Thursday, November 30, 2006

Much ado about just a little something -- twice

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:52 PM |  

When I read Minnesota Monitor’s account of the Dennis Prager column criticizing Kieth Ellison for taking the oath of office on the Qur’an rather than the Bible, I was inclined to toss them a nod and agree. Then I read Prager’s column. Yes, he goes a little over the top, but the point of his column is well-taken.
When all elected officials take their oaths of office with their hands on the very same book, they all affirm that some unifying value system underlies American civilization. If Keith Ellison is allowed to change that, he will be doing more damage to the unity of America and to the value system that has formed this country than the terrorists of 9-11. It is hard to believe that this is the legacy most Muslim Americans want to bequeath to America. But if it is, it is not only Europe that is in trouble.
Over the top --yes, but he makes a valid point -- America is a country founded on unifying value system, not blood lines. That system is reflected in Judeo-Christian values, but not necessarily a result of them. Swearing on the Bible is traditional, like the raising of the right hand instead of the left. It’s the tradition that has meaning, not the individual pieces.

Tradition is important to Conservatives and shouldn’t be treated lightly. Tradition is what holds countries and cultures together, which is why it does roil conservatives when American tradition is compromised at every turn to accommodate every new influence. Prager’s analogy of everyone replacing the Bible with his favorite book reflects that notion.

Personally, while I appreciate and agree with Prager’s point of view, I can’t get as worked up about it as he does (nor as upset with Prager as many liberals seem to be). If Ellison wants to take the oath on the Qur’an, so be it. I do think, however, he misses an opportunity. I think he might have made a more symbolically unifying statement by taking the oath on the Bible, highlighting the integration of his Islamic faith with the values and traditions of Congress.

The Bible is also a holy book in Islam; the primary difference between the Bible and the Qur’an in Islam is the Bible was written and translated by men and is subject to error while the Qur’an was dictated by God in Arabic just as it is written. It is without error. It takes preference over the sayings of Mohammad, which even though written by the Prophet are considered works of man, not Allah. It would not have been a theological or moral stretch for Ellison to take the oath on the Bible and would have been a strong gesture conciliation.

Ellison has his reasons for taking the oath on the Qur’an and without knowing his mind, I accept that they are sincere. Nonetheless, I think he missed the opportunity to reach out and bring people together.

COLUMN -- Sen. Johnson is gone, but court controversy is not

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:11 PM |  

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Soon-to-be-former state Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, with recent remarks, has set the controversy over claims that he had conversations about the Defense of Marriage Act with Minnesota Supreme Court justices back to square one. Once again, there’s no nice way to say it – somebody’s lying. The question is, does it still matter? I think it does.

Individuals are fallible and make mistakes. Sometimes we have to admit, “I screwed up.” We can forgive those who admit their errors, accept the consequences and make things right.. But when someone embellishes and sands the truth to mitigate consequences, we then put our faith in “the system” to sort things out and make things right. We sometimes forget, however, that systems are human institutions. They “screw up” too. In our desire to identify the bad guy, we often miss the more important focus – making things right.

In this case, we’re still identifying villains. No one has yet addressed what went wrong with the system. No one has focused on making things right. We haven’t earned the right to move on. That’s why the Johnson controversy still matters.

It started in January. Speaking to a ministerial association about a constitutional amendment defining marriage, Johnson said several Supreme Court justices told him the court wouldn’t touch Minnesota’s existing marriage law — consequently, a constitutional amendment was unnecessary. A pastor secretly taped Johnson’s comments.

In early March this column made Johnson’s comments about the court public and said they stained the integrity of the court. Over the next several weeks, in various contexts, Johnson admitted he “embellished the truth.” He said he received no assurances from justices about the law, but he insisted he did have conversations with justices about same-sex marriage. Chief Justice Russell Anderson, on behalf of the court, denied such conversations (which would have been a judicial ethical violation) ever took place.

At that point Dean Johnson became the focus of interest. Lost was the more important issue of Supreme Court integrity. If Johnson were telling the truth, then it would be up to the court to take disciplinary action and make things right. If the justices were being truthful, it was up to the Senate to expose Johnson’s comments as false and restore trust in the court. Or it could become partisan.

At the end of March, Republicans filed an ethics complaint against Democrat Johnson. A bipartisan Ethics Committee was formed to determine if Johnson’s comments violated Senate rules. Confronted by the larger question of whether Johnson or the justices were telling the truth, the committee opted for a safer, narrower view. It merely required Johnson to apologize to the Senate for his initial “embellishment.” The question of who was telling the truth went unanswered; the integrity of the court remained in question.

