Will Rick Perry’s prayers be answered?

What do you think?

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Arena Asks: Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s Aug. 6 day of prayer and fasting is generating significant heat nationwide. Advocates for the separation of church and state say an elected leader should not be leading what looks to be, in effect, an evangelical Christian revival. Is there something inappropriate about the day of prayer and fasting sponsored by Perry, a possible 2012 Republican presidential candidate? Or is it an innocuous affirmation of the role of faith in public life?

My Answer: Now that we have two presidential hopefuls who claim to have been called by God, we are sure to see an escalating number of these theatrical events aimed at giving God a chance to show who is more chosen than the other.

Of course, should Perry’s day of prayer and fasting bring an end to the Texas drought, or at least a sighting of Jesus in a breakfast taco, then Michelle Bachmann would surely either withdraw from the race or at a minimum signal her willingness to be Perry’s VP. After all, female submissiveness is a key part of her religion’s theology.

In answer to the question, such government-sponsored piety is Constitutionally wrong (except perhaps in the Roberts Court which seems prepared to throw out most civil rights) and functionally useless in solving the big problems we face. If a Jewish, Muslim, or Buddhist politician were to sponsor such an event, wouldn’t you hear howls of protest?

Debt ceiling agreement a fair compromise?

Answering today’s question, I realized there are two distinctly different kinds of deals: those that produce new ideas and those that reduce all ideas to the lowest common denominator.

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Arena Asks:Facing the imminent prospect of default, the White House and Senate Republicans worked through Sunday to close a debt ceiling deal that gives President Barack Obama greater certainty in managing the Treasury’s borrowing needs while making a joint commitment to major deficit reduction without any explicit concessions by the GOP on new tax revenues. Is this a good deal? Which side came out ahead?

My Answer: Unlike Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which created an expansive new vision for America, this Obama–Boehner–Tea Party Deal lowers our sights as a nation. It’s a deal in the negative, narrow, horse trading sense of the word. It is a leadership fail all around.

This deal offers no new solutions to the great problems of our day. Who cares which side came out ahead? It’s clear who’s left behind: the American people.

“Eight Questions to Negotiate Resolution of the Federal Budget Crisis”

Victoria Pynchon
Thanks to Victoria Pynchon for this excellent cross post, originally published on Forbes.com — it’s jam packed with advice Congress really ought to take before the next seemingly intractable debate.
Be sure to read down to recommendation #8. Seems like great minds think alike 😉

As the Charlotte Observer noted this morning, with six days remaining before “expected economic chaos,” our leaders “not only can’t agree on a grand vision for how to get America’s debt under control, they can’t even take the basic steps needed to pay all the bills and avert financial panic.”  Until the crisis is solved, we will continue our series of negotiation advice for the Democrats and the GOP from some of the leading lights in the negotiation world.

Today, I’ve posed eight questions to author, lawyer and negotiation trainer and consultant Carol Frohlinger, co-author of Her Place at the Table: A Woman’s Guide to Negotiating Five Key Challenges to Leadership Success and co-founder of Negotiating Women, Inc, which provides practical skills training women can use immediately to be more successful at work.

1. Is there an optimal negotiation strategy where one side is willing to risk catastrophic consequences for the political prize of ideological purity?

Frohlinger:  The challenge here is that some of the Republicans do not believe that catastrophic consequences will follow if the parties don’t reach agreement. They do not think that the markets will collapse, that interest rates will rise, that investors will rethink buying U.S. debt and that the ratings agencies will downgrade the credit rating of the U.S.. Instead, they are convinced that there will be no financial Armageddon and that things will sort themselves out in the way they believe is the right way. One strategy would be to offer proof that their thinking is flawed – explore whether there are economists they respect who do not share their beliefs and enlist them as allies.

2. The GOP seems to be carrying a cynanide pill to prevent themselves from possible compromise. Is there any way for them to get out of the corner they’ve painted themselves into without losing face?

