Sunday, July 29, 2007

How to Lie

Maybe I'm just a little morally challenged, but I did learn one thing while working in politics -- how to lie. I know that may not sound like something important but if you look at just some of the headlines from this week's news you can see quite clearly how few people know how to lie. So, I thought that I'd write this down to help out those politicians and others out there who often feel compelled to lie but just don't know how to do it properly.The rules are simple. I will outline them and offer examples of good lies and bad lies so that you can learn the difference. Rule number one: keep the lie simple. It seems obvious, but surprisingly people are always inventing elaborate tales, tales that always seem to evolve with each subsequent telling. Start changing your story and your credibility will fall faster than the Dow when credit markets are tight. Here's an example: Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ ever evolving story regarding the firings of several US district attorneys. The story keeps changing about what he knew and when he knew it. Had the Administration fired all the attorneys at the end of the first term and rehired only the ones they wanted to keep they would have been avoided any political entanglements. This was too easy a solution for the policy masters in the Bush White House...instead they had to go about it the hard way. However, they shouldn't have lied. Politicians hold sway over federal political appointees and may fire them on a political whim. This is what should have been said, even if it were wrong, admitting you made a mistake and asking for forgiveness certainly would have been simpler than the tack the Administration has taken. So, rule one again, keep it simple that way your lie is told the same way every time without having to worry about getting all the details right.Rule Two: Don't tell a lie when someone else already knows the truth. Again, a no-brainer, but we constantly see politicians ignoring this rule. Take the case of the righteous New York governor Eliot Spitzer, currently involved in a political fight with Joseph Bruno. Mr. Spitzer maintains that he had no knowledge that close political advisors where using state resources to smear Mr. Bruno. Gov. Spitzer may be telling the truth, but no one believes him. How can it be that a zealous prosecutor would surround himself with high-level staffers who knowingly skirt the law? To date no one has admitted that the Spitzer did know what was happening, but this does not seem likely to last. I hope I'm wrong but it appears that Gov. Spitzer should have stuck to Rule #2 and issued a mea culpa.Rule Three: The more outrageous the lie the more likely people are to believe it. Take for example the last time you called in sick to work. No one ever believes you when you call out on what happens to be the nicest Friday of the summer, or the night after you went to that concert. Though those lies may follow rules one and two they fail under rule three. A former colleague told the best example of a lie following Rule #3. She claimed to have cancer, kidney failure, and a daughter and granddaughter who were murdered. The individual took off (with pay) roughly 30% of the year to deal with her multitude of issues. And, given the gravity of the problems no one dared think these things could be false. She pushed the kidney failure to transplant surgery, and requested an additional three months and this brought about her downfall. Her continued lies lead to an investigation that eventually brought about her extremely quite termination. Going too far on rule three can cause you to violate rule one.That's it, three simple rules. Go back and look at all the past political lies that have been uncovered -- Watergate, Iran-Contra, Monica Lewinsky, all failed one or more of these rules. And maybe the most important lesson to learn is this -- don't lie. That's what we should do. Tell the truth; lying is just too hard even with simple rules to follow. Everyone realizes mistakes are made, and the voting populace expects even more mistakes from politicians than they do of others. What they do not seem to abide is when the lying starts. Aren't we all taught as children that we will be forgiven our transgressions if only we confess and ask for forgiveness? What is true for children and is also true for politicians.A final example -- Sen. Joseph Biden was once accused of plagiary years ago. He admitted his mistake, asked for forgiveness and moved on. He was even able to make light of it in a speech given soon afterwards, allowing the public to seen a more human side of his political persona. Shortcomings, when admitted, make politicians more likable and increase their voter appeal. Hopefully everyone will learn something from this, but experience tells me they won't.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Common Sense Environmental/Energy Policy

OK, first a confession...I used to lobby for the energy industry. I left that job, and I have at times tried without success to work for the environmental community. I have often wondered why they would not jump at the chance to hire someone who is intimately familiar with their enemy. I guessed it was because I was not pure of heart.

The environmental community in America has been responsible for a lot of public policy good over the years -- the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts among them, but they have also stopped many incremental environmental improvements. The environmental activists and their leaders have often demanded that they get the "whole pie" or they didn't want anything -- a petulant child's attitude towards public policy. It is disturbing watching the environment slowly be destroyed because the community most active in trying to protect it does not understand the importance of small victories.

There are numerous examples, and one I have personal experience with is the Three Gorges Dam in southern China. Several heavy industry companies based here in the US wanted to see if the US government would support their involvement in the construction of the world's largest hydro-electric project. Unfortunately, the environmental community here in America successfully blocked US involvement in the project with the naive hope that without US involvement the project would fall by the wayside. Fortunately for China and my fellow asthma sufferers in that nation the Chinese government went ahead with their project, and I believe it is now slated to "come on line" in 2009, and become the second man-made object that can be viewed from space (the Great Wall being the other).

Now, why the environmental community was right to object to the project was due to the vast numbers of Chinese needed to be relocated due to the lake the dam would build, and the potential devastation to three forms of wildlife dependent upon the river. However, they did not examine the possible alternative nor realize the political realities of the project. The Chinese government is not popularly elected, and certainly would never bow to the pressure brought by the global environmental community. The Chinese government also steadfastly maintained that the dam would also serve as a much needed flood control on the river, as floods annually took the lives of hundreds of thousands of Chinese living in the lower river basin (though I do not know if this assertion is true, I never heard anyone try to counter the claim). And finally the vast amount of electricity produced by the dam could only be replaced by building 250 average size coal-fired power plants, and the long-term environmental damage caused by such a decision certainly would have been significantly worse. The most disturbing item was not any of these facts, but simply that the environmental community thought the Chinese people did not need the power.

This is only an example, and should serve as a reminder that not every thing the energy industry does is bad, just like everything the environmental community supports is necessarily good. We all need to remember that the best place for public policy to succeed is for all sides to meet in the middle, find a common ground and a workable solution for all sides. When one side demands complete victory we all lose.