With the truth still “out there,” it wasn’t surprising that complaints were filed with the Board on Judicial Standards questioning whether justices violated judicial ethics in conversations with Johnson. In July, the board dismissed those complaints. It concluded “there is no evidence that any promises, commitments or predictions” were made by justices concerning same-sex marriage.
The Pioneer Press quoted the board as saying, “Each Supreme Court justice independently denied ever having any conversations with Sen. Johnson on any issue relating to the definition of marriage. Sen. Johnson confirmed no such conversations took place.” That seemed to settle the matter – until last week.

On Minnesota Public Radio or in subsequent interviews, Johnson variously accused Chief Justice Russell Anderson of “an outright fabrication” and said that members of the Court made “inaccurate statements” to the Board on Judicial Standards. Johnson returned to claims made, but not substantiated, before the Senate Ethics Committee – that he has depositions from former aides supporting his contention that while no assurances were given, he had conversations with justices about same-sex marriage.

It’s ironic that Dean Johnson provides the best appraisal of what’s at stake. He is quoted in the Minneapolis paper saying he has “lost a great deal of respect for the court system at the highest level in Minnesota.” He wonders, “who else was served an injustice” by the Supreme Court.

Welcome to square one. We shouldn’t be here – a place where public trust in the state Supreme Court depends on the credibility of a man that distinguishes between lying and “sanding off of the truth.” Despite the fact that Dean Johnson lost his bid for reelection, the Senate and the Board of Judicial Standards owe the public an explanation of why the system failed. The system needs fixing. The integrity of the court needs restoring. We need to make things right before we may move on.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Landlubbers give their wives jewelry for their birthdays . . .

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:37 PM |  

Sailors build lighthouses

for the lights of their lives

Happy Birthday, Tammer!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

COLUMN -- Where liberty and thanksgiving intersect

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:21 AM |  

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

"Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested it. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn't be here, and we wouldn't be eating it, if we hadn't done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you, Lord, just the same for the food we're about to eat. Amen."

Not what you'd call a traditional Thanksgiving prayer.

If you find yourself a little football weary over the weekend, the 1965 Universal film "Shenandoah" is a good Thanksgiving rent. Pure melodrama, it's a full fare of individualism with a side dish of overcoming tragedy. The Good Lord gets his due in a tearjerker ending that captures the essence of "thanksgiving."

The perfunctory prayer is the dinner grace of a Virginia widower, Charlie Anderson, honoring his wife's request that he raise their children as good Christians – a "thorny task" that he doesn't feel quite up to, but he's trying. He's also doing his damndest to keep his Virginia family untouched by the carnage of the Civil War.

"They on our land?" asks Anderson (played by Jimmy Stewart at his curmudgeonly best) as cannons thunder. Told not yet, he says, "Then it doesn't concern us, does it?"

"Shenandoah" was released when, much like today, war was just beginning to threaten people's personal landscapes. Like the film's characters, many struggled with duty to God, state and family.

"Virginia needs all her sons, Mr. Anderson," a confederate colonel tells Stewart.

"That might be so, Johnson," says a gruff Anderson. "But these are my sons. They don't belong to the state. When they were babies, I never saw the state coming around with a spare teat! We never asked anything of the state and never expected anything. We do our own living and thanks to no man for the right."

"Shenandoah" is ripe with great libertarian lines. When a gang of federal agents descend on the Anderson farm to "purchase" some horses, Stewart serves up a concise definition of "confiscate": "stealing." The feds, somewhat worse for wear, depart the Anderson farm sans horses.

Although he keeps the feds, and the confeds, from the door, Anderson can't keep the war away. Mistaken for a Confederate, his 16-year-old son is taken by Union soldiers.

"Now it concerns us," Stewart growls. "I don't know how these people dare take a son of mine," he says, expressing the bafflement of one who can't conceive by what right one injects himself in the affairs of another. "I catch up to them, it's going to be a terrible thing to behold," he promises.

But the terrible end of his quest for "the boy" lies in the tragedies inflicted on his family. Like the Biblical Job, despite personal suffering, Anderson holds to his conception of a righteous life. He challenges his fate with a question.

"I knew we weren't liable to find him," he says, making the decision to quit his search. "But somehow I just had to try. And if we don't try, we don't do. And if we don't do, why are we here on this Earth?"

Back on the farm, at a table set with empty places for missing family members, Stewart's Anderson breaks down reciting grace. He heads for the one secure point in his world (cue hankies).

"There's not much I can tell you about this war," he says, standing beside his wife's grave. "It's like all wars, I guess. The undertakers are winning. And the politicians who talk about the glory of it. And the old men who talk about the need of it. And the soldiers, well, they just want to go home. … I wish I could just know what you're thinking about it all, Martha." Church bells ring in the distance. "You never give up, do you?" he says.

His old feisty self, Anderson rallies his family for Sunday services. They slide into their customary pew, but a different family from the one that rode out in quest of the boy. As the congregation rises in a chorus of "Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow," in a movie moment, his lost son, balanced on a crutch, stumbles into the church and into his father's arms. Anderson, for the first time, sings the words of a hymn.

