Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Obama Doctrine



Nancy LeTourneau was the first to frame what the President said in this big policy speech last Wednesday in Brussels, Belgium as an Obama Doctrine. I believe this framing is very appropriate. Nancy identifies three central elements of this emergent Doctrine:
  • establishing and defending international norms - In the current case of Crimea and the Ukraine, the norms are self-determination, the integrity of national borders, and the prohibition against a stronger country changing a weaker country's borders by force.
  • operating through partnership, not power, to discipline norm-breakers - Here, with Russia's annexation of the Crimea, there is no military response to Russia's actions. Rather a partnership of concerned nations will work together to fashion a series of non-military responses: diplomatic isolation; expulsion from the G8;  economic sanctions (as much as possible, directed against the ruling oligarchs, not the Russian people); facing the Russian Security Council veto, secure an overwhelming condemnation of the Crimean referendum in a General Assembly vote (100 voted to condemn, where Bush got only 14 in the 2008 Russian incursion into Georgia); invite and support a rapid (90 day) review, country by country, of alternatives to Gazprom/Russian gas; provide very substantial, multilateral economic support to the Ukraine; work to split Russia from its traditional ally (China) with some success already (China abstained and did not vote with Russia in the Security Council).
  • when conflicts arise, keep a clear diplomatic off-ramp open - With every pronouncement, the President has been clear that this problem can only be solved diplomatically, that we are not trying to put Russia down - rather we are trying to support and enforce international norms which have benefitted all of us. Friday, Putin called the President. Today Kerry and Lavrov are meeting in Paris. It's quite likely this will not prove the end of this crisis; but it does clearly establish the process that needs to be followed when resolution does occur.
Will this work? Ian Bremmer, in his New York Times oped, thinks not. In fact he is certain any attempt at sanctions will fail. He (along with many other very smart analysts) thinks we need to more fully understand the Russian perspective - that the Crimea belonged to them, and that the West has been relentlessly trying to encircle them since the Fall of the Wall, and that as our understanding deepens, we will lighten up on the critique. Roger Cohen, in his Thursday New York Times oped, having listened to Obama's Brussels' speech, seems to metaphorically throw in the towel, saying how can the US or Europe engage in elevated appeals to principle, when our own houses are so out of order.

Ambassador Michael McFaul (until mid-February, our Ambassador to Russia) and Fareed Zakaria have completely different takes. One of my favorite analysts, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, penned his op-ed in Britain's The Telegraph on Wednesday - "Putin's Russia Caught in US and Chinese Double-Pincer". From my perspective, the smart money is on Obama.

The stakes are high here. Can we have a world where the leading powers follow an agreed set of rules - rules which can guarantee that smaller nations don't have to always look over their shoulder to see which great power might gobble them up. Will the rules of the jungle apply, where the mighty can feast on the midgets to their heart's delight; or can we, as an international community, agree on a different set of rules, ones that protect both the meek and the mighty?

And how do you enforce these rules? In a nuclear age, military conflict between the great powers is unthinkable. So what happens when a great power wants to eat up its neighbor? Are we pretty much helpless? Until now, the answer was pretty much - Yes. Nobody could stop us from invading Iraq, and nobody did. Nobody could stop NATO from bombing Kosovo, and nobody did. So Putin says to himself, "Since the US won't use military force, no one can stop us from invading the Crimea, and probably the Ukraine, and nobody will." Until Obama did.

Will it stick? I think so, over time. Mostly because I think Obama looks at this episode of unacceptable Russian norm-breaking, as very similar to what the GOP tried to do with the Government shutdown, and their requirement that Obama negotiate over the national debt. Obama said no to the GOP and meant it. Everybody knew he would cave. He didn't. The stakes were too high. And that's right where I think we are today - the stakes are too high to just back off and give the Crimea to Russia. Bad precedent. Big countries must follow the rules, just like the small ones. If they don't, chaos follows.

But being determined might not be enough if our President did not know how to genuinely ask others to help. It's hard for us to understand what a big deal this is: Obama is telling everyone that he cannot do this alone, that he needs help from every country that recognizes the value of defending international norms - whether that help comes in the form of a UN General Assembly vote, or hard-nosed economic sanctions. US Presidents never ask for help, at least not publicly. And that's precisely what Obama did in his Brussels speech. Simply extraordinary.

