Our electors, ourselves

The revelations in the past few days about Russian interference in the election actually gave me great relief-because, of course, everything that happens is about me! Now those who’ve been rolling their eyes at my paranoid fantasies of Putin-inspired hacking and leaking and disabling the voter protection hotline will have to concede that paranoia is, in this case, completely justified.

More important-and more seriously-the revelations crystallized my view that the outcome of this Presidential election reflects not a simple disagreement about policy but an actual threat to our system of government. And, again, if that sounds alarmist, you haven’t been paying enough attention.

But I know you all have been paying attention; SO! What to do? A group of us who worked together on Hillary’s campaign are contacting every Republican elector in the country, asking all of them to withhold their votes from Donald Trump. We’re calling, we’re emailing, we’re snail-mailing-and we’re doing it all RIGHT NOW, because the Electoral College meets in 5 days, on Monday, December 19, and it’s our last line of defense against having a Russian puppet in the White House.

If you can spare time in the next day or so, I urge you to do the same. You will find a list of GOP electors, with all their e-mail contact information, here. My letter, which you’re welcome to crib if you find it useful, is here. The essential thing is to write now, and to treat these people with whom we disagree so strongly as fellow and sister patriots with whom we hope to ally in defense of the Constitution. What a concept: speaking civilly and rationally to our opponents!

You may well think this is a futile endeavor; but I can only quote Father Daniel Berrigan: “Start with the impossible. Proceed calmly towards the improbable. No worry, there are at least five exits.” And, as he also said, “Faith is rarely where your head is at. Nor is it where your heart is at. Faith is where your ass is at!”

Mine’s in front of my computer.

A shortcut to abolishing the Electoral College; an appeal to free-thinking electors

Twice in the past five elections, the person who won is not the person who moved into the White House.

Hillary Clinton received 1.5 million more votes than Donald Trump, yet it’s Trump who is picking Cabinet members and will pick Supreme Court justices.


If this strikes you as unacceptable, please join the League of Women Voters of the United States in advocating passage of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Each state adopting the Compact pledges to instruct its electors to vote for the winner of the national popular vote-which is to say, the winner. (We don’t say “popular vote” in any other context as if it were a lesser thing. A vote is a vote, and under our system voting is how we choose our leaders.)

Ten states and the District of Columbia, accounting for 61% of an Electoral College majority, have already adopted the Compact. But if you don’t live in California, D.C., Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont or Washington State, ask your state representative to introduce the Compact in the next session of the legislature, and then ask every person running for a seat whether s/he supports it.

Come on Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Virginia!-all blue states whose votes could get us to 219. And come on Michigan and Pennsylvania, which both had the Compact under consideration in last year’s legislative session: those two would make 255. Capture Florida, and lo and behold, we get to inaugurate the person we elected.

But. As long as the Electoral College is there, it should perform the function the Framers had in mind: preventing the election of a demagogue. We have just under a month to find 38 Republican electors willing to admit either that their standard-bearer is unfit for the office or that he just plain lost.

Who among them is willing to speak up? We’re all ears.

And speaking of reality . . .

Suddenly, a moment of clarity:


People aren’t voting for Trump to be President-they’re choosing him as their avatar, who can do all the things they’d like to but can’t. So his qualifications or positions are just not relevant.

I suspect something similar is going on with Sanders and his fans: who wouldn’t want to be the the bold dreamer who can rise above mere politics to demand pure unadulterated justice (insert flaming sword here)?

And the persistent discontent with Hillary is, among other things, because she’s not an avatar: nobody wants to be that careful, nobody wants to be that flawed, nobody wants to be that real.

So the challenge for Hillary supporters (among whom I am proud to count myself) is to remind everyone that we’re selecting someone to do a difficult job, not to reflect back at us every fantasy we’ve ever had about ourselves.  President Obama was the once-in-a-generation person who could do both; the last one before him was FDR.  Usually it’s either/or: Kennedy inspired us, but we needed Johnson to get the Voting Rights Act passed.  

Next time you hear about Hillary’s “negatives,” ask yourself whether she’s being measured on the right scale. She’s not Florence Nightingale or Lady Liberty or Sojourner Truth, but if we want someone who can actually do the work, she’s our man.

