Friday, December 12, 2008


Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich has been indicted by the federal government on charges that include scheming to sell President-Elect Obama's Senate seat for money or other personal gain. Based on published comments and demands that Governor Blagojevich resign, one would think that indictment and conviction mean the same thing. They do not, and Americans should act like we know they are not the same thing.

An indictment is nothing more than an accusation by a prosecutor that the person named in the indictment has engaged in criminal conduct. In the case of Governor Blagojevich, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald has leveled the accusations. Governor Blagojevich has been arrested and released on his own recognizance pending the outcome of the case. No persons have been summoned for jury duty in this case, let alone selected to hear the evidence. No trial date has been set. No witnesses have been subpoenaed for trial. Nothing has been introduced into evidence. No verdict has been returned.

Governor Blagojevich is not guilty. In the United States, a criminal finding of guilt requires one of three things. The accused person must either be tried by a jury which returns a verdict of guilt, must be tried by a judge who renders a finding of guilt, or must make a voluntary and intelligent plea of guilt which is then accepted by a judge. Governor Blagojevich has not been found guilty. He has not made a guilty plea nor been convicted by a jury or judge. Governor Blagojevich is not guilty.

One need not hold a law degree to know that indictment is not conviction, no matter how incriminating the circumstances may be surrounding the indictment. Every accused person is presumed innocent in every criminal case. There is no politician exception, no Illinois exception, and no exception for indictments that level charges of influence peddling. Although the airwaves have been cluttered by calls for Governor Blagojevich to resign from public officials ranging from President-Elect Obama to leaders in the U.S. Senate, there is no requirement that an indicted person resign. Remember, an indicted person is presumed innocent.

The Blagojevich matter is newsworthy because public officials should not seek private gain in exchange for public policy actions and should refrain from attempts to do so. However, the only news is that Blagojevich has been indicted based on secret recordings of statements that he allegedly made at various times.

Whether those statements amount to proof of any crime will be determined according to the rigorous process involved in criminal trials. Will the recorded statements be admitted into evidence? Will there be other evidence that mitigates Blagojevich, or undercuts the credibility of the proof against him? What the evidence will be and whether jurors will believe it are open questions, among others.

While U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald believes that Governor Blagojevich is guilty, his belief is not evidence. Fitzgerald's comments about the case are not evidence now and will not amount to evidence even when (and if) there is a trial. Governor Blagojevich is under no obligation to prove his innocence. U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald must prove every element of every charge beyond a reasonable doubt before Blagojevich can be found guilty. Fitzgerald may believe that he has a strong case. He is entitled to say that he has a strong case. Neither his views about the case nor his comments make a case against Blagojevich. As the saying goes, talk is cheap.

Meanwhile, Fitzgerald and the rest of us have no right to behave as if suspicion equals guilt. No matter who holds the suspicion, or who is suspected, criminal guilt is always determined by proof. Unless and until that happens, Blagojevich should be treated like an innocent person who has been charged with political corruption.

Political corruption is wrong. The same is true for treating accused persons as if we do not believe our talk about the presumption of innocence. If we believe that suspicions and accusations amount to guilt, we will either stop holding trials or make a mockery of the trials we conduct. If we believe that accusations do not take the place of trial proof, we will stop treating accused persons as if they have been convicted.

Governor Blagojevich is not guilty. He is presumed innocent of all the charges. Let us respect his right to a fair trial by acting like we understand what this means.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


U.S. political and economic leaders recently admitted that that the national economy is in recession and that the recession began as long ago as December 2007. Their admission merely confirms what many Americans have long known, or at least suspected. It is revealing that the financial and political leaders responsible for forecasting and managing economic health are among the last to recognize, or at least admit, what has been obvious to the rest of us. After all, the ability to assess current realities and develop strategies for action based on estimates of likely events has long been recognized as a fundamental leadership skill.

No leader is foolproof or infallible, so a certain risk of error is always present even with the most careful planning. However, leaders are expected to be able to evaluate facts, relate existing facts to historical lessons, calculate sensible contingency plans, and implement those plans based on changing situations. Those skills are fundamental for every leader in all situations. Indeed, as leaders are entrusted with more responsibility and power, they are expected to possess and demonstrate these fundamental skills with greater ability. And, when the occasional crisis occurs, leaders must manage the crisis with competence.

Competent crisis leadership includes the ability to avoid panic thinking and behavior. Granted, it is easier to talk about avoiding panic than to develop rational responses during crisis situations. On the other hand, competent leadership is never about doing what is easy. Panic is not a competent response to a crisis, however overwhelming the crisis may seem or actually be. During a crisis, leaders should follow the counsel that is most often found in the Hebrew-Christian religious texts: fear not.

Competent crisis leadership also involves identifying and protecting people and other resources that are more vulnerable because of the crisis. The current economic crisis will affect some persons and sectors of the nation more than others because of their special vulnerability. Leaders who do not or cannot recognize that reality, or who somehow cannot or will not create and implement sensible plans in view of it, are not ethically competent no matter what their other strengths may be.

That ethical component of crisis leadership has been brought into sharp focus by the way political leaders rushed to approve legislation that provides hundreds of billions of dollars to protect the investment banking industry. Meanwhile, homeowners facing foreclosure, automobile manufacturers and their workers, suppliers, pensioners, and other apparently less-influential but more vulnerable actors are still waiting to be rescued. Some political leaders and other commentators have openly questioned whether any federal relief should be provided to them.

The reluctant and, in some instances aggressive, refusal to protect such obviously vulnerable persons brings Hurricane Katrina to mind. That unpleasant memory is more painful, if not bitter, because as with Katrina, some of the political leaders who question whether the federal government should rescue vulnerable people in the current crisis boasted about their belief in "moral values" when they were seeking political office. Those leaders appear to have forgotten that concern for and protection of people in vulnerable situations is a basic principle common to all respected moral and religious systems.

The present economic crisis is also revealing about moral leadership in the religious and journalism professions. The news media pay close attention to the supposed political influence of religious conservatives in affecting election outcomes. Yet, hardly anything has been reported about how religious leaders are responding to the economic crisis, or even their present failure to be as forceful on behalf of the vulnerable as they have tried to be when working to influence elections and boost the political clout of their religious constituencies.

It has been amazing, but certainly not amusing, to observe the silence of religious leaders and organizations compared to their almost deafening rhetoric at other times. Where is the prophetic spirit of Martin King, Amos, Micah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Jesus? What is the evidence that current U.S. religious leaders, of all political views, are advocating ethical public policies by political leaders? When will U.S. religious leaders remind political leaders about their moral duty to protect poor, weak, elderly, immigrant, young, and other vulnerable people during this crisis?

The recession offers several revelations about the state of political, economic, journalistic, and moral leadership in American society. These revelations are not flattering. It remains to be seen what lessons current and emerging American leaders will draw from them. There is much to be learned.

Friday, November 28, 2008


The Bush-Cheney presidency is drawing to the close of its actual tenure (not to be confused with its long term consequences). The news media and public are understandably focused on the transition process associated with the coming Obama-Biden administration, the dire state of the national economy, and continued threats to national security. In doing so, we should not forget I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. His name and eventual pardon by President Bush may become the last defining act of the Bush-Cheney presidency, the consummate victory for Vice President Richard B. Cheney, and may cast a long shadow on the character of U.S. public policy.

Scooter Libby, a former high-powered Washington attorney and political figure with the neoconservative wing of the Republican Party, is the former chief of staff for Vice President Cheney. Libby leaked the covert CIA identity of Valerie Plame after Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, authored a truthful opinion editorial in the New York Times that exposed the Bush-Cheney administration lie about Saddam Hussein having purchased uranium from Niger. The Bush-Cheney White House used that lie to persuade Congress and the American public to support waging war against Iraq. After Wilson's op ed column exposed the lie, Scooter Libby led the attack against Wilson by claiming, among other things, that Valerie Plame, a covert CIA agent, had sponsored Wilson's trip to Niger which led to his discovery and revelation that the Bush-Cheney White House was lying.

