Government vs Governance

We all know that things are spaghetti-like in many parts of the country’s operations—particularly in Washington.

Most of us blame government as the primary culprit: when average citizens are asked how to deal with society’s problems, a large majority of them say it is a failure in the role of government and they propose less government as the solution to deal with those problems.

What they are NOT fully aware of is HOW and WHY that government is in many instances the biggest problem of all.

Indeed, I know that may sound like a thought from a conservative government basher. In this case NOT SO! The modern world would not work at all without government.

What is needed is a process that has all the right elements at work at the same time—AND that is called Governance. The distinction truly is enormous and crucial.

Governance is the overall process of blending together government, the private sector, and the nonprofit sector. Those three basic sectors make up pretty much all of modern society.

They are truly quite different: they have different languages, different cultures and quite different practices. Most—well over 2/3rd—of Americans only ever work in one of those sectors. And fewer and fewer problems today can be dealt with in only one sector. Coordination and collaboration are the essential missing element.

The result is that the people in those three sectors largely do not know each other and thus they tend not to understand and trust each other.

Government people may be the worst offenders of all because they often start out and continue to have an attitude that they are the gorillas in charge of the jungle.

Consequently, efforts to primarily make government either larger or smaller are misdirected and miss the basic target that crucially needs to be addressed.

The core problem is to make the basic three sectors work well—or simply better—together more of the time.

And that is where GOVERNANCE comes in to play.

Governance is simply the very process which seeks to help the three basic sectors work together.

The ONLY purpose of this brief essay is simply to establish for you the simple reality that governance itself must be recognized by more people before we can really get at how to fix modern society.

It is not about government; it is all about governance!

If you get that point and want to learn more go to


A Brand New Idea to Edge Trump Out!

This will be short and “sweet”.

Typically when the House and Senate votes the votes are open to all to see and create public accountability. That is a sound and good idea. It properly subjects every vote to normal and important political considerations and consequences.

At the moment while we still have a new President and one who is rapidly sliding in all public polls to about a 35-65 low, the public has lost confidence and virtually all Republican members of both Houses of Congress are biting their tongues with frustration and pain.

Perhaps this is a moment to try something new.

How about a secret vote of all members on the question: in your heart and mind do you still believe continuing with Trump is in the country’s best interest? YES or NO.

No one other than each individual voter in the Congress could ever know how all the rest have voted.

Yet all of them together, including everyone else in the country, would have a new important data point to help guide us all through these uncertain times and into the scary future.

Majority Rule?

It’s hard not to wonder these days about the systemic problems—apart from Trump himself—which seem to be ripping the country apart.

I addressed this subject last December and stand by my thoughts at that time. As I think about it now again, the more I realize that there were/are dimensions of the subject that I had not then yet thought of.

As the cornerstone of Democracy—majority rule—when ignored and breached consistently shreds one of our society’s main suspenders.

We clearly have had a minority President since Election Day in 2016. Not only did Trump get 3,000,000+ fewer votes overall on that day, since then he has evidently lost the support of an additional 10,000,000 or so people,  per all leading polls.

How did we get into this untenable situation and what could we have done to avoid it or let it happen again?

Our voting system is based on the popular notion from 1790 that each state could/should/would set the rules for voting—even for President (our only important nationally elected position). The result is a crazy quilt of rules that determine who wins each state, in closely contested elections particularly, when there are more than two candidates on the ballot.

The result in 2016 was that 13 states with a total of 98 electoral votes had no candidate who received the support of a majority of that state’s voters. And, in those states if there had been a run off between the top two candidates, it now appears very possible that if there had been a run-off requirement, the election result could have been VERY different.

Note that 98 electoral votes is approximately ONE FIFTH of all electoral votes and is 24 more than the number (74) that would have been required to have elected Clinton instead of Trump.

Indeed—if, if, if—but that is NOT the point.

The point is that to get a properly elected President with a majority of all electoral votes—as well as popular votes—it should be required  to have a run-off in any state in which no candidate received 50% and the votes for the eliminated candidates could have put the losing candidate into the majority.

Obviously, retrospectively today it is completely speculative what might have happened in 2016 if there had been runoffs.  Suffice it to say that there is a real possibility the election result would have been different.

Therefore, we should investigate carefully and consider requiring ALL states to have a run-off rule that IF no candidate received more than 50% and the total votes that went to other than the top two candidates were sufficient to put either of the top two candidates into the majority.