Isn't that what Thanksgiving is all about? We try our best. If we don't try we don't do. We plow, sow, harvest and cook and pause to remember from Whom all blessings flow.

Update: Heading to Iowa this weekend, not to start a presidential exploratory committee but to pick up daughter, Justice is Blonde, for the Thanksgiving weekend. To each wishes for a Thanksgiving as it was meant to be.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Yahoo and MediaNews Group form partnership

Posted by Craig Westover | 9:09 AM |  

You read it first here and then here, and today in the Pioneer Press --
MediaNews Group, which owns the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and six other major newspaper publishers plan to announce today a broad partnership with Internet search giant Yahoo Inc. that intends to deliver employment listings, advertising, Internet search capabilities and news content throughout their respective Web sites.
As the article notes, online operations represent about 20 percent of MediaNews profits and essentially all of its revenue growth.

The biggest decline in newspaper revenue is loss of lucrative classified advertising. The quickest revenue boost of the deal for both Yahoo and newspapers will come from online job listings.

This is a good move for the newspapers involved, but making it work is going to take a real cultural change among newspaper publishers. The cardinal rule of newspapers has always been, don’t dilute the main product – the printed paper. In the Internet age, the paper itself might just become a billboard to push readers to the newspaper’s web site.

If you think about it, it’s a case of Theodore Levitt’s “Marketing Myopia.” Newspapers have to figure out what business they are really in (hint: it’s not publishing a newspaper).

Newspapers have two functions or core competencies. The first is collecting news (the method of dissemination just happens to be a printed newspaper); the second is putting advertisers in contact with customers (which a newspaper does in broadcast fashion – high circulation attracts lots of potential customers with a low conversion rate to sales). The Internet provides a different means of diseminating the news (print, audio and video) and putting advertisers in contact with customers (one-to-one advertising, lower target audience with higher conversion rate).

My prediction: Some smart executive is going to figure out that with the ease of producing video and posting it on the Internet, there is no reason a newspaper can’t produce a video newscast or video version of the daily paper for its website and sell advertising on the broadcast news model.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

COLUMN -- The candidate may have sunk, but his ideas are on the rise

Posted by Craig Westover | 7:33 AM |  

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Well, after a hard-fought, photo-finish campaign between Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Democrat Attorney General Mike Hatch, we find out who had the best ideas to move Minnesota forward — Independence Party candidate Peter Hutchinson.

Republican Pawlenty kicked off his campaign riffing that Minnesota's "worst nightmare" is "big spending, tax raising, abortion promoting, gay marriage embracing, more welfare without accountability loving, school reform resisting, illegal immigrant supporting Democrats." Since last week's sleepless election night, he's focused his rhetoric on the "meat and potatoes issues that most Minnesotans are concerned about" — Hutchinson's litany of education, transportation, health care and the environment.

The new speaker of the Minnesota House, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, a big-spending, tax-raising — you get the point — Democrat said on Public Television's "Almanac" that Hutchinson had some "good ideas" that provide common ground between the "nightmare" Legislature and the Republican governor — less than a week after Democrats were urging Minnesotans not to waste their votes on the Independence Party candidate.

"It turned out to be an election about ideas," Hutchinson told me amid the cacophony of closing down the Team Minnesota campaign office. "They co-opted our ideas. They're all about moving forward now, keeping the main things the main things. After you get over being (angered) about it, it is kind of flattering."

Flattering, yes, but compliments don't build parties. History teaches that third parties merge with one of the major parties — think Democrats and Farmer-Laborites in Minnesota — or they grasp an issue and replace a major party — think the Lincoln-led Republicans replacing the Whig Party on the strength of the abolition movement — or they simply fade away.

The Independence Party has no intention of being co-opted or fading away. Despite gubernatorial vote totals declining from Jesse Ventura's plurality win with 37 percent of the vote in 2002, Tim Penny's 16 percent in 2004 to Hutchinson's 6 percent statewide, the Independence Party is stronger than it's ever been.

"It's ironic," said Hutchinson. "We lost and Ventura won, but we sit here today with more party talent and a bigger, better-financed party than we were in 2002. We have a diverse collection of Republicans and Democrats — heavy hitters, influential people. One thing we did this election is branded the IP as not just the party of Jesse Ventura."

Maybe not the party of Jesse Ventura, but the party of what? Party chairman Jim Moore places the Independence Party's message of fiscal responsibility and social liberty at the center of the political spectrum. While the Independence Party clearly views government as a force for good, government, it understands, has its limits.

"What government should do, it should do well," said Moore. "But it can't fund everything."
And that reality-based distinction is what makes the Independence Party different and viable. Democrats and Republicans play expectation politics. They make promises they simply can't pay for.