Frohlinger: It is very difficult for the GOP because some on the far right have taken positions that put them at odds with their leadership. Speaker Boehner is in a situation that requires him to negotiate with them as well as with the Democrats. My guess is that Boehner is finding the negotiations with the Democrats a great deal easier. Boehner has to find a way to allow these Republicans to save face – or find enough votes without them to get his bill passed. But even if he can do that, it won’t pass the Senate as things stand now.

3 . If you had one piece of advice for the Dems and one piece of advice for the GOP, what would it be.

Frohlinger: I’d advise them both to pay attention to process – agree on the ways they will negotiate, at least. For example, agree that neither party talks to the media (or only at pre-determined, scheduled times), agree on the number of hours they will spend a day in negotiation, etc. The parties do not trust one another so need to find ways to work together by first reaching agreement even on seemingly trivial things – that builds momentum and a way to create trust.

4. Where party interests are as incompatible as they appear to be here, is there any hope of agreement?

Frohlinger:  Yes, because the leadership of both parties have a common interest – avoiding an economic meltdown. The problem is that the GOP is deeply divided and some don’t share that interest because they don’t believe there will be a disaster.

Each side has to decide what it can live with – each needs to give serious thought to its BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement). That’s where the 14th Amendment may have been of help to the President (see, House Democratic Leaders to Obama: Use the 14th Amendment). I’m not sure why he made it clear he wouldn’t go that route but there must have been a reason other than the stated one. Or perhaps there is some sort of arcane procedural anomaly they can find that will avert the need to reach agreement before August second. (see Jack Balkin’s post on that at Balkinization) And each side has to count votes and potential votes – identify those who may be persuaded and ask them what are the issues that will make the difference to them.

5. Much of the fighting seems to be based on different projections about the future based on the same facts. Are there negotiation techniques such as contingent concessions that could satisfy both side’s need to avoid catastrophe?

Frohlinger:  Usually identifying objective criteria and agreeing to use it to break a stalemate is a helpful technique but if one side won’t accept facts as such, it’s not going to work.

6. Does the side that refuses to compromise always win when someone has to blink?

Frohlinger:  Not necessarily – what if neither blinks? Then there will be no agreement. But in this situation, one side has offered many concessions but the other side has not accepted – and now the side that hasn’t accepted the concessions is pushing for even more concessions. The President, however, is in a more difficult situation because of his responsibility to lead the nation – the buck stops with him.

7. What if failure is what both parties want?

Frohlinger:  Failure is not want either wants – they are politicians and they know they will be evaluated by voters on how successful they are at getting it done.

8.Any other thoughts you have about ways to break the impasse with the least harm to the players and the economy?

Frohlinger:  Perhaps they might ask for counsel from women!

Carol Frohlinger

Known for her energy and informal style, groups to whom Carol Frohlinger has spoken include the Accenture Women Senior Executives Conference, the Atlanta Women’s Network, the Association of Financial Professionals, Ernst and Young, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG International, Howrey LLP, and the National Association of Women Lawyers.

Carol’s advice has been featured by NPR, Martha Stewart Living Radio and The New York Times among other mainstream media. An affiliated faculty member of the Simmons School of Management, Carol is a former sales executive, commercial banker and practicing attorney. She holds a J.D. from Fordham University School of Law. 

Frohlinger is also a contributor to Forbes Work in Progress Blog.

Is it the Senate’s turn?

If ever there was a moment when women should take the lead without waiting to be asked by the men in leadership, this is it. My proposal for resolving the budget/debt ceiling impasse:

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Arena Asks: Washington wakes up this morning to a scary possibility: could the government actually default? If Boehner is unable to rally votes, the balance of power could shift back toward the Senate. Has the postponed vote given Democrats the leverage they need to convince Boehner to take a new course? Is it the Senate’s turn for a crack at the debt ceiling debacle?

My Answer:It’s time for all the moms in Congress to get together, sit the men down, propose a choice of two solutions like we do with children, and tell them they aren’t going out to play again until an agreement is reached.

I’m serious.