This could be accomplished by ALL states changing their rules, in this hopefully non-controversial way, so that we should always elect a President with a genuine majority of electoral and popular votes.

This suggestion may not be quite sufficient, but it surely would be a sound and rational step in the right direction.

The Spatial Geometry of Humanity

This week’s solar eclipse that crossed the US created an opportunity for millions of Americans to actually SEE and FEEL for their first time  the greatest show put on by our  universe—a full eclipse of the sun by our moon.

Most of us take for granted the endless rotations of the Earth, Sun and Moon. We go about our lives without giving much thought to the overriding effects of our universe’s immutable geometries on humanity.

We are reminded on the few occasions that we can see, hear and feel FULL eclipses that those fleeting events have been going on for as long as forever.

One wonders what our ancestors must have thought thousands years ago when they first saw the Moon blot out the Sun. Fear? Confusion?  Awe? One thing we know for sure is that, until the last few thousands of years, humans had little understanding of what was going on overhead.

I wonder whether it has ever occurred to us humans how the immutable geometry of our universe might have  more relevance to our lives than simply ‘having the lights go out’ in the middle of a day.

If the geometry of an eclipse is so predictable, is it possible that basic human behavior is subject to some set of universal rules? We do know that the odds of all babies’ sex at birth are 50/50 male or female. We also know that very close to half all humans alive (and probably who ever lived) are either male or female. I am not aware of any scientific law that says this should be so! There are obviously “laws” of some universal sort that dictate those facts.

Whether we like it or not, we are just another species of life that happened to emerge into a prominent role on earth.

We clearly began in very simple ways. Infant mortality was staggeringly high. Gradually we grew into families, tribes, and separate states and countries.

Along the way our differences became more acute and relevant and we lapsed into fighting and killing millions of each other over, for example, as little a few yards of earth during World War I.

There are a few signs that there has been any discernible rhythm to all our human stupidity, the societies we build and the wars we fight. And despite efforts to discover that rhythm, we live in ignorance of how and why our world devolves into conflict with alarming regularity.

Perhaps after another few hundred or thousand years—if we survive—such a rhythm may reveal itself.

If it does, I think it may be fair to imagine that there has been some form of geometry that has been driving our human process from the beginning of time.

If we could just tease out what that human geometry looks like, perhaps we could take steps to predict what is coming and possibly anticipate what to do about it.

Basic to all our lives is the ability and/or inability to get along with everyone else on Earth.

If the intersection of our cultures and societies is as inevitable and immutable as the motion of the larger masses out in our universe, then perhaps we may not be doomed to extinction?

We should take this most recent and thrilling FULL eclipse as a new challenge to look harder for the answers to these challenging questions.

It is likely that our forbearers had similar kinds of questions about eclipses long before it was really understood!

If we look at the provocative amazement of a full eclipse the right way, we should be able to learn from it.

Trump’s Mental Limits

I will not repeat all the much-deserved criticism Trump’s Charlottesville remarks have drawn, but it is important to note that he also, apparently unintentionally, revealed his limited and distorted mental capacity and process.

He seemed completely focused on the very narrow point that it takes two to tango. And, it appeared that he was resting his “all/both sides” argument on his hope that he would be seen as having an  open-minded and balanced view.

Instead he has revealed that he was/is incapable of weighing a denunciation of all political violence against a more specific condemnation of the white nationalists who took the streets in Charlottesville this weekend. He has spent the last few days digging himself deeper and deeper into a hole with which no red blooded American would agree.

He was saying that it takes two to tango—and that two wrongs do not make a right—which is a false equivalence for the ages. Indeed, he was also surely playing to the bigot in himself and his alt-right base, but his actions do not seem to be a coordinated or considered political strategy.

What we saw in Trump’s remarks was the real Trump. He was surprised by reporters on Tuesday and apparently, inadvertently let us all know where his true sympathies lie. A canny politician would have kept his mouth shut, but Trump continued to make himself even more toxic to the more moderate and moral members of his loyal constituency.

The indisputable reality is that he missed the obvious and overwhelming story, which was that the event was all about racism, Nazism, and white supremacy. By treating both sides as if they were equivalent, he effectively endorsed the racism on display.

It is difficult for America to deal with a bigoted, uncontrollable (and probably crazy) president. Up to now some people have said that despite his flaws, he is not stupid.

This moment provides the country with clear and convincing evidence, all over TV in his own words, that his thinking is distorted and limited in such a way that he is a permanent danger to the whole country.