"The elections are over," said Hutchinson. "But governing is never over."

The major parties' search for common ground is symptomatic of expectation politics. In the past week, Democrats and Republicans haven't abandoned power politics in a chorus of Kumbaya. Their mutual and first concern is not damaging their respective political positions. Their priority is finding common ground; neither has a comprehensive plan for addressing the main things.

"I'm an optimist" and hope the parties focus on the main things, said Hutchinson. "It should happen. We'll see if the major parties tackle the big stuff or just tinker around the edges of what's important."

Therein lies the role for an Independence Party anticipating 2008 and making a serious run at electing state legislators.

"The Independence Party needs to remind people about what we said during the election," said Hutchinson. "Not in an 'I told you so' way. We need to keep people aware that there are choices based on reality.

"The first reality is to operate from the state revenue forecast, agree there is no new revenue. The next question is, how do we spend what we have more efficiently? That's the method we suggested during the campaign. The major parties start with spending and promises and then try to find revenue. We have other choices."

Without the bully pulpit of a single statewide office or legislative seat, how much actual influence the Independence Party will have on the 2007 legislative session remains to be seen.
But for now, it's more than a little interesting that both Democrats (motto: We're not Republicans) and Republicans (motto: We're not Democrats) are looking to the Independence Party when they need ideas, when they need a plan.

Update: Yesterday, Gov. Pawlenty outlined his health care priorities for the next four years. Key points the Governor made include --

• Universal coverage should be the state's goal.
• A health insurance mandate should be considered.
• The Legislature should cover uninsured kids.
• The state should implement a smoking ban.
• Prescription drug ads should be banned.
• Clinics should receive financial incentives to use electronic records.
• Doctors should be rewarded for low cost and high quality.

If one wants more details or a better understanding of “The Pawlenty Plan," he might check out the Team Minnesota web site and the Independence Party health care plan.

I expressed my praise and concerns for the Independence Party plan here. My main concern is that policy that works in aggregate to lower costs and improve quality through best practices does not always work to the benefit of individual patients. The first principle of medicine is “Do no harm,” not “Be cost efficient.” Policymakers need to look closely at the unintended consequences of motivating physicians through use of “best practices.”

Twila Brase of the Citizen’s Council on Health Care issued the following press release following the Governor’s speech:

For Immediate Release
Tuesday, November 14, 2006

CCHC Provides Response to Today's Speech by Governor Tim Pawlenty

St. Paul, Minnesota -- Twila Brase, president of Citizens' Council on Health Care, provides the following comments-pro and con-to points made by Governor Tim Pawlenty in his speech at the Midwest States Health Reform Summit in Minneapolis. The forum focused on bringing the 2006 Massachusetts universal coverage law and in particular, its controversial health insurance mandate, to Minnesota.

Governor: We must chart a path toward universal coverage.

CCHC: Universal coverage is a government-directed initiative, not a consumer-driven initiative. The discussion should not be about coverage. Coverage is not care. Many people with insurance coverage, including the privately and publicly insured in the U.S. and the entitled in other countries, fight to receive care every day. Health plans and governments use restrictions, bureaucracy, and control of dollars to ration patient access to care.

Governor: I think we should move to universal coverage. We need to move in steps. We've been studying diligently the Massachusetts model. We need to start with covering all kids. That's the logical next step to universal coverage in Minnesota.

CCHC: A health insurance mandate is a boon for insurers, a a bad idea for citizens, and a big step to government-run health care. A mandate is also unconstitutional. Government forces citizens to transfer their hard-earned incomes to the pockets of health plans. In addition, a mandate will not create universal coverage. As the Governor himself said, Minnesota requires car insurance, yet 17% of the public has not complied with the law.

Governor: Television advertising for pharmaceuticals creates consumer-driven appetites and should be limited if not temporarily suspended.

CCHC: Government should not limit citizen access to information on medical treatments. This is a patient protection issue. Health plans and government agencies are building data monitoring systems to direct and control the practice of medicine. If drug and medical device companies are not allowed to advertise, how will citizens and patients ever learn about treatments governments and health plans do not want doctors to tell them about?

Governor: We need to get to the point where we don't need to be a Ph.D to figure out your medical bills.

CCHC: Agreed!

Governor: We need to incentivize or require everybody to go to e-prescriptions.

CCHC: Computerization is not problem-free. Several studies report that electronic prescribing increases medical errors. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found Computerized Physician Order Entry (CPOE) added twenty-two new medical errors.

Governor: We need to pay doctors according to how well they meet recognized standards of care. We won't use a stick approach. We'll use a carrot approach. We'll reward doctors who meet the standards. This system is only going to get more robust.

CCHC: We disagree. This is a big government stick approach. Anyone who is not "rewarded" is penalized. They get a stick. There are no carrots, and increasing robust means increasingly punitive. This approach also permits government to intrude in private medical records and interfere with private medical decisions.

