Tuesday, July 20, 2010

It Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time

(reflections on the news cycle of the past two days.)

I picked up a theme in yesterday's news that points to a universal truth that Democrats and Republicans alike ignore at their peril.  Sorry -- our peril.

The theme is nothing surprising:  When intelligent people in authority get together and make plans with good intentions for other people,  there will be consequences that they did not foresee and would not want.

For example, in a flurry of urgent activity to get a handle on the economic crisis, the Obama administration bought out GM and forced the closing of redundant and poorly performing dealerships.  This made perfect sense, to save jobs by saving the company by divesting it of dead weight.   News yesterday was analysis that shows net harm and net job loss by killing dealerships that were job creators in their communities.  An Obama regulator admitted this today, speaking how they would have done things differently, with benefit of hindsight.

Another example is the 2004 Republican Congress's response to the 9/11 Commission's common - sense  recommendation that a new head of intelligence be given the responsibility and authority to "connect the dots" in all the intelligence gathered.  As the latest candidate for the post interviews for the job today, analysts have reflected on the failure of the idea, as the position holds responsibility but not authority, and it's supported by a vast new bureaucracy that cannot (yet) do what it's intended to do.  Meanwhile, another analyst interviewed yesterday detailed examples of the different agencies' duplications of effort.  Of course, we also saw the "failure to connect the dots" at Christmas when a warning from a would-be bomber's father didn't get through channels to the people who would have kept the man off a plane.

Another example is in the gulf spill.  Here, it's corporate decision-makers plus political ones plus federal decision makers in the Coast Guard and other departments.  Did the dispersants used to break up the oil actually make the situation worse, because the thick oil becomes thinner and more easily absorbed into living tissue?  Has the capping of the pipe actually resulted in subterranean ruptures across a much wider area, hopeless to stop?

When we discuss these things and criticize the ones who made the decisions, we're scoring points as if every decision is a win or lose, right or wrong, smart or stupid, fair or unfair.  But it's always a matter of balance.

What other policy decisions in the news today will be discussed next year "with the benefit of hindsight?" 

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