When U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed to investigate, Libby lied to the FBI and later to a grand jury, claiming that he learned about Plame's CIA identity from a member of the news media. In truth, Vice President Cheney told Libby about Plame's covert identity, and Libby leaked her identity to the media afterwards. A federal jury convicted Libby on charges of making false statements, perjury, and obstruction of justice, and he was sentenced to thirty months in prison and a $250,000 fine. Libby immediately paid the fine, and President Bush promptly spared him from serving a prison sentence by commuting that part of his punishment. Libby then surrendered his license to practice law. He remains, for now at least, a convicted felon who lied about his role in exposing the identity of a covert U.S. intelligence operative.

Scooter Libby deliberately divulged the identity of a covert U.S. intelligence agent—a blatant violation of national security—and then lied about doing so. Many people believe that his deceit was undertaken to shield his boss, Vice President Cheney, from exposure. After all, Cheney told Libby about Plame's CIA identity. Cheney advocated taking the nation to war against Iraq and helped spread the lie that Saddam Hussein purchased uranium from Niger. It is reasonable to infer that Libby did Cheney's bidding when he exposed Plame's identity and that Libby lied to protect Cheney.

President Bush campaigned for office in 2000 promising to restore integrity to the presidency. Far from doing that, his presidency may be remembered as the most corrupt and incompetent in American history. The Bush Administration ignored intelligence warnings about Al Qaeda designs on attacking the United States weeks before the 9/11/01 attacks; it then used the attacks as the reason to suppress civil liberties through the USA PATRIOT Act. More than 4,000 U.S. military personnel have been killed in the Iraq War, and tens of thousands more have been physically and psychologically scarred. The Iraq War has cost almost 750 billion dollars, continues at ten billion more each month, has been marked by colossal fraud and other alleged misconduct by government contractors with political ties to the Bush-Cheney political operation, and has brought the image of the United States as a nation committed to respect for law and morality to its lowest point in recent memory. We may never know how many Iraqi civilians have been killed and maimed, but some observers estimate that the number exceeds 600,000.

If (when) President Bush pardons Scooter Libby as a political favor in the closing days or hours of his presidency, Vice President Cheney, Libby, and their neoconservative colleagues who lobbied for and have profitted from the Iraq War will celebrate the pardon and their private gains. The pardon will be the final defiant act by which the Bush-Cheney presidency demonstrates its colossal arrogance, duplicity, corruption, hypocrisy, and incompetence. It will also be further evidence why so many Americans no longer trust Republicans to govern the future of our nation. Americans now realize that for this group, public office is not viewed as a way to advance the national interest, but is merely a vehicle for hoarding private gains and settling personal vendettas.

Richard Nixon's presidency ended after Watergate in disgrace with his resignation. The Bush-Cheney presidency will end on a much more disgraceful note if Scooter Libby is pardoned.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The "New South" Myth

Much has been said and written over the past four decades about what some observers term the "New South." These observers are quick to emphasize that Douglas Wilder, a black man, was elected governor of Virginia and served from 1990 to 1994. Wilder is currently mayor of Richmond, Virginia. Of course, Atlanta is often heralded as a shining example of racial progress, and is viewed as a Mecca of sorts for young professionals who desire to live and work in the South.

That said, only the most seriously mis-informed or constitutionally naïve among us would suggest that the rest of the South comes close to resembling what has occurred in Richmond and Atlanta. Arkansas, my home state, has consistently refused to elect black officials to statewide office. Except for the states of Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia, Barack Obama received a lower percentage of votes from white Democratic voters in the 2008 presidential election than John Kerry polled in 2004. Obama did not match Kerry in Georgia, where Atlanta is the capital city.

The 2008 presidential election result shines a bright light on the "New South" myth. It is certainly true that black people are less likely to be terrorized when attempting to register and vote than was true forty years ago. It is true that state and local governmental agencies in Southern communities are less likely to be exclusively white. Municipal, county, and state legislative bodies now include black representatives in larger numbers. None of us should deny these changes, nor should we minimize their importance.

However, we should not exaggerate the meaning of those changes or ignore current realities because of them. On the night of November 4, black students at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Arkansas assembled peacefully to celebrate Barack Obama's election. They were eventually confronted by police who demanded that they disperse. Several students were arrested and accusations of police misconduct that resulted in injuries to several persons have been leveled. Whatever may be the political and legal outcomes of this experience, it reminds one of a time forty years ago when Freedom Riders were attacked by police, Bull Connor's police dogs and fire hoses were turned on student protesters in Birmingham, Alabama, and Alabama police attacked civil rights marchers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

On November 4, 2008, most of the nation signaled its interest in and commitment to inter-racial progress. Sadly, most of "the New South" revealed that the more things change, the more things remain the same.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Still Missing the Point

In his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. bemoaned the failure of white religious leaders in the South to embrace the cause of nonviolent change to the discriminatory voting and social practices that led the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to focus on Birmingham, Alabama. Dr. King openly wondered what kind of God could be worshipped and proclaimed by churches that refused to embrace nonviolent resistance to race discrimination and political disenfranchisement. Forty years after King's death, it is noteworthy that except for North Carolina and Virginia, voters in southern states were not part of the dramatic voting that resulted in the election of Barack Obama as the next President of the United States. White voters who supported John Kerry in 2004 in those southern states turned out in fewer numbers for Obama in 2008. In comments published by news media after the election, some white southern voters expressed open resentment about the idea of a black person leading the nation as President.

In Martin King and former President Jimmy Carter, the South produced two Nobel Peace Prize honorees. Yet, Carter's open willingness to engage in cross-cultural peacemaking efforts in the United States and around the world has yet to be affirmed by religious leaders in the South. Although King and Carter were products of a long tradition of Baptist life, they remain prophets without honor in their home region. Carter, former President Bill Clinton, and former Vice President Al Gore, are known for their cross-cultural inclusiveness. Their appeals to other southerners to embrace Obama apparently fell on deaf ears.

Perhaps the South does not suffer from deafness, but from an equally disabling and potentially more profound condition. The fact that southern religious leaders and other opinion leaders remain unconvinced about (if not altogether hostile toward) the kind of social progress that marked King's ministry, Carter's political efforts, and Obama's call for inclusive political change reminds one of the Rip Van Winkle fairy tale. Washington Irving's delightful fairy tale is set in a New York village during the colonial era. However, its moral has profound and universal meaning. The tale is especially applicable to southern white voters and religious leaders who appear to have slept, like Rip Van Winkle, through the demographic, attitudinal, and other revolutions of the past four decades.

In his sermon, Sleeping through a Revolution, Dr. King emphasized that Van Winkle slept through the entire American Revolution. When Rip began his nap New York was a British Colony. When he awakened, New York was part of the United States. Rip lay down as a British subject. He awakened to find himself a citizen of the United States. Rip not only missed a few days but slept through the change of an entire era of world history.

Given the published comments of some southern white voters since the 2008 presidential election, one wonders whether the soul of the old Confederacy is merely asleep, or is comatose. One thing is clear. Like Van Winkle, the South desperately needs to be awakened. Comatose patients either awaken or die.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Myths of Transcending Race and Post-Racialism

Over the past several days, the world has been treated to many comments about "transcending race" and the beginning of a "post-racial" era in the United States because Barack Obama has been elected President of the United States. According to some commentators, Obama was elected because he somehow "transcends race." Because Obama supposedly "transcends race," the United States can now consider itself in a "post-racial" era. Such comments demonstrate how poorly the social construct of race is understood, the equally poor understanding about unconscious racism and its influence, and how the commentators project their own cultural incompetence onto someone like Obama, whose identity suggests merely a cultural difference to be navigated, not a cultural defect to be "transcended."

Barack Obama understands and accepts his racial identity, as any reader of his books will know. Yet, his writings also demonstrate that Obama does not consider his racial identity something to be transcended. He is a black man in a multi-racial world, and is as comfortable with his biracial identity as he is blood type. Neither factor defines Obama's character, intellect, political skills, or world view. The idea that Obama "transcends" his racial identity is as absurd as stating that Obama "transcends" being left-handed.

What the talk about Obama "transcending race" and that his election signals the start of a "post-racial era" actually demonstrates is our poor understanding about the impact of cultural incapacity and racism, be it conscious or unconscious, on even supposedly informed analysis and reflection about human conduct. The truth is that racial minority group members are not prevented from success because of their race. Racial identity does not make a person more or less thoughtful, articulate, gracious, civil, and competent. However, people have historically used racial identity to reward some people with unmerited advantages, while penalizing others with unmerited disadvantages, in the ongoing competition for power, wealth, and influence in the United States.