Governor: The role of the HMOs is called into question. Are they just banks? Are they just underwriters of risk? Or are they true partners. What is the health value of what they do? If they are just glorified aggregators of risk that don't meaningfully improve health, we need to chart a different future.

CCHC: We concur. We have long said that HMOs are banks that don't have to give the money back. In fact, they are allowed to write their own definitions of "medical necessity" and deny care based on those definitions. It's time for citizens to "bank" their own dollars, protect their assets, and keep the dollars they need to get the health care they want.

# # #

Citizens' Council on Health Care is a non-profit, independent health care policy
organization that supports free-market ideas in health care.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Golden Oldie -- Now is not the time to turn away from politics

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:30 PM |  

November 10, 2002

[Some ideas are perennials that keep popping up every year. Others are annuals that need to be replanted and nurtured each season. The following column, which appeared in the St. Paul Pioneer Press following the 2002 elections and was posted prior to the 2004 election is a little bit of both. That every cycle politicians flatter voters before elections and insult their intelligence following the election is a hardy perennial occurrence. Given the results on Tuesday, I think this column is especially appropriate to repeat this year. This column also appeared in part in the 11/13 issue of the St. Paul Legal Ledger.]


The election is over. It was a long and difficult campaign season in which the hand of Fate foiled the best-laid plans of parties and politicians. And although each election has its unique story, some themes never change.

It is a paradox of democracy that during campaigns, politicians flatter us with the virtue of wisdom, but after elections they denigrate the wisdom of the daily decisions we make.

Before elections politicians endow us with an admirable intuition. Our understanding of issues and knowledge of candidates is taken for granted. Our will is always right and always a mandate. Our motives are always noble.

Before elections politicians encourage universal participation in the political process. Each of us is urged to vote. By voting, they say, we control our own destinies.

But after elections what do we hear?

Why, the omnipotent wisdom of politicians-anointed-leaders proclaiming the infallibility of plans that determine our destinies and "the futures of our children and our children's children."

"Not a moment is to be lost!" our leaders warn. "We face a plethora of problems that only legislation can solve."

And who caused this crisis?

Why we did, of course! We individuals, who before the election were all wise and all knowing, after the election prove to be anything but.

We made bad choices. We chose to live in the wrong neighborhoods. We bought the wrong kinds of houses. We spent too much on the wrong things; we didn't spend enough on the right things. We harbored the wrong prejudices. We held the wrong beliefs.

We didn't use public transportation. We drove too far to work in the wrong kind of vehicles. Consumed too much of the wrong kind of energy. We ignored our mother, the Earth.

We lacked compassion. We ignored the needs of the sick and the elderly, the children, the disabled and the homeless. We gave to the wrong charities; we didn't give enough. We didn't make enough sacrifices.

Is it any wonder our leaders don't allow us to manage our own lives?

We may be wise voters, but we are incapable of choosing proper education for our children. We won't make wise decisions about our retirement or informed decisions about our health care. We can't even make the right choices about what we eat, drink or inhale.

We are sometimes offensive.

Clearly, we need legislation to ensure we make correct choices about how we live. Clearly we need leaders to teach us the manners of compassion and legislation to enforce the compassion of politically correct manners.

We need politicians to make us good people. To instruct us in our duties. To ensure we succeed.

Or not.

"Too many people place themselves above mankind in order to guide its footsteps," wrote French economic theorist Frederic Bastiat, who first wrote of two views of the electorate. "[T]oo many people," Bastiat lamented, "make a career of being concerned with mankind."

The campaign literature of those whose careers are now guiding the footsteps of Minnesotans declares that each is a "proven leader." Where are all these "leaders" leading us? And why?

Our leaders imply that if we, the people, were allowed to live by our own reason and our own resources, we would surely destroy our communities and ourselves.

They demand the power to impose a better direction — their direction — than we might choose on our own.

They want us to be the means by which their plans are implemented. They want not our minds, but are souls.

Bastiat again: "They want to be shepherds, and they want us to be their sheep."

Now — post election — is not the time to turn away from politics. Now, more than ever, we must be involved and hold elected officials accountable, not to our whims and prejudices, not to emotionally driven initiatives born of tragedy, but to the fundamental principles of just governance.

Just governance is not found in the promise of green pastures for herded sheep; it lies in the quiet humility of one who is lost and seeking directions of a stranger.

Election or not, when it comes to managing your life, who knows the territory better than you?

Don't hesitate to say so.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Sure Michele Bachmann won, but . . . .