This may take a week, a month, a year, or more. But starting with Wednesday's speech (above), we are watching our President lead us, and whatever other countries will join to help, in a non-violent war against the old paradigm that says, "Might makes right." Or "He who has the gold, rules."

He is leading the world in establishing certain norms that say all of us have value; that we all deserve to be heard; and that the more powerful should not be allowed to run roughshod over us.

These are norms worth fighting for.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

I Am My Brother's Keeper




(from theobamadiary.com-President with Christian Campagne from BAM)

A gathering and presentation like this shows the astonishing authenticity of this man. These can be tricky waters for him, as his early Beer Summit and his more recent comments on Trayvon Martin have shown. Adversaries are always waiting for him to "play the race card": They want to hear him complain about institutional racism and how it prevents minority progress (presumably due to white prejudice and dominance); and they especially want to find ways he is trying to provide special programs and privileges for the "victimized" minorities, at the expense (presumptively) of whites. And we shouldn't forget the GOP trope that being your "Brother's Keeper" leads you into the dreaded territory of communalism and away from the sacred ground of becoming a "job creator". And, finally, there's the always lurking possibility that this will be one more Obama effort to enlarge the domain of Big Government at the expense of individual and family.

All of these needle eyes were "seamlessly" threaded. A bravura performance, and even Bill O'Reilly rose at the end to shake the President's hand.

But I want to highlight something else: the tangible, visible-while-invisible connection he establishes and demonstrates with Christian from BAM (Becoming A Man), and with all the boys/young men gathered behind him. Watch how the President listens to Christian's introduction of him, making occasional gestures or expressions, but mostly holding himself quietly, so the attention wouldn't shift from young Christian to him. Notice both of their movements and expressions when Christian tells the audience what the President had shared a year ago "in Circle" with the young men from BAM - that he had, in fact, goofed off from time to time in school. Notice the quiet dignity and diligence with which the President connects with each young man, including a touchingly long head-on-the-President's-shoulder hug with one boy, before he leaves the room.

This is pure Presence - being right here, right now, and nowhere else, with a Beginner's Mind and an Open Heart, focusing so completely that the small "s" self (the Ego, the Busy Mind) drops away, and Big Mind/Big Heart is what is there. The pure and utter Mastery of the Peaceful Warrior. Our President as Integral Leader.

And I haven't even talked about the program itself! Wonderful public-private partnership with multiple, and varying players, depending on the location (city by city). $200MM in new Foundation support, over and above the initial $150MM commitment. A great call to minority families, particularly fathers. And a powerful call to each young man present (and those watching at a distance) to personal responsibility and hard work.

In and through it all, we see and experience our President demonstrating great personal mastery.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

I am Privileged, So Some Learning is Hard



That's my picture. Pretty well sums it up. More precisely, it sums up a certain dimension of "me": white, male, physically large and strong, probably affluent and well-educated (sort of looks that way and it's true) - in short, privileged. I have never faced "negative" discrimination, where I was treated badly because of what my outside appearance "said" to people I would meet. Lots of "positive" discrimination - special preferential treatment, most likely because the experience of power, of being powerful, becomes a habit, an assumption, that is somehow carried in the body, and people recognize it. Also, I look like an overweight, but still passable linebacker - someone you don't mess with if you don't have to. And yes, I have resources. I am part of the 1%.

I simply have no idea what it's like to be looked at and immediately disliked, despised or merely diminished because of what my appearance communicated to the onlooker about my status, my relevance, my power. In business deals through the years, I have experienced being looked at as an object, with certain measurable assets those I was negotiating with wanted; but this was a game, a ritual that had a beginning, middle and end - and I was doing some of the same myself. I really have no idea what it is like to be looked at as an object all the time, an object with presumably desired functions (sexual pleasure - a woman; physical or mental output - workers as mere inputs to production; and the like).

It's not that I haven't experienced vulnerability and, from that place, fear: My Mom was ambivalent about herself, and therefore me. My Dad always was, and remains (as an active, still curious 97 year old) like a god. I grew up suspecting Mom was right and I would never measure up. Failing terrified me and was not an option; so I did what I was good at (academics) and avoided what I wasn't so good at (sports, social life/friends). Girls were difficult, but sex was terrifying, and remained so for a long time. So I have experience of vulnerability, but none of discrimination based on "outside stuff".

