of what went wrong prior to those attacks.
If, as reported, the Commission calls for a centralized structure for intelligence, we should give it the proper consideration, not the knee-jerk "protect my turf (and my budget)" battles that usually accompany large-scale change.  If only to enable technology standards for information exchange, such a reform would be worth it.  After all, "connecting the dots" requires sharing and sharing requires standards and standards require a single point of decision-making.
But, power in government is represented by the size of one's budget and staff.  And, after all, what are 3,000 people's lives when loss of face might be involved.

Monday, July 19, 2004

Banished to the children's table

Back when Ahhhnold decided that his first major budget cut was to dramatically limit funding for the developmentally disabled, I figured the Gubernator was going to spend Christmas in the Shriver family corner wearing a dunce cap.
Now, I guess he's going to sitting at the children's table. After all, that's where mental 12 year olds ought to sit.
Over the weekend, Ahhnold decided that he was either going to be funny or, as is more likely, his steroid besotted brain couldn't come up with any better response to the standoff between his and the State Legislature's budget plans.  Despite the fact that nearly every major committee in the Legislature is chaired by a woman, the Austrian Annihilator decided that all the people who opposed him were "girlie men."
This phrase, made popular in a Saturday Night Live skit that was parodying him, was meant to challenge the manhood of these...females?  Or was he saying that the male legislative contingent were wusses for putting women in these positions in the first place?
Or, did he know what he was saying?  Did he use Richard ("stupid dirty girl") Riordan as his public relations model?
Just when you think Ahhnold is sounding like a real statesman, something like this comes along to snap us back to reality.

Friday, July 16, 2004

I'm back

It's funny how business can get in the way of the fun stuff you want to do.
It's not really a good excuse, but my recent travel schedule has made it difficult for me to keep blogging.  But, I have vowed to get back on track. In fact, it was a trip to Kalispell, Montana last week that gave me the itch to start up again.
I had never been to Montana.  (There are only two states left that I have not yet visited, NM and AK.) It is big and it is empty. It's not the easiest place to get to by air, but as you fly in, you are made very aware of its scope.
The reason for my visit was a conference of the Montana Association of Chiefs of Police.  At conferences like this, you get a chance to find out a great deal about the state you don't see in the chamber of commerce photographs.  Talking to someone from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, I found that the two nattiest crime problems in the state are illegal guns, often held and distributed by militias, and methamphetamine labs.
The first one I understand.  Montana has a Libertarian streak in it that makes it probably the most armed state in the nation.  Everyone has a gun. Some keep them for safety against potential (or invented) criminals, although there is relatively little property crime. Many keep them for protection from large animals. (The Border Patrol people joke that the most effective Canadian border guards are the grizzly bears that roam in the areas where, logically, easy cross-border access would be possible.)
Montana is the fifth largest state physically, but one of the smallest in terms of population. There is a lot of open area for law enforcement to cover.  It is easy for militia groups, if they aren't too brazen with their venomous outpourings, to hide for years among the pines and mountains of the western part of the state.
However, the growth of the methamphetamine problem was a surprise, not because of raw product availability (after all, farms are the best sources of the product's raw materials), but the costs of distribution.  Montana seems a long way from the marketplace for the stuff, which used to be just urban areas, but has been spreading to the suburbs very quickly.
After the conference, I drove for a few hours around Kalispell and the Glacier Park area and discovered a large number of private planes sitting the commercial and private airports that dot the scenery.  This relatively poor state, primarily reliant on tourism, mining and lumber, has an awful lot of people with Cessnas.
This got me to thinking about police resource management. How can a state with so few law enforcement personnel possibly counter a problem so difficult to find?  The answer, it seems, is technology.  Montana is hungry from technological solutions to crime solving.  But, technology costs money and everything being funded now has to be associated with Homeland Security in one way or another.
It is not a pejorative to say that Montana doesn't really have anything Al Quida might want.  Therefore, Montana won't get the resources it needs for something that is probably a much more present danger to its residents.
Go figure.