What Rahm says/What Chicago hears

I once saw a cartoon entitled “What You Say/What Your Dog Hears.”  In the first panel we see the owner shrieking: “You’re a very bad dog, Ginger!  Look how you broke my favorite lamp, Ginger!  Bad, bad Ginger!”  In the second panel we see the dog wagging its tail with glee as it hears, “Ooooooo, Ginger! Oooooooo, Ginger! Oooo, oooo Ginger!”

This came to mind as I read the latest chin-strokers about the impact of Rahm Emanuel’s personality on the likelihood that he’ll hold onto Chicago’s mayoralty.  Journalists have emptied their thesauri searching for the closest analogue to the unprintable “asshole;” but most of their accounts suggest that the entire topic is unworthy of discussion.

That’s probably because many journalists have backgrounds like mine.  When Rahm speaks, I hear the boys I went to high school with, or the guys with whom I practiced law: loud and obnoxious, blunt and profane.  Plenty of those guys were assholes—but just as many weren’t.  Their swearing and yelling was pretty much beside the point, just a matter of style.  And a familiar style, at that: the style of urban Jews from loud-mouthed families where you had to shout to be heard.

So when the mayor is rude, I don’t take it personally.  But it seems likely that what African-Americans hear is disrespect, and they do take it personally.  Nor would I claim that they shouldn’t.  I suspect to many black people Rahm’s profanity and flippancy register as ways of saying, “You’re so unimportant I can’t even bother to be polite to you.”  It comes across as one of the thousands of variations on addressing adults as “boy.”

So the issue isn’t whether Chicagoans are too thin-skinned to handle a tough-talking mayor; it’s whether what they hear is tough talk, or disdain.  And given Rahm’s determination to do things his own way and his reluctance to listen to other people’s points of view, the ones whose reaction is that the mayor doesn’t care what they think or even believe them qualified to have opinions—those people cannot be held to be wrong.

Have “black sites” come to Sweet Home Chicago?

The Guardian and The Atlantic have now both reported that Chicago police maintain a site at which they interrogate suspects without booking them or letting them talk to their lawyers.  On the Huffington Post, this is what I have to say about that.

As it turns out, this news doesn’t come too late to have an impact on the race for mayor in Chicago.  Perhaps we can use the six weeks before the runoff election to ask Rahm what he knows about these sites, and when he knew it.

Chris Christie at Canossa

Hard to see how Christie survives the Fort Lee episode now.  In his presser this morning, we learned that for four months, he was unable to learn anything about the little game his nearest and dearest played with the people in Fort Lee in September, and that when he called everyone into the room weeks ago to tell him if they knew anything about it, he accepted “no’s” without even asking for the email correspondence that came out yesterday, or, apparently, having individual conversations (he’s an ex-US Attorney!) with folks to see if their stories matched.  So with all the powers and authority of his office, he managed to be the last person on the planet to know what his people were up to.

A couple of angles on this story worth noting: First,  Christie himself has a public record of indifference to cross-Hudson commuters generally, going back three years, so maybe his people were just making reasonable inferences about what would make him happy.  Second, the pettiness and pointlessness of the whole exercise.  The bridge trick might be a useful signal to other state pols about the cost of crossing the gov, but that only works if it’s widely known that it happened and why! Other than that, it’s striking that no-one made a penny from the whole thing, and I must say, if New Jersey corruption conventions have so completely departed from their historic basic values, things are in a really bad way there.

More interesting, and not emphasized yet in reporting, is his repeated insistence throughout this morning’s damage control that he threw Ms. Kelly under the bus because she lied to him.  Not, because she obviously has terrible judgment and a petty vengeful streak, or that her continuation in any office is a clear and present danger to the people of the state: because she lied to him.  Personal loyalty is what it’s about for Chris, and there are few more dangerous qualities in a government official than to count your lieutenants’ devotion to your short-term comfort above their ability or motivation to do their jobs.  Good pols seek out people to play Nathan to their Uriah moments; bad ones just have a posse of yessers.

An Organizational Leadership Transition Conundrum

In hiring, should the potential negative effect of not being chosen on internal candidates be weighed by search firms?

A friend of mine brought an intriguing problem in ethics and organizational management to me and I (she also) would appreciate reactions from those RBCers with relevant experience. I am changing a few details so that the situation is not recognizable to those familiar with it, but here is the gist.

My friend’s uncle retired two years ago after many years of leading a large international business. In the search for his replacement, there were three internal candidates: The two VPs and one other person just one rank below them. They were all talented individuals who had contributed to the firm for years.