So learning to enter the mind-space of people who face discrimination as part of their daily life is hard. And that's why this article in yesterday's Atlantic.com by Ta-Nehisi Coates is so important. TNC is talking with Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis, who was gunned down by Michael Dunn because his music was too loud. TNC, using his own words and those of Jordan's mother, recreates for us the mind-space of the black, male teenager with language and images that first bring me into his head, then Lucia McBath's, then Jordan Davis' , then TNC's own 13 year old son who came with his Dad to the interview, and then into the lovely and mysterious mind recesses of our own children and grandchildren - those spaces we take and have some responsibility in forming, defining, and inspiring. Reading TNC's article I was at once a bit ashamed, in awe, and deeply grateful; because we one per centers have a lot of work to do, and we cannot easily do it by ourselves. We need the firm hand and inspired guidance of Ta-Nehisi Coates and those amazing soul teachers like him. Excerpts:

Last Thursday, I took my son to meet Lucia McBath, because he is 13, about the age when a black boy begins to directly understand what his country thinks of him. His parents cannot save him. His parents cannot save both his person and his humanity. At 13, I learned that whole streets were prohibited to me, that ways of speaking, walking, and laughing made me a target. That is because within the relative peace of America, great violence—institutional, interpersonal, existential—marks the black experience...

She stood. It was time to go. I am not objective. I gave her a hug. I told her I wanted the world to see her, and to see Jordan. She said she thinks I want the world to see "him." She was nodding to my son. She added, "And him representing all of us." He was sitting there just as I have taught him—listening, not talking. 

Now she addressed him, "You exist," she told him. "You matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you. You have to be you. And you can never be afraid of being you."


She gave my son a hug and then went upstairs to pack.




Monday, February 24, 2014

I have Tears in my Eyes


(from theobamadiary.com)


Watching Michelle Obama talk to the cast of "The Trip to Bountiful" and to the assembled young college students, moved me to tears. What is it about the "zone" in which the First Lady spoke, and that same zone she easily evoked in me, that moves me so? Such hope. Such confidence that this will all work out. Her energy. Her call to action to the students: (more or less, she says) "To carry on the work (of Cicely Tyson and Carrie Underwood), you must get right. You must get right in the head (pointing to her left temple). You've got to be clear, solid, centered. And you will be. You will take up this banner, taking the mantle from us, and carry this work forward..."

How utterly marvelous!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Obamacare: The Central Objective


(from acasignups.net)

This is the most recent enrollment status from the remarkable Charles Gaba, who appears to have put his entire life on hold for 6 months to provide really good reporting of the ACA numbers. We are all blessed indeed that Charles has made such a generous commitment. Today I want to focus on the Medicaid numbers - the big purple section in the middle of the graph.

Conservative pundits have attacked the gross Medicaid enrollment numbers (reduced only by renewals, which Charles has been able to separate out) - 7.16MM shown above - saying much of the volume comes from already eligible people signing up, not the newly eligible under the ACA Medicaid expansion. So he strips out all enrollment in the non-expansion states plus numbers of those enrolling in expansion states who were already eligible before ACA, and simply "came out of the woodwork", and gets a rock bottom number of 2.60MM. For a number of reasons, I think something closer to the 7.16MM is closer to the mark. Take a look at this chart from Kaiser:

Looking at this, I would have predicted a 55.5-56.0MM forecast for 2014, based on extending past trends. So anything over, say, a 1MM increase in enrollment for 2014 must be due to the ACA's impact: some people signing up will be newly eligible under the new ACA eligibility rules; but many will be listening to the national debate, paying attention, and finally signing up, though they had already been eligible.

So let's take 1.0MM off Charles upper range number, and we get 6.16MM for Medicaid through mid-February and 3.31 on the Exchanges (excluding unpaid and off-exchange). Where will that leave us by March 31? My guess: Exchanges - 5.5-6.0MM, Medicaid - 8.5-9.0MM (after deducting 1.0MM for normal growth). In other words - short of target on the Exchanges (7MM target) and pretty close on Medicaid (9.0MM target).

But here's what I learned today: Medicaid enrollment continues throughout the year through the Exchanges and direct to state Medicaid offices. Larry Levitt at Kaiser said a drop off in monthly enrollment is expected for Medicaid, but that the signup process will continue through the year.