Obama's election marks the first time in U.S. history when racial identity has not worked that way. However, we should not distort its meaning by declaring that Obama somehow "transcended race," was a "post-racial candidate," or that his election has birthed a "post-racial era." As long as we think that racial identity must be "transcended," rather than considered merely an incident of humanity, race will continue to be a social construct used for issuing unmerited rewards and penalties to people we consider culturally different.

People whose racial identity is different do not justify our automatic fears, suspicions, and misgivings. Regardless to racial identity, every person has the wonderful potential to contribute joy, truth, and worth to our society and deserves acceptance as a morally accountable soul of inestimable worth. To perceive people whose racial identity is different from one's own in that light is not a matter of "transcending race," but an exercise in rejecting racism as a legitimate factor in the way we form judgments about and interact with others. Absent racism and its unwitting impact on how we think and behave, no one would speak of others needing to "transcend race," in order to merit approval or disapproval. We need a "post-racism" era, not one that is somehow "post-racial."

Obama did not transcend race, nor did the Americans who cast their votes for him, because no person can transcend racial identity, either their own or that of anyone else. What Obama and most American voters did was refuse to allow the decision on who should lead our nation to turn on racism, meaning the view that Obama is somehow less worthy to be trusted to lead the nation on account of his racial identity. Theirs was not color-blind decision-making which ignored the reality of Obama's racial identity, either for Obama or the voters who supported him. Rather, it was race-neutral decision-making, which acknowledged Obama's racial identity but refused to vest it with the illegitimate power to disqualify Obama from being elected on account of his racial identity.

Rather than speaking about a color-blind or "post-racial" society, the pundits and other observers of the Obama election should hope that it marks a society committed to "post-racism." We are not likely to do so, however, if we cannot or will not accurately judge what his triumph means.

The Triumph of Hope

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Cultural Incompetence Overtakes the Republican Party

The election of Barack Obama as 44th President of the United States is a political victory for Obama and Vice President-Elect Joe Biden, his running mate. It also represents the cultural incompetence of the Republican Party, its leading strategists, and the rejected candidacy of John McCain and Sarah Palin.

The population of the United States has never been homogenous. However, a review of news footage of Republican National Conventions over the past several election cycles quickly reveals that the Republican Party lacks even a respectable handful of non-white attendees at its quadrennial gatherings.

The Republican Party lacks any semblance of non-white involvement at its state and local levels. The Grand Ole Party points with pride to the historical fact that Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and presided over the Civil War which ultimately led to the start of political freedom for black people. However, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, certainly the most respected black Republican of our time, finds his political party an uncomfortable association. Aside from Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Powell, most people are hard pressed to identify a black Republican at the national level. There are no black Republican elected federal office holders.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is of Indian ancestry. By any legitimate political measure, Governor Jindal is a rising political figure within the Republican Party. He is a fiscal conservative and a devout Catholic, having converted from Hindu while in high school. Governor Jindal graduated with honors from Brown University and is a Rhodes Scholar. He won election as U.S. Congressman from Louisiana's 1st Congressional District, and is the first Indian-American governor in U.S. history. Jindal also served as U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Planning and Evaluation during the Bush Administration before he left that post to mount his successful race for governor.

However, there is little evidence that the GOP has consulted Jindal about ways to attract other persons of color. Moreover, and tellingly, Jindal has been quoted as saying that he never was approached by John McCain about being a vice presidential candidate. That McCain would not even approach Jindal about being a candidate given his substantial resume, yet chose Sarah Palin (about whom more will be said later in this essay), says a great deal about McCain's ability to evaluate personnel, not to mention McCain's cultural incompetence and that of his political strategists and GOP advisors. A national political party that ignores a sitting governor of color as a potential running mate in the face of a ticket consisting of another person of color (Obama) and another Catholic (Biden) suffers from colossal political and cultural incompetence.

Because of the abortion issue, some within the GOP hoped it would be embraced by the rising Hispanic population. Hispanics now out-numbers blacks as the nation's largest non-white population. Until the presidential election of 2008, the GOP could count on support from the influential Cuban-American population in Florida, largely due to the anti-Castro positions espoused by the GOP.

However, Hispanic voters have been offended by Republican policies. Karl Rove, who counted on Hispanic voters to be part of the GOP political base for the foreseeable future, failed to realize that anti-immigrant rhetoric and policy positions would eventually alienate Hispanic voters in California, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Florida, and elsewhere. GOP leaders apparently did not notice that Hispanic voters are not politically homogenous, and that younger Hispanic voters found Republican policy positions and rhetoric off-putting, if not racist and xenophobic. Younger Cuban-Americans are as repelled by Communism as their elders, but they are hardly single-issue voters. Moreover, Republican policy positions and rhetoric are often associated with the strident faction of the GOP often identified as "religious conservatives," a largely white voter constituency to which John McCain shamelessly pandered when he selected Sarah Palin as his running mate.

McCain also pandered women voters when he selected Palin. It was interesting to observe Republican pundits and members of the news media opine that Palin would somehow induce women who supported Senator Hillary Clinton to forsake the Obama-Biden ticket in favor of McCain and Palin. Hillary Clinton is a respected figure regarding U.S. public policy. Sarah Palin was a relative unknown before McCain selected her as his running mate, and is nowhere close to Clinton on any public policy issue. Clinton is unmistakably and indisputably smart, both politically and academically. If Palin is smart, she failed to demonstrate it. McCain's pandering selection of Palin as his running mate was not only politically disastrous, but was also culturally blind.

When pandering to voters who are culturally different is the first and strongest strategy a political organization and its leadership have for attracting support, the strategy is effective only if the voters are politically uninformed and/or if they have no better choices. In 2008, the Obama-Biden ticket was embraced by well-informed voters across a wide spectrum of backgrounds, identities, and interests. By contrast, the McCain-Palin ticket exposed cultural incompetence within the GOP at every level. While the Obama campaign actively recruited and openly included younger voters from all backgrounds, the McCain campaign was run by older white men and religious fundamentalists who pandered to everyone else and built its strategy on fomenting distrust for Obama.

Republicans tried the same policies and tactics of divisiveness, distrust, and alienation in 2008 that have been their mainstay since the Richard Nixon presidency. That approach worked for Nixon in 1968 and 1972, for Ronald Reagan in 1980 and 1984, for George H.W. Bush in 1988, and worked for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. It did not work in 2008 because American voters are more culturally diverse than ever, while GOP strategists are as culturally incompetent as they were when Nixon was elected in 1968. Obama understood the meaning and implications of that incompetence and exploited it at every turn throughout the long presidential campaign. Republican political strategy ignored cultural realities, which explains why McCain-Palin campaign events looked and sounded as if they could have occurred in 1968, except for the fact that Palin was on the ticket. Somehow, none of the supposedly smart strategists within the Republican Party appreciated that Palin's selection represented tokenism at its worst, not respect for diversity.

One wonders whether anyone among Republican strategists now engaged in hand-wringing, navel-gazing, and fault-finding about the political losses suffered during the 2008 elections will identify cultural incompetence as one of the most powerful factors for the current plight of that political party. I doubt it. Few, if any, of the GOP presidential contenders are known for being culturally sensitive. The GOP does not listen to Colin Powell. Like President Bush, the GOP pimped Powell's cultural competence and political acumen, while it questioned his relevance, until he endorsed President-Elect Obama. One doubts that Powell has been invited since then to counsel GOP strategists about how to navigate out of the cultural and political wilderness in which they find themselves. As my father would often say, that would be too much like right.

What President-Elect Obama said of McCain's campaign team during the campaign was true about strategists within the Republican Party as a whole. They were out of touch, out of date, and running out of time. On November 4, 2008, time ran out. Now the cultural incompetents are going out of power. George W. Bush should henceforth be remembered as Cultural Incompetent in Chief. Karl Rove, his political architect, chief handler, and the person once hailed by GOP strategists and political pundits as a political genius, should be remembered as a cultural moron.

Cultural incompetence led Bush and Company to invade Iraq and mire the United States in a military morass that will overshadow the tragic experience in Vietnam. Cultural incompetence partly explains their callous insensitivity while Hurricane Katrina approached the Gulf Coast and their casual behavior while New Orleans drowned. Cultural incompetence partly explains Bush Administration "war on terrorism" and "enemy combatant" policies that even the U.S. Supreme Court (an institution not at all known for demonstrating cultural competence) consistently rejected. Incompetence, cultural and otherwise, eventually results in failure.