There were no women in the Gang of six. No women in the Gang of four. No women on the golf course with Obama when he tried that route. Nancy Pelosi pops up to deliver a statement from time to time but otherwise the women have been invisible. A World Bank study of parliaments globally concluded that those with greater numbers of women on them made better decisions and had a more productive decision making process. Clearly, it’s time for the U.S. to try a different way of thinking and making decisions.

Does Obama need to watch his left flank?

I couldn’t resist answering this one.
No wonder I don’t get my calls returned by the White House.

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Arena Asks: Reporting long-simmering strain between President Barack Obama and his own liberal supporters. Progressives are upset about the White House’s verbal acceptance of a debt ceiling package tilted heavily toward spending cuts, along with this spring’s budget compromise, and the tax cut deal at the end of 2010. Do the president’s past supporters on the left have legitimate gripes? Will Obama face a primary challenge? Should he?

My Answer:Progressives have very legitimate gripes. But the way to vindicate them is to win decisively in House of Representatives races next year. Some stunning progressive victories over Tea Partiers would yield an emboldened Obama too. That’s the better use of progressive energy.

Sanders knows the likelihood of defeating Obama in a primary is slim to none; the purpose would be to send a message and force him to take more progressive stands. Unfortunately, Obama doesn’t lead like an executive–he maneuvers like a legislator. His reaction to direct progressive pressure is petulance, and he tacks farther right. But give him a more reliably progressive House and he’ll jump in front of that parade, where he authentically belongs.

Did President Obama make the case for a “fair” debt deal?

Politico TheArena logoArena Asks:  President Barack Obama called on the American people Monday night to send the message to Congress that it must approve a “balanced” approach to resolving the stalemate over the debt ceiling and deficit.

Will the president’s latest plea for a “fair” compromise spur lawmakers to a deal? Are these public appearances helping the president’s cause?

My Answer:  Personally, I’m sick and tired of Obama’s “balanced” approach. I think he must put forward a much stronger agenda to draw the debate closer to his position and engage people emotionally in his vision for the future if he wants to break the logjam.

As Boehner’s response showed, the Republicans see any plea for compromise and balance as blood in the water, an enticement to go after the wounded beast ever more viciously. Despicable is the only word for their intransigence. Their disdain for fairness tickles their base into ecstasy. Are they too full of themselves to see that they are eating the seed corn? Or are they simply too tethered to their extremist base to be able to budge? In either case, their foolish fealty to the Tea Party’s pledges brought us to this precipice.

The president has plenty of room to call the Republicans out on that. He did it well in his speech and should do lots more of it. But that’s simply not enough to stop the Kabuki theater that’s playing like a never ending video loop while the entire world collectively bites its nails.

Yes, the president has to keep talking to the American people. Yes, it’s important for him to remain calm and to explain over and over how the debt has become swollen from Republicans’ unwillingness to allocate the tax burden fairly while being all too willing to start financially draining wars and raise the debt ceiling whenever the sitting president was a Republican. (Check out Ezra Klein’s succinct graphs which illustrate this…) But what will really make the difference is for him to commit to a plan for moving forward with or without them.

The president does have the harder task than the Republicans who merely need to say “no.” But then, that’s why he was elected. I say, less balance and more boldness, please.

Could Bachmann’s headaches be her downfall?

I’m getting a headache from talking about Michelle Bachmann’s headaches.
Read on and let me know what you think.

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Arena Asks: Michele Bachmann’s campaign has been overshadowed this week by questions about her chronic migraine attacks – a condition that has proved debilitating.
Could Bachmann’s migraine problem interfere with her ability to serve as president?
And was she smart to preemptively release information about her migraines?

My Answer:
Bachmann is headache walking.

But her migraines are no more of a deterrent than JFK’s debilitating, and often medicated, back problems or Reagan’s looming Alzheimer’s or FDR’s paralyzed legs or Lincoln’s depression or Ulysses Grant’s wee problem with the drink.