So how many will signup by year end? Very hard to tell, but how big would that number have to be to make the original goal of reducing the number of uninsured in 2014 by 14MM? If 5.5MM is the Exchange result, and 2.0MM of these were previously insured on the individual market, then this is a 3.5MM reduction in uninsured. To hit the 14MM original target, Medicaid would need to generate 10.5MM new signups by year end. And this looks to me to be very achievable.

This is a big deal and my guess is that very few people know about it: Medicaid enrollment numbers will keep coming in after 3/31, and we may well be hitting the original overall target of reducing the uninsured by 14MM in 2014 around the November election day.

This should help Democrats in the coming midterms.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Is the Light Breaking Through?



I must say that Avik Roy's Forbes article surprised me a bit. I am so used to conservative pundits not engaging the facts honestly, so when one of the ACA's most severe and continuing critics puts out the above, I stop and take notice.

Now that the GOP has failed to stop or significantly change the ACA legislatively, there are only a few ways the law could be thwarted:
  • If nobody signs up.
  • The howl from those hurt by the bill ratchets up big time.
  • A premium "death spiral" - premiums continuing up and enrollment down.
Enrollment looks solid. We will probably top 6.0MM, which is the CBO's revised forecast. Right now 20% haven't paid month one's premium. Suspect we'll be in the 5-10% unpaid range by the end of April. So we'll end Open Enrollment with solid numbers, a bit behind forecast, with no reason to change the forecast for 2015. At least that's the CBO's determination.

Medicaid numbers are confusing: How do you count new enrollees in non-expansion states? How about people who enroll in expansion states but were actually already eligible? Should the ACA get credit for raising awareness such that already eligible folks finally come in and sign up? These are good and legitimate questions. The way acasignups.net is doing it is to show a range, which right now goes from 2.5MM up to 7.7MM. I end up about splitting the difference, saying 5.4MM signups (expansion states only, includes enrollees who were already eligible). Original CBO forecast was 9.0MM, now revised to 8.0MM. We should hit this number, though conservatives will argue loudly for a lower number, stripping out the already eligibles. For Mediacid as for the Exchanges, the CBO has not adjusted forecasts for 2015 and beyond.

So enrollment looks fine. How about the complaint level? Conservatives have been waiting for another shoe to drop when small businesses have to renew their coverage for 2015, moving up to the often stiffer requirements of the ACA. They have also been expecting blowback when the employer mandate goes into effect for 2015 and employers have to "face the music". So when the Administration recently delayed the employer mandate for companies with under 100 employees for another year, conservatives were beside themselves. Given all that, here's my best guess:
  • The small business move to ACA compliant plans will cause some problems, but no significant disruption. Unlike the individual market where people receive cancellations directly, for small businesses there will be some HR individual who will plan for and mediate this change. Employees will often have to pay somewhat more but this bump will be absorbed.
  • Delaying the medium-sizes employer mandate was good strategy - spread out the sometimes painful ruffles and give companies more time to plan and adjust.
  • Large companies will not make substantial changes with their mandate kicking in for 2015. Almost 95% of these firms are already offering ACA-compliant plans; so no need for wholesale changes. Company costs will go up and part of this will be passed on to employees; but this is nothing new. And when Home Depot or Target cut some of their part-time workforce loose, it's because they know that with subsidies, the Exchanges will provide a better deal for their people.
So what about the dreaded premium/enrollment "death spiral"? As I've been saying for some time, and now Roy is agreeing, it won't happen. Since there are 50 different state marketplaces, we will most likely see some places where premiums spike, or insurers pull out of the market. But it seems that most of the insurance industry agrees with the Wellpoint CEO, who told a recent conference that he was pleased with the numbers coming in, that pools seem pretty balanced versus their estimates, and that they believe these Exchanges represent a great opportunity for the future. My guess (unchanged): 2015 premiums will be up 5% or less as an overall average.

Will the GOP come together on a plan and push it out as an ACA replacement as Roy advocates? The Coburn-Burr-Hatch plan in the Senate is a possibility; but I don't think they'll organize behind it - they just don't want to give Dems a way to shift the conversation away from the ACA.