The press is totally correct in their portrayal of this story, and need to keep pushing. Every time normal people see this on TV, more of them will part company with Trump to keep the country safe.

Soft Power

Joseph Nye, professor and former dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, wrote extensively in the early 2000s about “soft power”, the ability of nations and leaders to get their way by being appealing partners. In particular, soft power is distinguished from “hard power”, the use of the coercive force of military might. Nye identified that in a nuclear world, hard power would have its limits, and the use of diplomacy and the management of national image would be vital for leaders to extend influence and get their way.

With the proliferation of atomic weapons and global missiles, the major powers have settled into postures of MAD—mutually assured destruction. The risks of massive destruction were effectively restricted to the major powers and their allies. The only serious exceptions were stray lunatics who could have stolen a weapon or, as we see today, a rogue state like North Korea that gains the capability to create a bomb. As Kissinger has said procrastination was the only overt policy for 20 years. That moment has now arrived on the watch of our most unreliable President ever.

The basic notion of Nye’s formulation of soft power was to provide a usable alternative to hard power to influence the behavior of nations. It was always intended to be used alongside of some combination of economic incentives and disincentives, such as sanctions, but it is more than financial bullying. Soft power takes morality and culture to be central to geopolitics. Nations that view one another as good global citizens are more likely to work together, and any nation seen as a moral authority will wield great soft power over those nations that share its values. As Nye memorably put it, “Seduction is always more effective than coercion”. Soft power is not about creating vassals. It is about creating partners.

The most useful way to think about soft power is to visualize it as hard power’s vivid connected shadow. Demands are not accompanied by saber rattling, but delivered with “delicious chocolates and flowers” and/or disincentives like economic and political sanctions.

One (perhaps facetious) young Foreign Service officer suggested years ago that the Teddy Roosevelt saying, “speak softly, and carry a big stick’” might someday be stood on its head. He quipped that we might one day say, “It is not helpful ever to speak stickily and carry a big soft”. He made a good point, though very few people clearly understood what he meant.

A more modern iteration today might be that “it is always a mistake to speak loudly and only carry a stick of cotton candy”. That is, empty threats are useless, as is soft power alone.

Recognizing that neither candy nor bomb alone is likely to change behavior, but linking them together with practical workable proposals could accommodate the needs and desires of the relevant agents and defuse a problem.

The mystery we are all surrounded by today is what really are the protagonists—Trump and Kim—thinking, doing, saying, and leaving unsaid.

On the face of it, for the US to be squaring off against a country the size and wealth of North Korea is astonishing. North Korea is tiny and weak. North Korea has barely more than 1% of the territory of the US, under 8% of our population, and a per capita GDP of $1,800.

Kim seems to want some combination of the following: respect, security, and a means to keep his people united and supportive of the regime.

Trump and his predecessors have been trying to eliminate the Kim family’s insecure and threatening posture, to keep them from developing atomic weapons and the means to deliver them

Mutually assured destruction obviously means something quite different to Kim than, say, Russia or China, both of which have global stakes at risk. Kim’s concerns are truly local. One could even say they are personal.

Evidently Kim thinks that without his viable weapons of mass destruction, his position and country are constantly at risk from our possible aggression. And he seemingly cannot grasp that we cannot/will not stand quietly by and leave him in control of his lethal power and his threats against us.

In theory at least, the US, with 100% backing from the UN, could do the following:

—praise Kim for his remarkable technology for a small country-why?- to show him we can accept reality.

—suggest to him he would not ever need to threaten us IF he now permanently freezes  and shelves those weapons (as Iran has done) and he receives UN guarantees of North Korea’s independent integrity forever as long as he behaves with a suitable inspection regime,

—at the same time we would withdrew all our military from all of South Korea

—and at the same time both countries, backed and protected by the UN, agreed to respect today’s borders in Korea and –

—also at the same time end all sanctions against North Korea.

The world would breathe easier.

What remains in the way of such a plan today?

—Kim likely would think that he has lost face and would then lose power;

—Trump would believe that his bluster is what had brought Kim to the table, which would warrant praise for him everywhere BUT would put Trump’s Russia problems back on the front pages.

All of the above can be thankfully attributed to Joe Nye’s brilliant ideas of a modified definition of soft power.

The remaining risk today simply may be that some loud mouth idiot could trump it as merely a cotton candy plan!

Why Trump Appears to be Digging His Hole Deeper

It has been truly mystifying why Trump keeps on doing things that are so out of step with America and its everyday values.