The Grand Ole Party is merely the Party of old, but hardly grand, cultural incompetence. That affliction produced a political bankruptcy every bit as unpleasant as current U.S. economic and military problems which also result, to some extent, from cultural incompetence. It is doubtful that GOP strategists recognize their affliction. It is also unlikely that they are humble and honest enough to admit their condition, let alone undergo treatment for it.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Cultural Competence and the Election of Barack Obama

When historians, political scientists, and sociologists reflect on the election of Barack Obama as 44th President of the United States, and when Americans of all ages, backgrounds, and political views do so, we should recall that his election starkly demonstrated the power and implications of cultural competence. President-Elect Obama demonstrated what cultural competence is, how it functions, and the potential that it carries.

Barack Obama is culturally competent. By that, I mean he is able to do more than recognize cultural differences, but is able to relate to people in ways that transcend our cultural difference without minimizing them, exaggerating them, or viewing them as threats to himself or our nation. In the face of cynicism, criticism, skepticism, and outright appeals to jingoism, President-Elect Obama personifies cultural competence in all its shades of meaning.

Let no one forget that Obama is competent handling the social construct of race. His competence should not be merely attributed to his biracial identity as the son of a Kenyan black man and Kansas white woman. Biracial identity is neither a guarantee of competence about diversity, nor an impediment to it.

Obama's competence extends also to handling generational, ability, and experience differences. More than any other contender during the campaign, Barack Obama harnessed the genius, energy, and hope of people of every generation, skill set, and history.

Obama also is different from every other contender by the way he blended existing and emerging technological resources. He took the street savvy of a community organizer and yoked it to the universality of Internet and social networking. In doing so, President-Elect Obama demonstrated his ability to attract people with divergent skills to achieve a feat that can only be termed historic.

All of these factors should be carefully studied, discussed, and debated by serious people, especially those of us responsible for evaluating and choosing leaders. Unfortunately, most organizations rarely do more than give lip service to the skills that Obama has displayed with elegant effectiveness. Despite what they say, most leadership selection committees put more emphasis on what candidates have done than on what skills they have for working in transformational ways with people from different identities, skills, and generations. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that their organizations merely continue age old inequities rather than heal them.

Every leader must cope with the certainty of unpredictability. No one can predict how well President-Elect Obama will lead, how much cooperation he will receive, and how he will respond to unforeseeable challenges. What is clear, however, is that Obama has demonstrated competence in addressing change, differences, and managing change and differences in ways that are proactive and productive.

It is equally clear, at least to observers who are culturally competent, that the people who were defeated by President-Elect Obama never demonstrated anything close to his skill in negotiating cultural differences. Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin openly campaigned in ways that were culturally insensitive at best, if not divisive. Their campaign, like the campaigns of the other presidential candidates from both major parties, focused on identifying and using differences as tools for dividing people, not bringing different people together.

It remains to be seen what the Republican Party will learn and what it will do from the lessons it draws from the Obama victory. From the time of Richard Nixon and George Wallace, the GOP has deliberately worked to exploit fears and distrust while attempting to incite hostility by working class white Americans against persons of color, immigrants, and persons who are branded "different." During the 2004 presidential election and 2006 Congressional mid-term elections, the GOP demonstrated its continued reliance on the tactics of Nixon and Wallace. That reliance (which could also be described as an obsession) is demonstrated by the "culture wars" strategy employed and embraced by the GOP in this and previous elections.

Barack Hussein Obama (yes, I used his middle name)openly defied and brilliantly defeated the "culture war" approach to politics with a multi-racial, multi-cultural, and trans=generational army of people from divergent political, social, economic, educational, and sexual backgrounds. For two generations, the Grand Ole Party held itself out as the exclusive bastion of American values, and rejected appeals from moderate Republicans to treat people who are different as equals rather than suspicious. It remains to be seen whether Republican leaders will understand how their arrogant divisiveness and disdain for diversity (championed by Richard Nixon and George Wallace in 1968 and culminating in the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush) has been repudiated by Americans by the Obama landslide victory.

Obama and Bush are very different people, produced by drastically different political constituencies, and with diametrically different views of the world. Obama is intellectually curious. Bush is notoriously not so. Obama respects those who disagree with him. Bush denigrates them. Obama came to power because he enjoys building coalitions, much in the way one does as a community organizer. Bush came to power based on his pedigree and used cronyism as justification for what he did as chief executive.

Cultural competence distinguished Barack Obama during the presidential campaign more than anything else. That quality will be a powerful asset as he leads the United States to address existing and emerging challenges. Whatever the future holds for the President-Elect and the United States he must lead, it is safe to say that he is more than another leader. Barack Hussein Obama, President-Elect of the United States, is a new kind of leader for a new kind of United States. None of us should ignore this reality.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Choices Americans Face in 2008

The 2008 presidential election contest offers American voters the chance to choose among the most remarkable field of candidates ever assembled in the history of American politics. For almost two years, we have observed, heard, questioned, debated, and pondered whether to embrace one of the many candidates. The contest is now in its final days. Voters must choose between the Republican ticket of Arizona Senator John McCain and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, and the Democratic ticket of Illinois Senator Barack Obama and Delaware Senator Joseph Biden.

Especially since the 1980 presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan, voters have been encouraged to elect leaders based on their personal affability. In 2000 and 2004 voters were asked which of the leading presidential candidates would be someone with whom they would feel most comfortable having a social drink. George W. Bush became president after the bitter 2000 election, and was re-elected in 2004, in large part because of such thinking and because voters ignored questions about his political and cultural competence and intellectual honesty. Ironically, an aristocrat whose family wealth guaranteed him access into the most prestigious schools in the nation came to preside over the largest collection of public policy failures in recent American memory because voters viewed him as "likeable."

Personal affability is not to be discounted in public service or anything else. However, it should not be too much to ask that the people who pilot the commercial airliners we ride, the people who treat our physical ailments, and the people who handle our business affairs be competent, above all. The same standard of competence should apply to anyone elected to the highest public offices in our democracy. Those persons should also be inclusive, not narrow-minded. They should respect American notions of liberty, fundamental fairness, and be compassionate toward people who are vulnerable due to age, youth, health issues, economic circumstances, national, religious, and ethnic background, and differences in sexual orientation. American voters must decide between the McCain-Palin and the Obama-Biden teams on something much more important than which of the candidates would make the better drinking companions or hunting and fishing buddies.

We must also decide whether to vote our best hopes and highest ideals or our lowest fears. The nation is engaged in costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The national economy is in shambles. World opinion concerning American leadership is at its lowest point in recent memory. The next president must be able to unite the nation, wisely command our armed forces, and effectively engage our allies and adversaries throughout the world. The next vice president must be able to assume those duties at a moment's notice. Those are not skills any of us usually require of our social companions. They are non-negotiable requirements for anyone aspiring to be chief executive of the United States.

Finally, we must decide whether to be known as people who embrace change with hope or who cringe in fear about the prospect of change. For some people, change is dangerous, frightening, and frustrating. For people who are competent and hopeful, change is the constant factor in life. Humans are adaptable creatures. We function best by applying our remarkable intellectual and social abilities to address changing conditions and new experiences. The American genius has long been that we enjoy the challenge of change and revel in it, not to shrink in fear from change.

The presidential election of 2008, like every presidential election, will reveal as much about the character of American voters as it reveals about the candidates. Will we vote our hopes or our fears? Will we decide based on competence and inclusion? Will we choose a leadership that calls us to face 21st Century challenges together, or will we choose leadership that shrinks from those challenges and fearfully longs for a yesterday that will never return?

The world is watching. The future is waiting. The time for making that fateful choice draws to an end soon. Let us choose wisely.

Wendell Griffen
Judge, Arkansas Court of Appeals
CEO, Griffen Strategic Consulting, PLLC

Saturday, October 11, 2008

This is Your Campaign on Prejudice

Over the past several days Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin have served a steady dose of bigotry, fear-mongering, and character assassination by their suggestions that Senator Barack Obama "pals" with terrorists and holds views that are somehow alien to American notions of democracy. Their campaign stood tacitly by when speakers lampooned Obama because of his middle name (Hussein) which he was given to honor his Kenyan father. Their campaign took no effort to silence or correct people who falsely described his religious beliefs (calling him Muslim when Obama is Christian). When people shouted "kill him" or "off with his head" about Obama during McCain-Palin campaign rallies, neither McCain nor Palin acted displeased.