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:06 AM |  

First, Michele Bachmann wasn’t going to win the 6th District because she was a right-wing kook. Then she wasn’t going to win because she was such a harsh contrast to the sympathetic Patty Wetterling. Then she was going to lose because the Mark Foley scandal turned the tables on her and highlighted Wetterling. Then she was going to lose because of her appearance at Living Word Christian Center. Then she was going to lose because no newspapers endorsed her and the Pioneer Press sacked her. Then it was her church believed the Pope to the antichrist (when sensible people know the antichrist is Donald Rumsfeld).

And then she won and so we get this --
Democrats could freeze out the 6th Congressional District if they believe Bachmann's hold on her seat is not secure, especially if she follows her past record of taking on highly controversial issues, said Kay Wolsborn, professor of political science at the College of St. Benedict/St. John's University.

"My expectation is that the Republicans remaining in the House are not going to be inclined toward compromise and moderation. Their assessment could be that they lost this election because they strayed from conservative principles," she said. "And Bachmann did not campaign on finding the middle ground."
So now her seat is not secure, and she’ll lose because she sticks to her principles. She’s bound to screw up. Okay.

The law of averages says that someday, Michele Bachmann will lose. (She has to keeping winning, her critics only have to win once.) For the sake of the psyche of her foes, I hope the wait is worth it.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

COLUMN -- What it takes to be an effective follower: Independence, courage of conviction, loyalty and dynamic faith

Posted by Craig Westover | 4:29 AM |  

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

As I write this, sunrise voters are heading to the polls. No matter whom they select, we know they will cast their votes for "a leader." We know because the candidates told us so.

Every candidate claimed to be "a leader." Is it any wonder Congress can't get anything done, with 435 leaders in the House and another 100 leaders in the Senate? Or that the Minnesota Legislature exists in perpetual gridlock? The notion of a legislature of leaders raises the interesting twist on the old metaphysical conundrum — if a leader cuts a path through the forest and nobody follows, is he still leading?

No candidate ever won an election with the campaign slogan, "A strong follower." Yet logically, if not pragmatically, there must be more followers than leaders. Effective leadership requires effective followership. We do much to encourage leadership, too little to cultivate followership.

Of the many traits one might associate with a follower, four are essential to effective followership, which are, not coincidentally, traits one would expect in a leader — independence, courage of conviction, loyalty and dynamic faith.

Independence might seem a strange trait to associate with followership, but it is imperative; an effective follower is a follower by choice. He is neither an opportunist hitching his wagon to someone else's star, nor is he coerced into followership by the promise of reward for submission. One chooses to follow because he accepts that others are better suited to lead, but he never sacrifices his judgment to make that decision. He follows, but not blindly. The effective follower retains his independence and accepts the consequences of his choices — including his choice of leaders.

That segues to the second essential trait of an effective follower, courage of conviction. An effective follower is not attracted to the charismatic demagogue. He does not adapt the leader's convictions; he chooses his leader based on his own convictions. The one place effective followership breaks down more than any other is here: people looking to leaders to supply their beliefs instead of looking to leaders who live their beliefs. Effective followers do not line up behind a leader hoping he will point them in the right direction; they know where to go, but they look to the leader to help them get there.

But what if a leader straysfrom the principles that made him attractive to follow? The effective follower neither rejects nor accepts such a shift without first reconsidering his own position. Effective leaders challenge their followers — otherwise they wouldn't really be leading. Effective followers accept the challenge, but not an obligation to follow. Judgment and choice still come into play. If a leader has no convincing rationale for his change in course, loyalty demands that the effective follower challenge leadership and attempt to bring it back on course. The effective follower's first course of action is not to cut and run, not to revolt. The highest form of loyalty is challenging a leader to live up to the principles that earned him the right to lead.

And thus we come to the final essential trait of effective followership — dynamic faith. A dynamic faith is faith that constantly questions itself. It is a faith that always balances on the fine edge of its own destruction. It is not the blind but safe faith of partisanship. The effective follower freely chooses or rejects his leader based on his own convictions. His leader may fail him, but his convictions do not. While the partisan relies on his leader to provide him with direction and is lost if his leader fails (and thus never dares question leadership), the effective follower doesn't need a leader to show him right from wrong, good from evil or provide his reason for being. The effective follower may lose a leader, but he doesn't lose his direction. It is from the ranks of effective followers, not partisans, that new leaders arise.

The elections are past, we have voted and chosen our leaders. But our responsibility as citizens doesn't end with our votes. Whether we line up behind the elected or fall into step with leaders of the loyal opposition, we ought to still retain our independence, maintain the courage of our convictions, express our loyalty through honest disagreement, and persistently question those in whom we put our faith (before attacking those with whom we disagree). We must focus our faith on our principles, never trusting it to a single leader.

By voting, we made but one choice; we chose our leaders. We have a second choice to make — whether to trail after those leaders as blind partisans or support them as effective followers. And make no mistake — that is a choice, and the choice is ours.