For instance, he goes to NY, meets with law enforcement people, and goes on TV to make a statement that appears to condone police brutality. On another day he—without consulting anyone in the military—tweets that no transgender people will be allowed in the military. Why would he do things that serve no purpose (the military has not changed its stance on transgender soldiers and his remarks about the police have been denounced by police chiefs across the country) but to alienate most Americans?

As a candidate, Trump succeeded by mobilizing his base, and as President he seems to have doubled down on the strategy. If his base pushed him into power because of his outrageous behavior, he seems to think that such behavior will keep him in power. He now clearly is feeling the heat of the Russia investigation and might sense real danger coming down the pipe.

But he apparently has overlooked that Nixon still had about 30% public support when he resigned! So preserving anything anywhere near that level of public support will probably not prop up his presidency.

His strategy appears to be fight back against his attackers and go after easy targets in hopes of frightening and/or distracting the opposition.

Meanwhile, he hopes to shore up his shrinking base of die-hard “deplorables” with his “law and order” rhetoric and culture war policy.

He could care less about how the rest of the country thinks about those issues as long as HIS base remains firm.

That can be the only reason that can explain what otherwise seems outright crazy!

No One is Immune to Health Care Fiascoes!

As the debate about health care swirls, the main focus has been on the millions of less advantaged citizens who might lose coverage if Republican efforts at health care reform succeed.

But many millions of relatively advantaged people are being ripped off by certain practices that have developed under the existing system. Doctors and insurance companies evidently classify and set reimbursement rates and standards in a way that is opaque to most people, which results in a crazy quilt of medical costs for the same services, depending on the amount of patient awareness and pushback.

As a result, our healthcare marketplace more closely resembles a bickering bazaar, where everything comes down to what people get away with on all sides. That state of mind has corrupted the nation’s thinking about any health system.

Now that Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare have failed (?), this dimension of the present system should not remain invisible.

Though the present system has many problems, the basic issue began when it became possible for doctors to opt out of Medicare. If a doctor takes any Medicare patients, the doctor has to take all comers. Over the last number of years, many doctors all over the country have opted out. There are a number of  legitimate reasons for them to choose to do so: the Medicare rates might be  inadequate because of a doctor’s local cost structures; a doctor’s patient base might be able to afford private rates (which also can be covered by private insurance or by the patient on her/his own), leaving the doctor with no need to accept many Medicare patients; or a doctor might be able to create concierge practices where patients can pay a yearly lump sum for most everything they might need, allowing the providing doctor to become a sort of partial insurer for that patient.

Making matters more complex, private insurers cut deals with doctors and categorize providers as in or out of network, heavily penalizing people who opt to see doctors with whom the insurance company has not been able to cut favorable deals. The result is a baffling system in which it is nearly impossible to make informed decisions regarding the cost and necessity of healthcare.

One person I know was instructed by her urologist to have an MRI. The private insurance company said they would not cover an MRI that had not been preceded by a biopsy. The doctor was wary of a biopsy because he felt the procedure would increase risk without benefit. The MRI supplier asked for $5000, which was far higher than the average cost of an MRI in the US ($2,611 in 2014). The doctor told the patient not to worry and simply pay $2500. The patient did so and the MRI was done for that sum despite the fact that that no biopsy had been performed. The whole affair seems a bit like buying a used car. There is no good reason to expect people to haggle over healthcare, but that is apparently what our system demands.

Another friend had a procedure done by a doctor who did not accept Medicare. The surgical procedure was not major, though there were some complications. The doctor initially proposed a fee of $10,000. However, it turned out that the doctor was not in my friend’s private insurance network. When the insurance company, after more than a couple of weeks of head scratching, would only cover $1000 or 130% of the alleged Medicare rate for that procedure (as if all procedures were really the same), the patient–who could luckily afford to pay out of pocket—was stuck facing a bill a great deal larger than expected. As that bill was being discussed, a few other issues came up—whether Medicare and insurance company were correct in assessing the proper cost bases of such a procedure—that had remained invisible until tough questions were asked.

These patients are the lucky ones, who can afford to pay their bills and have the education necessary to navigate our nation’s healthcare bazaar. Many more lack one or both of these qualities, and such situations would likely have been devastating for those Americans.

Now that the Republican push to repeal Obamacare appears finished, it is time to turn to the problems with Obamacare and the larger healthcare system of which it is a part—known and unknown, obvious and invisible—and make a serious bipartisan effort to improve the institutions and structures that safeguard our national health.