McCain was visibly condescending toward Obama during their first debate in Oxford, Mississippi on September 26 to the point that he refused to even look at him. During their second debate in Nashville, Tennessee, McCain referred to Obama as "that one," as if Obama was unworthy of being identified as "Senator Obama" or "my opponent." As I witnessed McCain's demeanor during those debates, I recalled the behavior of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice James C. McReynolds, who Woodrow Wilson first named as his Attorney General and later appointed to the Supreme Court after having endured too much of McReynolds' bad temper and poor judgment.

Like McCain, whose intemperance toward his colleagues in the U.S. Senate is well-known, McReynolds was rude toward his colleagues on the Supreme Court and intemperate toward the attorneys who appeared before the Court. McReynolds was openly anti-Semitic and often snubbed Justices Brandeis and Cardozo because of their Jewish faith. And, McReynolds was racist. He once referred to Howard University in Washington, D.C. as a "nigger university." During the oral argument of a landmark desegregation case by Charles Hamilton Houston, a black lawyer who represented the NAACP and who was a former member of the Harvard Law Review, McReynolds turned his chair around so that his back was toward Houston, and stared at the back wall of the courtroom for Houston's entire argument. I recalled McReynolds' conduct when McCain refused to look at Obama during the first debate and when McCain referred to Obama as "that one" during the second debate.

Senator McCain and Governor Palin began playing the fear and prejudice cards with relish from the time their campaign began losing traction as the economic crisis gained strength. Instead of talking about the economic challenges facing Americans, McCain-Palin strategists talked of being eager to turn the page away from those challenges so they could encourage voters to question Obama's patriotism. So they played up fears and prejudices, sowed distrust and bigotry, and hoped their tactics would undermine Obama's influence with undecided voters. The fear-mongering campaign tactics emboldened fearful people to say and act out their worst impulses. As of now, McCain's campaign is better known for its divisiveness, hatefulness, and bigotry against persons of color, immigrants, non-Christians, persons who disagree with McCain and Palin about reproductive choice, and homosexuals, than it is known for a vision of a "United" States that faces current and future challenges with hopeful unity.

McCain and Palin spent much of the past two weeks playing up fears and prejudices at a time when Americans most need to be called to recognize our common predicament. Having sown the seeds of distrust, fear, and bigotry, they should not be surprised by the crop of hate that their campaign has become. Voters have good reason to ponder whether two people who resort to such divisive campaign tactics are likely to be leaders of goodwill, inclusion, and peace. Instead, McCain leads a presidential campaign that would have made Senator Joseph McCarthy proud. He may not like the pet he fed now, especially now that it has begun baring its fangs at him when he tries to make it behave.

It is hard to understand how images of bigotry and prejudice will encourage undecided voters to favor McCain over Obama. Beyond that, one wonders how a McCain presidency would fare in a multi-cultural world. Perhaps the tactics of the past days suggest that McCain and Palin don't care that the next president must work with people from diverse backgrounds and views.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Reagan-Palin Connection

Governor Sarah Palin invoked the memory and cited a comment by former President Ronald Reagan during her closing statement at the October 2 vice presidential debate with Senator Joe Biden in St. Louis. That was ironic for several reasons.

First, Palin's vice presidential candidacy is similar to Ronald Reagan's political career. Reagan's political strength lay in his photogenic appeal to white conservative voters (Republicans and Democrats), and to his ability to trigger nostalgic notions of America as an exceptional nation within the world community. Because of those features, white conservatives (led by evangelical Christian fundamentalists such as Rev. Jerry Falwell and Rev. Pat Robertson) supported his presidential aspirations in 1980. Like Reagan was, Palin is photogenic, fond of invoking nostalgic references, and the darling of evangelical Christian fundamentalists. Photogenic and ethnocentric nationalism are time-tested ways of garnering political support, especially when citizens refuse to test a candidate's claims and competence in rigorous ways.

Palin's candidacy also resembles Ronald Reagan's career in the way she is able to avoid responsibility for troubling political statements. Palin's remarks during the October 2 debate regarding vice presidential power and her suggestion that the causes of climate change are either unknown or strongly debated are two clear examples. How can public policy be shaped about climate change if public officials at the highest levels are openly dismissive about how climate change is caused? This "ready, fire, aim" approach to executive decision-making characterized the Reagan presidency, and is most clearly demonstrated by the presidency of George W. Bush.

Finally, Palin's reference to Reagan shows that her political handlers continue to believe that American voters who are politically independent will choose their elected officials based on appeals to mis-information. The remark that Palin quoted Reagan about came from comments he made on behalf of the American Medical Association to oppose Medicare. Palin's handlers are counting on white conservative-minded independent voters not knowing that Reagan opposed Medicare, not wondering whether Palin thinks the same way, and not considering whether opposition to Medicare works against their social and political interests.

The conservative political movement came to power under Ronald Reagan, a photogenic B-movie actor with an affable demeanor. The movement that fought affirmative action and emphasized the notion that American society should be a meritocracy thrust Reagan into power, and now hopes to repeat its feat with Sarah Palin. It remains to be seen whether white conservative-minded independent voters will fall for this ploy.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

From President Bush to Potential President Palin

"It is a capital error to theorise before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts." Sherlock Holmes to Dr. Watson in A Scandal in Bohemia by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

I am reminded of that comment by Holmes to Watson as I reflect on the similarities between President George W. Bush and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Unlike some people who criticize President Bush and Governor Palin, I do not consider them stupid. The problem is that President Bush and Governor Palin are affable anti-intellectuals. Their popularity arises from their affability, and from the unfortunate prejudice within some segments of the American public against intellectualism. That prejudice highlights a strange self-contradiction. Americans like to believe that we are smart and enterprising people. However, many voters profess discomfort with elected officials who seem "too smart."

The problem with Bush and Palin is not that they cannot think, but that they approach serious public policy matters in narrow-minded ways based on the convenient lense of personal ideologies. Put bluntly, Bush and Palin are classic examples of tunnel-visioned leadership. They take positions on public policy matters based on prejudice rather than honest inquiry and hard analysis.

In the words of Sherlock Holmes, Bush and Palin commit the "capital error" of theorizing without data. Bush launched the nation into a disastrous war in Iraq because of the "capital error" of theorizing that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction despite insistence by United Nations weapons inspectors that none had been detected before Bush ran them out of Iraq with his threat of an imminent invasion. In the same way, Palin demonstrates such a "capital error" by claiming to be ready for national leadership.

It is intriguing that many Americans embrace Palin despite mounting evidence that she is more similar to Bush than different from him. When interviewed by CBS evening news anchor Katie Couric, Palin could not name a single newspaper that she reads. She could not name one Supreme Court decision with which she disagreed (even the decision issued earlier this year involving damages in the Exxon Valdez oil spil litigation. When Charlie Gibson of ABC news interviewed Palin and asked her opinion of the Bush Doctrine, Palin was clearly unfamiliar with the term.

For the past eight years, Americans have suffered the effects of an anti-intellectual, neo-fundamentalist, and belligerent presidency because of our unfortunate tendency to equate affability with competence. So it is amazing, but hardly amusing, that American voters might wittingly elect Palin Vice President of the United States, where she would have 1 chance in 7--the same odds of having your birthday fall on a Friday--of becoming President given Senator John McCain's advanced age and questions about his health.

All of this leads to the following questions. Is a potential Palin presidency likely to be qualitatively and functionally different from the presidency of George W. Bush? Do we want really want bet the life and posterity of the nation on a wrong answer to that question?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Here's the picture

At the risk of over-simplifying the situation, I will try to explain what the current financial market crisis involves.

Most businesses, from local business owners to national and multi-national entrepreneurs, do not have money on hand to cover their daily obligations. The business community uses lines of credit and other short-term borrowing methods to cover payroll and other normal operating costs. Whenever commercial borrowers cannot obtain such short-term money, business is reduced to what can be done with cash on hand.