Time to call it a night

Posted by Craig Westover | 3:40 AM |  

Three-thirty-three. Pawlenty has finished his victory speech. Michele Bachmann won. Dean Johnson lost. So did Phil Krinkie, which is for me, personally, the most significant event of the night. More than ever, Krinkie's real fiscal conservatism is needed in Minnesota government. Also significant is why he lost -- he didn't bring home the bacon for his district. Over his career, Krinkie became what we all say we want in a representative -- someone that put the common good of the state (as he saw it) above the short-term good of his district. It cost him. That's a shame.

That said, the Democratic landslide in the House may not be what it at first appears. While a great number of seats went to the DFL, they did not go by a lot of votes. No question the election was a repudiation of the Republican party, but it was not necessarily a repudiation of conservative principles. Minnesota followed a nationwide trend evident in the congressional races -- voters rejected more moderate Republicans and replaced them with somewhat conservative Democrats -- in other words, the election was not a significant philosophical shift. On KSTP's coverage, David Strom made the point several times that it will be interesting to see how the Democratic party sorts out its new mix of inner city liberals and more conservative suburban moderates. That's especially true in the Senate where Johnson, for all his faults, was a strong leader that held his party in check. It remains to be seen if anyone in the DFL can herd cats as wells as Johnson.

Gov. Pawlenty definitely raised is national stock a bundle tonight. In the face of a huge Democratic surge, he managed to survive. A split government is the perfect playing field for the governor's vision of being a "transcedent" governor, one that rises above political partisanship to get things done. That's fine, as long as he can do it without selling out his principles. President Bush tried transcendency with his "compassionate conseratism," and he failed miserably. Whether T-Paw can pull off transcendency remains to be seen. Hint: Stadium-like deals and fees instead of taxes doesn't cut it.

A final note -- the governor's campaign focused on promises to the middle class, where the Democrats usual constituency of "Minnesota's most vulnerable citizens" barely got a mention. The seats won by the Democrats are suburban seats -- not a lot of vulnerability shopping at Kowalski's and Byerley's. Now that they've learned that it's the middle class that goes to the polls and votes, and perhaps realizing that voters expect some return on their vote, it will be interesting to see home much floor time is devoted to traditional Democratic consituencies.

Are we finally going to see an education plan that adresses the achievement gap, for example, or simply more programs targeting benefits for college kids of middle-class families? Are we going to try and solve problems with the health care system, or simply create another middle class entitlement to make the problems less painful? Those are going to be real tests for the new Democratic coalition. Rather than change, we just might see more of the same from a different set of legislators.

Time to call it a night.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Autism Vote

Posted by Craig Westover | 6:09 AM |  

From “Autism and the GOP – Why Parents are Fed UP” by David Kirby, author of “Evidence of Harm.” (Tip of the sou'wester to the indefatigable Anne Dachel.)
Thousands of moms and dads are convinced that environmental toxins - and mercury in particular -- played a pivotal role in their children's illness. But this idea has been very unpopular in George Bush's Washington.

Then came the Combating Autism Act, a sweeping (and long overdue) bill that made its painstaking way through the US Senate earlier this year. Careful consensus was crafted among all major autism groups to help create a nearly $1 billion bill which, among other things, would direct at least $45 million into NIH research on potential environmental causes of autism.

And now, at least 1-in-83 voters will have autism on their mind when heading to the polls. [Kirby is assuming 2 parents for each one autistic child out of 166 live births.] They will wonder why the Combating Autism Act has seemingly died in the House, and why leaders like Speaker Denny Hastert have done little, if anything, to save it.

I know many Republican parents who will be voting Democratic this year. It's not that the opposition party presents any great alternative. But, like with most Americans and Iraq, these fed up voters feel like any change will be a change for the better.
Kirby also notes –
Big Energy and Big Pharma are two of the GOP's most reliable cash cows. They also happen to be responsible for most of the mercury that ends up in our kids. And though the autism-mercury link has yet to be proven, Republican leaders really, really want the issue to just go away.
“Just wanting issues to go away” is a chronic problem for Republicans when they get outside the party's comfort zone. So is running away from their contributors. This year especially Republicans were much more comfortable criticizing the Democrats’ solutions on issues like health care and social security than articulating why their solutions are better. They never got past the sound bite level.

Amy Klobuchar constantly attacked Mark Kennedy on Big Pharma money, like she did on his votes supporting President Bush. Kennedy never really had a good answer to her interest-group attacks. His only response was to attack her for holding Pharma stock in a 401K account. Robert Fitzgerald scored in Sunday’s debate when he pointed out that both Kennedy and Klobuchar took interest group money and therefore, he implied, couldn't be independent.

I’m not against interest group contributions because in the end policy stands or falls on its own merits -- and to many parents of autistic kids, Republican policy on autism falls. If you take the money, you have to be prepared to defend your independence. Neither major party did a good job of that, but this year Democrats did a better job exploiting the follow the money theme.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

On Judi Dutcher's ethanol comment

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:55 AM |  

Honesty is refreshing, but it is not an excuse.