However, an extraordinarily well-qualified external candidate got the job. My friend and her uncle agree that this fellow is a superlative professional. If ability for the head job could be rated on a 1 to 10 scale, he would be a 9 or a 10, whereas the two internal VPs were about an 8 and the other internal candidate was about a 7. Looked at solely on the dimension of individual ability, the search firm did an excellent job. But there is more to the story.

Within three months after the decision was made, both VPs had left the company. One was recruited away by a rival company with this pitch: “Clearly, your current firm doesn’t value you, but we will, so come work for us instead”. The other became an independent consultant because she concluded from her failed effort at promotion that a woman could never ultimately garner the top job in the boys’ club of big business.

The third candidate stayed, but his work performance and morale have deteriorated. He used to be the kind of guy who worked on weekends and evenings; now he is competent but always leaves for home at 5:00 pm on the dot. When asked, he says he didn’t expect to land the President/CEO position but was shocked that the two VPs, both of whom he admired, were passed over. Other people at his level who did not apply have moved on to other companies in the past two years, grumbling that the firm does not reward long-term loyalty and service.

Despite the obvious skills of the new CEO, the exodus of knowledge and talent at the near-top and the broader morale decline has hurt the firm, which has lost money two years in a row for the first time in its history.

Accepting for the sake of argument that in the abstract the person with the most ability got the job, my friend’s question is this: Was the right decision made? That is, should organizations weigh in their leadership hiring decisions the potential negative impact of being passed over on valued internal candidates (and other internal workers who are not candidates but closely watch the decision process) or should they just ignore that potential cost and pick the individual who is the strongest candidate in the abstract, irrespective of whether they are internal or external?

Passing the Torch to the Same Generation

If you want to hand things over to the young, it helps to remember that you are old

A fellow airplane passenger recently told me what he considered a tragic story. He had built a large company up from scratch over 40 years. As his 70th birthday approached, he wanted to retire from his demanding position as President and CEO. He had planned to turn the business over to his protégé, who would lead it into a bright future. But then his chosen successor suddenly died!

I started in with the usual bromides: “So sad to see people cut down in the prime of life, so much left undone” etc. I then asked if the protégé had had young children.

“No” the CEO responded, “but one of his grandkids is only 11 and is taking it pretty hard. They were close.”

Puzzled, I asked how old the promising young heir to the throne was at the time of his death.

“65” the CEO said sadly.

I said something like “Well, uh, well, uh, that certainly is a shock that, uh, I mean, to think that a person in their mid-60s could die is uh, well, uh, what can one say, really? You know the inflight movie is a Whoopi Goldberg/Pauly Shore vehicle that has always had a special place in my heart, so I’m going to watch it now but I wish you the best in working this out”.

I have seen many elderly people handle the transfer of control to the next generation smoothly and wisely. But I have also heard variants of the CEO’s story many times as well. Like many psychologists, I am fascinated by failures in human rationality and wonder what drives some people to such unwise decisions when the time comes to pass the torch. Continue reading “Passing the Torch to the Same Generation”

Who Will Be West Virginia’s First Female Senator?

Two women will likely square off for West Virginia’s Senate seat

Women have made substantial progress over the past 20 years in securing seats in the U.S. Senate. However, progress has been wildly uneven across the country. California, Washington and New Hampshire have all-female Senate representation, and Maine did as well until Olympia Snowe’s recent retirement. But other states have never elected a women to the upper house. One of the holdouts is my home state of West Virginia, but that will almost certainly change in 2014.

On the Republican side, Congresswoman Shelly Moore Capito is well-placed to capture the nomination, though she may have to overcome a Tea Party challenger. On the Democratic side, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant is the early favorite.

Based on my amateur reporting around the state capitol the past few days, this should be a race to watch. Capito has two advantages. First, her father was the governor and West Virginians tend to look warmly on political dynasties (Randolphs, Manchins, Moores etc.). Second, West Virginia is becoming more friendly to Republicans: The GOP holds more seats in the State House of Delegates than they have since 1928. On the other hand, Tennant has run for statewide office and won, whereas this will be Capito’s first effort to appeal to voters outside of her district.

Both women are widely regarded as intelligent and personable. A Tennant-Capito matchup could thus be a (gasp) civil campaign that focuses on real issues. In any case, the end result will be West Virginia sending a woman to the U.S. Senate for the first time in its 150-year history.