Meanwhile, every day consumers also depend on short-term credit when we make purchases with our credit cards and when we deposit our payroll checks. In other words, you and I depend on the ability to borrow money--the credit market--for the money we receive for our work and for the money we use to engage in our daily spending. The senior citizens who charge medications with credit cards and the consumers who use the equity in their houses to underwrite family spending are not Wall Street tycoons. These are our neighbors, relatives, friends, and co-workers. People of ordinary means are more challenged than ever to find short term credit to continue business operations, maintain production schedules, and pursue new business opportunities as credit dwindles, prices rise, and economic fears mount.

Many people have complained that the financial market situation is a Wall Street problem that Main Street (referring to average consumers and taxpayers) are being forced to fix. The hard truth is that this situation is as personal as the expenses you and I incur every day. The United States is already in a recession. If business owners and consumers cannot readily obtain short term credit, the recession will be even more painful and prolonged.

Many people have expressed justifiable anger about how and why the present financial market crisis happened. However, cursing darkness does not produce light. The reason for the darkness is distasteful. That does not make the need for light less real and urgent.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Not Qualified!

We have waited long enough, witnessed enough, and been patient enough. Despite the political clamor following her introduction to the world stage, it is time for Americans to admit what other world leaders, and their intelligence agencies, already know and have begun to factor in their national security calculations: Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is unqualified to be President of the United States if Senator John McCain, the Republican candidate for President, is elected and somehow unable to discharge his duties.

Governor Palin had the recent opportunity to be interviewed by CBS evening news anchor Katie Couric, who asked Palin about her foreign policy qualifications. Palin responded that she is governor of Alaska, which borders Canada and Russia, as if geographic proximity somehow bestowed her with foreign policy knowledge and judgment.

Anyone who has been forced to over-achieve merely to obtain a job interview--a category that includes people from every background including many women, persons of color, and persons from other unprivileged backgrounds--should be insulted to the point of outrage. Palin is vying for the second most powerful executive position in the world. Her organizational management background consists of running a family budget, being mayor of a town smaller than most mid-size colleges, and her eighteen month stint as governor of a state with a population smaller than lower Manhattan (as the anti-racist commentator Tim Wise stated so poignantly in a September 13 blog titled "This is Your Nation on White Privilege"). If Barack Obama was running for Vice President with that background, most Americans would rightfully consider his candidacy a bad joke when the nation is at war, facing a world economic crisis, and coming at the end of eight of the worse years of presidential leadership in its history.

But the focus should not center on Palin. After all, she is no more or less than who she is. The real focus should be on Senator McCain, the person who selected her to be his vice presidential running mate. Choosing Palin was McCain's first national security decision. That choice not only demonstrated what McCain considers important in a potential chief executive, but speaks volumes about what he thinks about the intellectual maturity of American voters. McCain is gambling that white independent voters will choose him and Palin over Barack Obama and Senator Joe Biden because Palin is attractive, female, and feisty. In short, McCain is betting that American voters will elect him because of BS: his brashness and Palin's beauty, his "maverick" swagger and her sex identity.

McCain decided to roll the dice with our nation's future by choosing a running mate who is functionally clueless about global affairs, national security, global markets, and domestic policy. Choosing Palin for the office of Vice President, given its place in our constitutional democracy, demonstrates McCain's reckless disregard for national security and makes him unfit for executive leadership under any objective analysis. Leadership, whether of a business, non-profit organization, educational institution, or a nation, demands much more than brash swagger and blissful senselessness about executive duties, no matter how colorful the swaggering and senseless aspirants may be.

Neither McCain nor Palin is qualified to be chief executive of the nation. It is time someone said so, even before Palin shows up to debate Senator Biden in a few days and provides more proof of her incompetence. Eight years ago, the nation made affable incompetence the standard for choosing its chief executive. We have no excuse for repeating that mistake.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Not your best pitch man

If your business was teetering on the brink of failure and needed three-quarters of a trillion dollars to keep it afloat, would George Bush be your choice to pitch the deal to a skeptical bank board? Well, that is what Americans saw last night. George W. Bush, the C student from Yale and graduate of the Harvard Business School who has overseen nothing but business failures across his career, made his first speech to the nation in a year to try and persuade Americans to support his administration's bailout plan for the financial markets crisis that happened on his watch, but for which he refuses to accept responsibility. If Americans buy his latest stunt, we will fall for anything.

Here is why I am not impressed.

For starters, President Bush doesn't have much credibility anymore, if he ever deserved any before the financial markets mess occurred. This is the same fellow who insisted seven years ago that we invade Iraq following 9/11. Bush told us the war in Iraq would be paid for by oil revenue from Iraq. Bush and his vice president said that Saddam Hussein was partially responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Bush said that there was no insurgency in Iraq. Bush said that the American economy was not headed into recession as little as a year ago. Aside from John "the fundamentals of our economy are strong" McCain, can you name a less credible person in the country on the nation's economy or any other subject of public policy than George "the Decider in Chief" Bush?

So why did President Bush address the nation last night? Consider the following likely reasons, but don't expect anyone to admit them.

The Bush Administration went to the last player on its bench. The star players (Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Benjamin Bernanke) cannot convince to Congress to make a $700 billion grant to the financial market that caused this mess on Bush's watch. Vice President Dick Cheney and White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten can't browbeat Republicans in Congress to go along. Even Senator John McCain is telling people that the $700 billion grant stinks. When everyone else strikes out, the team has to send in the worse player even though it knows he can't play worth a hoot. After all, would you really send George Bush to make a $700 billion sales call if there was anyone else in the world to do it?

The legacy thing. Let's see, George Bush can't point to his success in international affairs as the crowning point for his presidency. He can't point to his national security prowess--remember that he decided to remain on vacation in Texas after receiving a national security briefing with the headline stating that Osama bin Laden was determined to strike the United States only weeks before 9/11. Mr. Bush can't point to his success as a war-time president, having started a war against an essentially defenseless Iraq for discredited reasons, mis-managed it, and prevented the U.S. military from pursuing and eliminating bin Laden. Bush can't point to his successful handling of domestic affairs, having let New Orleans drown. He can't point to his success with the U.S. Supreme Court because the Court has struck down his attempt to deny due process to the people caught up by his post 9/11 dragnet. The Bush Administration is running out of time, has run out of international allies, and has practically been abandoned even by Republicans in Congress. The financial markets bailout appears to be a last ditch try to restore some stature to a presidency that is widely viewed as a bad joke. Bush came out last night trying to put a dignified finish to a misbegotten presidency that worsened with age.

To play on American fears and sympathy. Would the the Bush Administration resort to fear-mongering and sympathy appeals in the interest of bad policy? Has it happened before? Hmmm. Do you remember Bush telling the nation in a State of the Union address about nuclear material from Niger that Saddam Hussein was supposedly trying to acquire? Do you remember the USA PATRIOT Act and claims about needing to suppress civil liberties, snoop on libraries and electronic communications, and spy on our phone conversations to avoid having a "mushroom cloud" over some American city? Do you remember repeated appeals to fund the misadventure in Iraq by pleas to "support the troops" even while the Administration was denying wounded troops decent facilities, needed mental health care for post traumatic stress disorder, and forcing our fighters to scrounge for metal to protect their vehicles from improvised electronic devises (IEDs)? History clearly shows that Mr. Bush has neither shame nor regret about playing on our fears and appealing to our emotions.

George Bush, the last player off the bench because he is the worse player on the team, came out last night to do what he has always done--try to scare and bully Americans into giving him his way so he can leave office claiming credit for something else the rest of us must endure. Last night, George Bush told us to give him $700 billion to save us from his trillion dollar mess. If the American public falls for this ploy, we need more than fresh money to fix our woes. When you trust the person whose policies helped wreck several of your cars after a career of other wrecks to oversee the auto recovery and repair industry and then give him a $700 billion dollar grant to do it, you need a guardian.

Heaven help us!

Monday, September 22, 2008

$700 Billion Deja Vu!

The current situation crisis in the U.S. financial markets has produced what looks like a 2008 version of the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that the Bush Administration sought and obtained from Congress one week after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Remember how after 9/11, Attorney General Ashcroft and President Bush demanded fast congressional action in the name of "keeping the homeland safe." Recall how Congress slavishly passed a joint resolution authorizing the President to "use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorst attacks: or "harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent future acts of international terrorism."