Let’s move on to exposing how her policies would turn America into the kind of patriarchal, bigoted theocracy my grandparents came here to escape. Leave Bachmann to manage her own headaches, hopefully back home in Minnesota come January, 2013.

Has Allen West gone too far?

No introductory remarks needed here. This guy busted himself. Your thoughts?

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Arena Asks: Amid the House budget debate Wednesday freshman Republican Rep. Allen West dispatched a scathing personal email to Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, calling her “vile, unprofessional ,and despicable,” “a coward,” “characterless,” and “not a Lady,” and demanding that she “shut the heck up.”

Does West owe an apology to Wasserman Schultz? Or were his remarks in line with reasonable political discourse?

My Answer:
Wasserman Schultz spoke about substance, whether one agrees with her or not.

West responded with ad hominems. Flinging the epithet “not a Lady” with its inappropriate capital “L” as the final thrust of his rhetorical sword simply reveals that West is a Sexist with a capital “S.” Apparently the offending words got his goat in particular because they were delivered by an uppity Woman.

The Gentleman’s punctuation skills are none too good either, incidentally.

Debt ceiling – looming catastrophe or Y2K redux?

You know the drill — Politico’s Arena asks, I answer. I’d like to know what you would have said, so please tell me in the comments section below.


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Arena Asked:  President Barack Obama, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warn of calamitous effects if the nation’s debt ceiling is not raised soon. But a few prominent Republicans, such as Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, a presidential candidate, say nothing much would happen and blast the administration for its “scare tactics.”

Are Bachmann and co. naive about the consequences of default? Or do they have a point? Might this be the economic equivalent of Y2K, the turn-of-the-21 century computer scare that ended up causing minimal damage?


My Answer:  Bachmann and her Tea Party minions are not naive–they are ruthless.

They are ruthlessly seeking power over others. They are ruthlessly seeking to change America into a narrow, dog-eat-dog, hierarchical culture consistent with their extreme fundamentalist theology.

But in the end, they are actually the lapdogs of those corporate interests (e. g. Murdock) that operate from pure greed with no connection to the social threads that bind a society together and enable a healthy economy to function. They don’t get that co-operation and mutual support (I call that the power TO) are as essential to successful cultures as competition. On that point, perhaps they are indeed dangerously naïve.

Will Bachmann Fizzle Like Dean?

Politico’s Arena asked a really interesting question today. I’d love to know what you think and whether you agree with my assessment. Am I too optimistic? OMG I hope not!

Arena Asked: Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) is drawing comparisons in her Republican presidential bid with another longshot candidate – Howard Dean, for a few months in 2003-04 the leading Democratic contender to challenge President George W. Bush. Both have drawn big summer crowds by pledging to confront the opposition party president. But Dean’s campaign fizzled even before voting began. Has Bachmann’s campaign peaked too soon? Will she end up as more of a Dean-like novelty candidate or can she go the distance?

My Answer: That bumper sticker “Dated Dean, Married Kerry” answers this question. Just look what happened after that misbegotten marriage. Choosing the least offensive rather than than the most energizing candidate didn’t serve the party very well, now did it?

Besides, think of a rhetorically fiery woman against Mr. Cool (and often caustically dismissive of others) Obama on the stump.

If I were a Republican consultant, I’d be cheering Bachmann on.

That said, we don’t yet know what Bachmann’s potentially fatal flaw will be. All candidates have them. Thus far, voters seem to be forgiving her almost surreal lack of the most basic historical facts. She approaches everything through an extreme ideological lens that quite literally gives her an alternative view of the universe. Most Americans are fundamentally tolerant and fair people. Her zeal for that rigid, theologically based universe might well cause her to do or say something that will implode her campaign just when she least expects it.

More likely than Bachmann flaming out on her own, however, is that the Tea Party itself will overreach and finally scare the bejesus out of the American voters. She could go down flying their flag when voters realize that when we are all suffering, the solution isn’t to feed those who have caused the pain while starving the rest of us, but rather to hang together, invest in innovation, and grow our way out of the current economic mess.