Will this work? It might and it might not. The real question for the midterms is who will show up? The normal midterm skews older with fewer minorities, a mix that is favorable to Republicans. In 2010 this is the electorate that showed up, with a fired up and angry white working class base, leading to the GOP wave victory. What if the ACA is generally thought to be working by summer, and no one is really being pummeled, and the economy is improving - might the "angry base" stay home? Could Dems convince more Hispanics, other minorities and single women to show up more than they normally do?

It's possible - not likely, but possible; which is why I forecast the Dems to hold the Senate and gain a few in the House.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Faith and the Integral Leader


Be sure to read Nancy's post first.  A wonderful look into our President's faith life. The question I think Nancy is asking is: "How does Obama's description of his interior faith life align (or not) with your understanding of how other integral leaders describe their faith?" In other words, are there characteristics of faith that integral leaders have in common and does Obama "fit the model"?

My answer to both questions is: Yes - there are ways of being in faith that integral leaders share, and President Obama is clearly an exemplar. But before going to Nancy's question, I want to put down some basics of integral developmental theory. For a much better view, read Ken Wilber, particularly (to begin) his A Brief History of Everything; or visit his website, and/or spend some time browsing at the extraordinary integrallife.com

The idea of levels of development comes from the fields of developmental psychology and education. 
To summarize briefly:
  • There are stages/levels of consciousness development that are potentials for everyone, related to but not synonymous with the stages of life (infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, older age).
  • The stage/level names vary somewhat from one theorist to another, but there is broad agreement on the following six developmental levels: 
  1. archaic (the infant; self/reality fused; no differentiation); 
  2. egocentric (the child; self is differentiated but world is self-centric; can't take perspective of another; pre-operational, often magical thinking; tribal social structure; gangs); 
  3. traditional (the adolescent; can take another's perspective;  group membership is central; black and white/concrete thinking; authoritarian/hierarchical structures; the time of myth in religion; truth is "revealed" and absolute; low tolerance for deviance from the true faith; witches and heretics are burned; Europe's dominant mode of thinking before the Enlightenment; American exceptionalism as absolute (no bowing to dictators); fascism; terrorism; fundamentalism; Tea Party) ; 
  4. modern (the adult; formal operational/what if-as if/reason-based thinking; can take multiple perspectives; one's role is key to self concept; the Enlightenment perspective; universal rights/the Rights of Man; democracy; the scientific method; "Does it work?" is the value test; interiors are split off and diminished; systems are seen and studied; the "Invisible Hand"/free market capitalism; competition; Darwin/Social Darwinism; American exceptionalism (based on US as Superpower); winning matters; Wall Street; Republican Establishment; some/many Democrats);
  5. plural/postmodern (cultural creatives; holding many perspectives but privileging none; aperspectival; interiors are back; the sensitive/spiritual self; "I am spiritual but not religious"; hierarchy detested; organizations distrusted;  marginalized groups are seen/supported; civil rights; feminism; environmentalism; LGBT rights; deconstruction of universal truths and meta-narratives; rewriting "Eurocentric" history to focus on groups marginalized by the "dominant" power structures; all truth is relative (except the rule that truth is relative; that rule is absolutely true); anti-war; anti-surveillance; world centric with no enforcement-capable governance structure;  America is not exceptional (we have much to apologize for);  many Democrats; all strong liberals); and 
  6. integral (vision/logic as mode of thinking; searching for patterns and emerging wholes; the Deep Currents/not the Surface Storms; the "parts" (blown apart in the prior period) cohere again and now form "emerging wholes" this level can discern (not invariably, but consistently); truth returns - not as static absolute, but as evolutionary process; evolution is "going somewhere" - towards higher levels of complexity, broader and deeper levels of awareness, greater human interconnection; strange attractors (the Good, the Beautiful, the True), lying in our future - not in an archetypal past, call/urge us forward; for the first time, evolution becomes aware of itself and participates consciously in cocreating the emerging future; deep acceptance of transcendence, of Spirit/God as both Source and Destination; the mystical level of all the world's religions (little dogma, many spiritual disciplines and practices, focus on values - but as a way of being, not merely rules); complexity is welcomed; paradoxes are not solved - they are embraced as spaces of interior tension where new insights can emerge; the Warrior returns as Master Peacemaker who desires Peace and understands that War is sometimes necessary to ensure it; a self-enforcing world governance structure is now possible).