We should recall that history now as well as its known and yet unfolding consequences. Based on the AUMF, President Bush committed the U.S. military to invade Iraq based on intelligence that was inaccurate, if not knowingly falsified. Based on the AUMF, the Bush Administration countenanced warrantless detention and torture of persons deemed "enemy combatants" at the unchecked will of the Secretary of Defense. Based on the AUMF, more than 4000 U.S. military personnel have died and tens of thousands more have been maimed and psychologically scarred. Estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths range into the hundreds of thousands. Based on the AUMF, the United States has spent more than half a trillion dollars in the Iraq misadventure. Hundreds of people remain detained at the Guantanamo Bay naval base used to hold persons designated enemy combatants. Seven years after 9/11, the nation finds itself bogged in Iraq militarily because of the AUMF.

The present financial markets crisis now finds the Bush Administration demand once again that it be given quick and essentially unfettered discretion. In the present instance, the federal cabinet agency involved is the Treasury Department. Now, as after 9/11, members of Congress from both major political parties appear eager to enact something to show that they are effective, not engaging in partisan obstructionism, and to avoid adverse political consequences during the upcoming federal elections to Congress and the White House.

Perhaps it is naive to expect most Americans to resist being bullied, bossed, and brainwashed into believing that the complex financial markets crisis can be fixed with a two-page plan. Even so, it should not be too much to ask of elected officials to demand a closer and much more rigorous look at the plan proposed by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. To use a sporting comparison, this problem was not caused by one play, nor will it be corrected by one play. In sports and in policy-making, rushed judgments are usually the least reliable.

Another reason why Americans should encourage their elected officials in Congress to look under the hood and kick the tires of the financial markets bail-out plan that is being so urgently pushed by the Bush Administration is that the U.S. Constitution demands such oversight by Congress of executive action affecting commerce. The Constitution does not authorize the executive branch to influence monetary policy free from congressional oversight and judicial review. President Franklin Roosevelt was so frustrated by having the courts review the validity of his New Deal measures to overcome the effects of the Great Depression that he attempted to expand the Supreme Court to as many as fifteen members. That was a controversial move, but nowhere close to the astounding notion advanced by President Bush that Congress enact legislation to address the financial market situation which prevents congressional oversight and judicial review of what executive branch officials do to bailout the financial markets.

However politically unpopular or incorrect it may be, Americans and their elected officials in Congress should remember that the Bush Administration now seeks totalitarian-like powers over the financial markets mess like it asserted the unfettered right to disregard due process and other civil liberties in the so-called "war on terror" the week after 9/11. The history of the past seven years demonstrates the folly of granting such power to this or any other administration. Even if that history was different, elected officials in Congress from all political parties should reject the latest Bush Administration demand for blank check authority out of respect for the Constitution and separation of powers.

At some point, love of democracy should trump expediency, political or otherwise. That is what patriotism means.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Competence versus Cosmetics

It is a fundamental principle of human resource management that competence has no substitute when evaluating prospective co-workers. As much as we value personal charisma, congeniality, and cordiality, serious work demands competent workers. Charisma, congeniality, and cordiality, however appealing, are not what makes jets take off, tractors plow, trains stop, bullets shoot straight, and food taste right. In these and every other important activity, competence is essential. Good leaders know this and discipline themselves to recruit and select competent associates as a matter of course.

Thus, Senator John McCain's selection of Governor Sarah Palin as his Vice Presidential running mate in the 2008 presidential election is a telling indicator about his commitment to competence. A Vice President serves to exercise the duties of President in the event of Presidential death or disability. Thus, the Vice Presidential candidate should have the experience, wisdom, judgment, and other qualities needed to lead the nation as it faces the myriad challenges of 21st Century public policy. There is little evidence, if any, that Governor Palin has that experience, wisdom, judgment, or other necessary leadership qualities.

Rather, the Palin selection resembles the choice of Michael Brown by President George W. Bush to be Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Brown had no experience in emergency management at any level. He had no record of commenting about federal policy on any subject. He was cordial, reasonably photogenic, and politically connected. Hurricane Katrina demonstrated that he was also incompetent.

Governor Sarah Palin appears cordial in her media interactions, is photogenic, and is politically connected. However, she has no experience dealing with international relations, strategic defense policy, national economic issues, or many of the serious other concerns that are integral to shaping and executing federal public policy. It is not unfair or unkind to make that observation. However, it is both unfair and unkind for Senator McCain or any other leader to thrust a charming and photogenic political crony on the nation.

Senator McCain has demonstrated what he thinks about competence. It remains to be seen whether American voters will imitate and institutionalize his poor judgment in the November 4, 2008 presidential election. Planes fly properly, meals are prepared well, and equipment works correctly because of competent pilots in the cockpit, competent cooks in restaurants, and competent mechanics repairing our vehicles and other machinery. By contrast, the United States is viewed by most Americans, and by people outside the United States, as not working well.

Senator McCain, like President Bush before him, appears determined to repeat the mistake of confusing the cosmetic factors of cronyism, congeniality, and glamour with competence. American voters will make a fundamental mistake in human resource management by following his example in the coming presidential election.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Inclusion and Hope

I watched Senator Hillary Clinton move that Senator Barack Obama be nominated by acclamation yesterday during the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado. My eyes moistened. My throat tightened. My heart swelled.

I watched President Clinton and Senator John Kerry in their resounding endorsements of Senator Obama. I watched Senator Joe Biden talk about why he supports Senator Obama. My eyes moistened. My throat tightened. My heart swelled.

I watched Senators Obama and Biden walk hand in hand onstage in Denver after Senator Biden made his speech accepting nomination as the Vice Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party last night.

It has been an emotional experience watching inclusion in action.

I am 55 years old. I was born in southwest Arkansas. I started segregated school in the two-room Rosenwald Elementary School in 1957 the same fall that the 9 black students bravely entered Little Rock Central High School. I drank from segregated water fountains, received food from the back of restaurants, and vividly recall segregated waiting rooms.

I watched the 1963 March on Washington, like many others, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared his dream about a society where people of all ethnic, religious, and regional, and philosophical backgrounds would fashion a community of shared values. Like people across the world, I was inspired, even at ten years old.

I watched Presidents Kennedy and Johnson deal with segregation and the violence directed at Dr. King, Medgar Evers, Freedom Riders, and voting rights activists who risked life, limb, and their emotional wholeness trying to make inclusion real in the United States. I recall the numbing pain of the attacks on civil rights marchers in Selma, Birmingham, and other places. I was 15 when Dr. King was murdered in Memphis and when Senator Robert Kennedy was murdered two months later in Los Angeles.

I am a U.S. Army veteran who knows how to "suck it up" and hold emotion inside myself. I am a lawyer and judge. I am an ordained minister and former pastor who has endured personal tragedies and sorrows, and who has comforted others in similar experiences.

Watching what happened in Denver yesterday evening made my eyes moist, my throat tighten, and my heart swell.

I was watching what my parents, grandparents, and so many others had prayed, hoped, and told me would someday happen. I was watching what Dr. King spoke about in his "I Have A Dream" speech. I was watching what people of hope, faith, and goodwill have been talking about throughout American history.

I do not know who will be elected President of the United States in the November 2008 election. I do not know how the coming weeks of campaigning will unfold. I do not know who will vote, who will not vote, or why people will vote as they vote.

I simply know that Barack Obama and Joe Biden represent what people of goodwill in the United States have hoped and worked to achieve for generations. I only know that we are witnessing world history unfolding. We are watching answered prayers. We are watching hope being vindicated. We are watching inclusion and hope. I do not apologize for my emotions. No, I am simply thankful that I have the blessed opportunity to witness what people everywhere hold dear. No matter who we are or where we live, people hope to be included as equally worthy of aspiring for opportunity.

I am glad my eyes moisten, my throat tightens, and my heart swells. I will not be ashamed of those reactions today, tonight, tomorrow, or in the future. I will simply continue to pray, work for inclusion, and hope.

Let's pray, work, and hope together.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Cultural Competence, Diversity, and Diversity Challenges

Cultural Competence, Diversity, and Diversity Challenges

What is "cultural competence" and what does it have to do with my work? "Cultural competence" involves acquiring, integrating, and transforming knowledge about individuals, situations, circumstances, environments, events, and people in ways that produce congruent systems, standards, policies, practices, and attitudes in cross-cultural settings to achieve effective results.

