Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Seven Lessons of Leadership

David Gergen's 2000 book, "Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership, Nixon to Clinton", describes his inside knowledge of how the four presidents who he worked for operated and used presidential power. The book is not a memoir, but rather it attempts to compare and contrast the leadership styles of these four presidents. In the last chapter, Gergen then summarizes his findings in a list of seven core principles which he deems important.

The bulk of the book is rather dull, and frankly, I think a personal memoir wold have been more interesting. However, the last chapter gives this book lasting value. I will list his 7 principles.

1. Leadership starts from within. Gergen says that "the inner soul of a president flows into every aspect of his leadership far more than is generally recognized". Personal integrity is the most important quality for a president to have.

2. A central, compelling purpose. The great presidents all had this, and poor ones have often lacked it. When talking about the great ones, we can usually say in a single sentence what each presidency was all about. And it is apparent that this is Obama's greatest failing as a leader, in that he has not articulated a clear, central purpose for his presidency.

Gergen goes on to say that a president's central purpose must be rooted in the nation's core values. He quotes Chesterton as observing that "America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed." The great presidents have always operated with our founding documents uppermost in mind, and based their central purposes on these documents.

3. A capacity to persuade.

4. An ability to work within the system.

5. A sure, quick start.

6. Strong, prudent advisers.

7. Inspiring others to carry on the mission.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Supreme Court and Eyewitness Testimony

Study after study has demonstrated beyond any doubt that eyewitness identification of strangers is inherently unreliable. In light of that, it was particularly distressing to me to learn that the Supreme Court this week was completely hostile to an advocate who was pressing for a rule limiting the use of this unreliable evidence. Accounts of oral arguments in the case of Perry v. New Hampshire show that every Justice, liberal and conservative, seemed hostile to the idea.

There is ample language in past Supreme Court decisions about how unreliable such testimony is. But the current Court seems to think that it would be too much of a burden to impose on the judicial system to establish a new evidentiary standard. One Justice spoke of having a "trial within a trial", as if this does not happen already. I have two examples of this from my limited criminal trial experience. A young boy was examined to determine whether he could testify, i.e., whether he knew the difference between a lie and the truth. When it was determined he did not, then the statute giving an exception to the hearsay rule kicked in and the jury was allowed to hear his statement to his mother about what had allegedly happened to him while she was gone.

Another case involved the DA's attempt to use evidence of prior similar crimes. The Judge, who was pretty dim, disallowed it. Then during the trial the detective testified that when he heard the report of the burglary, he dispatched a unit to the defendant's house, so closely did the MO match that of his prior acts. I suppose the DA should have brought that out during the "trial within a trial", but the defendant got convicted anyway.

The court system continues to deny admissibility of polygraph evidence while allowing fallible eyewitness testimony in, even though the former is many times more reliable than the latter. I just wonder how many innocent defendants have to be convicted, and, in many instances sent to death row, before the justice system wakes up.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

On Class Warfare

The right wing seems to take such delight in carelessly throwing around this term, that I have to share this from Al Franken's "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell them".

"In her book 'A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous Fourteenth Century', Barbara Tuchman writes about a peasant revolt in 1358 that began in the village of St. Leu and spread throughout the Oise Valley. At one estate, the serfs sacked the manor house, killed the knight, and roasted him on a spit in front of his wife and kids. Then, after 10 or 12 peasants violated the lady, with the children still watching, they forced her to eat the roasted flesh of her husband and then killed her. *That* is class warfare. Arguing over the optimum marginal tax rate for the top 1% is not."

Sexual Harassment and Herman Cain

It seems that sexual harassment, like beauty and obscenity, often lies in the eye of the beholder. I will elaborate on this.

20 years ago we had the spectacle of the Anita Hill allegations against Clarence Thomas. These allegations seemed to be specious, as illustrated by an attorney I knew who said, incredulously, that "He never even touched her." The allegations involved silly comments, the one most often repeated being when Thomas supposedly said that "somebody put a public hair in my Coke".

Hill obviously has an "eggshell personality", and is not suited for any high-powered job. The most intelligent thing I have heard on this whole fiasco is from the actress Angie Dickinson, who said that "Clarence Thomas has to be able to say to Anita Hill, 'Hey Anita, nice boobs', and Anita Hill has to be able to say 'You'll never know' and walk away."

A guy I knew in my later law practice years, who did some para-legal work for me, had been a bank officer, and near the end of his career was working for the FDIC in its role of taking over failed banks and trying to convert the assets to cash. He says he lost a quarter of a million dollars because of something he said while he and a group of his fellow employees were going out to lunch together. Walking behind some women ahead of him, he noticed one had a run in her stocking and told her that. He was accused of sexual harassment, had to go to sensitivity training, and lost bonuses and promotions he would otherwise have been in line for, and ultimately was forced to take early retirement.

And now we have Herman Cain. Hopefully we will find out more of what this man was accused of doing. His reactions to the whole mess have been hopelessly inept, and shows his incompetence to lead the country. But if it was, as he states, that he made a comment in an elevator about a woman's height, it seems similar to my friend's case.

Like I said initially, these examples show that it all comes down to the eye of the beholder in these kinds of situations. I am not, of course, referring to true sexual harassment, just to comments that some might construe as innocent, but others who are overly sensitive react to with uneasiness.