Update: Independence Party candidate Peter Hutchinson's statement:
"I have known Judy Dutcher for many years; I consider her a friend. And I know that she is no dummy. I am confident that she asked Mike Hatch to brief her on his plan for energy independence. So, I went to his website and looked it up. It is 27 pages long with 217 footnotes. But the word“ethanol” does not appear a single time.

Tim Pawlenty is wrong to attack only Judy Dutcher on this issue; the problem is that Mike Hatch has no plan for how to make ethanol an important and sustainable feature of howwe solve our long-term energy needs.

In contrast, I worked side-by-side with my running mate, Dr. Maureen Reedand our Team mates (John James for Attorney General, Lucy Gerold for StateAuditor, and Joel Spoonheim for Secretary of State) to develop a bold, comprehensive environmental and energy plan. I encourage the voters of Minnesota to read it on our website - - and ask any one of us about how we plan to move the state forward in the energy arena. We did the same for our plans for reforming health care, educationand transportation. Our team is ready to take the field and move forwardon these issues.”
I disagree with some of the finer detail in each of Hutchinson's plans, but the key point is -- He has plans. Both Hatch and Pawlenty offer a lot of one-off options, but neither put their options in the context of the larger issues.

70 percent of money to the classroom is great; so is lowering college tuition. But what about the achievement gap? E-85, okay. A 20 percent ethanol mandate, maybe. But what happens when we we run up against the water-use wall or the corn-consumption wall in ethanol production? Hutchinson lays out plans -- the major, and an important distinction between him and the other candidates.

No New Retirement Plans

Posted by Craig Westover | 11:29 AM |  

A guess it's not really a pledge, just a promise, but I'm at a loss to explain how the kind of commitment described in this press release from Americans United differs in form from supporting a "No New Taxes" pledge. It's an inflexible commitment to an outside interest group.

One can argue the details and practicality of various social security "choice" or "privatization" plans, but the motivation behind them is looking for a way to provide a higher monthly retirement income for people, enabling an estate to inherit a person's total social security payments plus interest in the event a person dies before retirement, secure a person's retirement income in a personal account with real money and not a government IOU, create a system that is not dependent on workforce size fluctuations and finally create a system that is not subject to government increasing taxes or retirement age to make it solvent.

Making the “Golden Promise” says we’re not going to look at any of those possible benefits. Instead, we’re going, without any flexibility, to preserve the current system irrespective of whether it provides the best possible retirement scenario for American seniors. Sounds a lot like “No New Taxes” to me.

Americans United
MEDIA ADVISORY CONTACTS: Tom Kelly (612) 309-3303
November 1st, 2006 Jeremy Funk, (605) 366-3654

Press Conference: Americans United to Salute Patty Wetterling for Making A “Golden Promise” to Protect Social Security From Privatization

Patty Wetterling has graciously accepted the invitation to attend and will highlight her commitment to preserving America ’s most cherished retirement program

Candidates for Congress Owe it to the Voters to Make Clear Whether They Support the Bush Social Security Privatization Plan

St. Paul, Minnesota (November 1st, 2006) – Patty Wetterling will join Americans United for a press conference on the future of Social Security tomorrow, November 2nd, at 10:30 am at the Whitney Senior Center in St. Cloud. As President Bush and his allies in Congress renew their efforts to privatize Social Security early next year, Americans United invited US Rep. Gil Gutknecht (MN-01), his opponent Tim Walz, State Senator Michele Bachmann (MN-06) and her opponent Patty Wetterling, to sign the Americans United “Golden Promise” – a pledge to protect and strengthen Social Security by opposing President Bush’s privatization plan. To date, Walz and Wetterling are the only candidates to have taken the pledge.

Since June President Bush and his allies in Congress have stated that they will bring back the Bush Social Security privatization plan after the November election. Americans United has asked Congressional candidates across the nation to make the “Golden Promise” and tomorrow AU will recognize Patty Wetterling as a champion of Social Security. Minnesotans deserve to know where the candidates stand on the Bush Social Security privatization plan. Congressional Candidates Tim Walz (MN-01) and Patty Wetterling (MN-06) oppose the Bush Privatization Plan and have signed the “Golden Promise” pledge to protect and strengthen Social Security.

Text of the Golden Promise:

Social Security guarantees Americans that if they work hard, contribute, and play by the rules, they have earned the right to retire in dignity, and their families will be protected in the event of disability or death.

We are united in our commitment to strengthen Social Security, not privatize it. We will work to improve the retirement security of all Americans and will oppose any scheme for deep benefit cuts or massive debt to fund risky private accounts. Protect Social Security, Stop Privatization