Cultural competence is an ongoing process that involves a person doing the following:
1. Learning about cultural differences, distinctions, and realities;
2. Integrating that knowledge into his or her overall intelligence and skill base;
3. Transforming the knowledge into congruent attitudes, practices, policies, standards, and systems;
4. Applying the knowledge in appropriate cross-cultural settings; and
5. Achieving effective cross-cultural results.

Cultural competence and diversity are different, although related, realities. "Diversity" refers to all the ways that people are different, as well as the many different ways that we are similar. For instance, any visitor to another country will immediately recognize that the people of that country are different. That recognition involves appreciating diversity to some extent. However, appreciating diversity does not automatically make one competent to engage in cross-cultural interactions.

Cultural competence involves much more than realizing that people vary. It is possible to know that people are wondrously different and similar while being destructive, inept, blind, or uneasy in cross-cultural situations because we either fail to recognize or mishandle diversity challenges. A diversity challenge is grounded in the simple fact that in spite of our similarities, the differences matter. Therefore, any cross-cultural encounter may involve differences that matter to one party but not the other, resulting in a cultural disconnect.

Military, health care, education, and social services providers in the U.S. have the longest experience dealing with cultural competence and its implications. The U.S. Defense Department began formal consideration of the issue during the early Seventies with creation of the Defense Race Relations Institute—now the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI). A cursory Internet search using the term "cultural competence" or "cultural competency" will produce scores of articles by health care, education, and social services providers. Cultural competence is now an integral part of the professional and continuing learning process for many education, health care, and social services providers.

On the other hand, attention to cultural competence has yet to be included in the way people prepare to work in public policy, law, business, philanthropy and other non-profit work, and in religion. Recall, for example, the uproar produced after Pope Benedict quoted a controversial comment attributed to the Prophet Muhammad. And, according to an October 17, 2006 opinion editorial by Jeff Stein, a national security columnist for the New York Times, most of the U.S. leaders that Stein interviewed in the intelligence community, law enforcement, and even members of Congress with oversight responsibility for intelligence matters did not know the difference between Sunnis and Shi'ites.

The response often heard when people find themselves in trouble after having engaged in some mis-step arising from a cross-cultural interaction or exchange is that the actor had good intentions, or did not have bad intentions. However, competency/proficiency is never determined by "intentions," be they good or bad. By definition, one cannot be competent, let alone proficient, at anything and also be ignorant, insensitive about that ignorance, or complacent about changing it. Saying "I meant no harm" does not transform the unskilled operator of a wrecked automobile into a competent driver, repair any injuries and damage resulting from the wreck, or give other motorists reason to trust the operator to drive safely in the future.

At Griffen Strategic Consulting, we understand that cross-cultural interactions are the rule, not exceptional experiences. Simply put, cultural incompetence is not an acceptable option in today's global marketplace, nor does it need to be. Wendell Griffen, Manny Brandt, and Dolores Fridge have devoted decades to helping leaders understand and apply this truth in practical and effective ways. Every GSC consultant is committed to delivering culturally competent service. If you would like to talk with us, please contact us for a complimentary initial discussion of your needs and our approach. Visit the GSC website at to learn more about who we are and what we do. Wendell Griffen

Friday, June 27, 2008

Are We Neighbors, Yet?

Some years ago when our sons were quite young our family traveled from Little Rock, Arkansas to Estes Park, Colorado for a summer vacation. Our sons have always been great travelers, but this was the first long trip for our second son by car. We had driven a few hours--long enough to leave Arkansas and be in Oklahoma--when he first asked, "Are we there yet?" We were many miles from "there." Texas and New Mexico still lay ahead, not to mention the drive northward into Colorado and our eventual destination at Estes Park. So we heard the question several more times.

The issues of cultural competency, diversity, inclusion, strategic planning, organizational development, conflict resolution, team-building, cross-cultural understanding, and globalization invite us to rethink the "Are we there yet?" question, especially when it comes to understanding the meaning of "neighbors." For most of human history, we defined "neighbors" as people who are close to us in kinship, location, language, custom, nationality, or thought. Before automobiles and airliners made travel across distances more convenient, "neighbors" were the people we knew because they were near us and somewhat like us.

But time and modern life have changed how we live, work, communicate, travel, and think. At one time, people who lived in different areas of the same country might not have considered themselves neighbors, and may never have encountered each other. Now people who live in Seoul can communicate with people in Seattle over the Internet. This Blog allows people from many different places to be "near" each other--in one sense--thanks to the Internet. Thanks to the great ingenuity, hard work, and dedication of countless people, you and I can choose to be near, choose to know, and choose to understand people, places, and situations that were once unthinkable. We can choose to become neighbors, choose to work together, learn together, grow together, and live together with all the challenges and opportunities that means.

Or we can choose to remain strangers. We can choose to not know, remain distant, and not understand others who live, work, act, and think different from us. We can travel through our years separate, distant, as strangers, and even as aliens. We can choose to be uninformed and uncaring about other people in other places and spaces. We can choose to work, learn, grow, earn, live, and die as strangers--even as aliens--because others are different. By doing so, our differences become the walls that not only separate us, but the reasons we give each other for refusing to become neighbors.

What we cannot choose is to return to the time when "neighbor" was defined by nearness and similarity. Now we live in a global neighborhood. We eat, work, travel, play, learn, and hope in a smaller and more interdependent world. That will not change. We are closer now, with all our similarities and differences, and it will ever be so.

The awesome challenges and opportunities we face to understand others, cooperate with others, trust others, help others, and hope with others are like the miles that separated Little Rock from Estes Park on that summer vacation trip our family took years ago. We can and should ask ourselves "Are we neighbors yet?" Doing so will allow us to know and grow through the challenges and opportunities of understanding and working with people who are different from us. In every time and place, "neighbors" are people who choose to help us and the people we choose to help in work, play, and the rest of life.

At Griffen Strategic Consulting (GSC), the focus is on helping people assess the challenges and opportunities of our changing time, develop strategies, define objectives, and accomplish goals as neighbors. That focus is built on the belief that neighbors are people who choose to live together, work together, laugh together, grieve together, play together, and hope together, with all our similarities and differences, because we need each other. GSC is glad to share a part in our global neighborhood and help whoever we can, when we can, where we can, however we can. We share the challenges and opportunities of our time as your neighbors.

Wendell Griffen

Emailing Griffen Strategic Consulting

To contact Griffen Strategic Consulting by email, send messages to Remember that Griffen is spelled with an "en," rather than "in." Stay strong! Wendell Griffen

Welcome to the GriffStratCon blog!

Welcome to the "GriffStratCon blog" of Griffen Strategic Consulting, PLLC, one of various ways that Griffen Strategic Consulting connects with people in business, government, education, the non-profit community, and religious institutions about the challenges and opportunites we face as members of an increasingly interdependent global society. The GriffStratCon Blog exists to share information and exchange insights about opportunities and challenges, problems and solutions, frustrations and break throughs, as we make our way through this phase of the 21st Century. But first, let me introduce Griffen Strategic Consulting, or "GSC," by anticipating and answering some questions.

  1. What is Griffen Strategic Consulting, PLLC? GSC is a strategic consulting company based in Little Rock, Arkansas that exists to help people in business, government, education, non-profits, and religious institutions understand and succeed as we face the realities of globalization, cultural competency, diversity and inclusion, strategic planning and organizational development, conflict resolution, team-building and morale, and cross-cultural interaction and cooperation. Think of GSC as a company dedicated to helping people better understand how to live and work together more effectively.
  2. Who writes the GSC Blog? Wendell Griffen, President and CEO of GSC.
  3. What will we talk about on the GSC Blog? We will talk about current events, emerging trends, ideas and history surrounding what people in business, government, education, non-profits, and religious institutions experience. We will talk about how we are alike, how we are different, and how our similarities and differences work on the way we live, work, play, communicate, and think.
  4. What's next? We will talk with each other about strategic planning, cultural competency, diversity and inclusion, public policy, and much more.

Finally, this is a Blog, but not a client newsletter. In coming weeks, GSC will launch its website and share more about what we do and how we do it. To obtain help from GSC, email, or phone (501) 416-1917.

Let's get started with a question. What does "global community" mean for the way we will live, learn, and earn in the coming years?

I'm Wendell Griffen, and I look forward to hearing from you.