What Were They Thinking? How Not To Solve Problems

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Most Americans were thrilled and thankful for the successful Navy Seal military operation against Bin Laden. It was a job well done. It was also one of the few times where the political class, and the government it runs, successfully addressed a real life problem and executed a real solution based on facts and logic. Solving a problem usually involves some relatively simple steps:

* Define the problem: In this case it was the continuing influence and inspiration that Bin Laden had in the world of terrorism.

* Define the desired solution: Find and eliminate Bin Laden as a source of influence in whatever way possible.

* Collect data: gather intelligence information from a variety of sources.

* Look at various scenarios and hypothesize the likely consequences or actions: For example, if the U.S. bombed the Bin Laden compound, you had the possibility of killing innocent civilians, not confirming his death, and the consequences unleashing military might deep within a sovereign country. If you sent in the Seals, you minimized the potential for civilian casualties, could confirm his death or capture, and your military operation would be surgical but not mighty. The risk and consequence was the stranding of U.S. military personnel deep within a foreign country.

* Choose an option and develop the necessary support tactics: Seal team insertion and all of the associated details.

Logical, detailed, well thought out, and successful.

Now consider some other recent government and political class actions, none of which were logical, detailed, well thought out, and successful or followed the simple problem solving steps listed above:

– One of the biggest problems as it relates to the growing violence, lawlessness, and strength of the Mexican drug cartels is that they are equipping themselves with high powered weaponry with guns made and sold in the United States. Recently, President Obama and the Mexican President got together and both agreed that stemming the flow of weapons into Mexico was a major objective.

Their reasoning is twofold: first, the arming of the cartel’s hoods makes it more difficult and dangerous for the Mexican authorities to get the cartel violence problem under control if the cartel has comparable or better weapons than the authorities. Second, tens of thousand of Mexicans have been killed in just the past few years as a result of drug violence and gun usage.

So the leaders correctly identified the problem, too many guns going into Mexico illegally. They correctly identified the desired solution, a significant reduction in the flow of weapons into Mexico. However, according to a continuing story line being followed by CBS News, the government really fell down when they came up with a proposed solution and the tactics that were implemented to execute the solution.

The solution being pursued by the political class and government is to actually encourage the flow of illegal guns and automatic weapons into Mexico, in direct opposition to the desired solution which is the reduction of the number of weapons going into Mexico. CBS News uncovered a plan where Federal agents were told by their superiors to intentionally allow guns to go into Mexico with the thin hope of tracking where they ended up, build a big case for illegal firearms, and take down the cartels. The practice is called “letting guns walk” and the project was code named “Fast and Furious.”

And, the Mexican government, supposedly our partners in the desired solution of reducing gun trafficking, was never told of the plan. According to the report, the number of guns allowed to “walk” was in the thousands.

CBS obtained video of suspected drug cartel suppliers taking crates of AK-47 weapons to their cars at a Phoenix gun shop. The tape was obtained from the Alcohol, Firearms, and Tobacco (ATF)organization, the very organization that is supposed to prevent this type of behavior but was not only was encouraging it but also videotaping the action.

The most tragic part of this whole “solution” is the sad fact that it is highly likely, according to CBS News, that U.S. Patrol Agent Brian Terry was gunned down last December and killed by some of the “Fast and Furious” weapons. Two assault rifles that the ATF had allowed to pass illegally into Mexico were found at the murder scene. Unknown is the number of Mexican civilians that have been killed by the thousands of weapons that were allowed to head over the border, the article did not provide that estimate.

What were they thinking? If your desired solution is to stop guns from going over the border, why would you allow guns to go over the border? There is no word or any indication that arrests or negative impacts on the drug cartels due to “Fast and Furious” is imminent. Very bad problem solving, using tactics that are in direct opposition to your desired result and not understanding the consequences of the plan.

– Recent comments from New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg really make you stop and think, “What was he thinking?” As most of us know, we have a very serious immigration problem in this country. Most estimates put the number of illegal immigrants in this country at well over 10 million, spread throughout the country. Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, having over 10 million unknown people walking around the country presents national security problems and societal problems.

Thus, the current situation is at least 10 million illegal immigrants are already here, and more are coming over our porous borders. The desired solution is to have an immigration plan and strategy that secures our borders and allows the types of immigrants into the country that we desire.

What is Mr. Bloomberg’s proposed solution? According to a recent Associated Press report, he wants to “wave a magic wand (his words) and pull everybody together” and “pass a law letting immigrants come in as long as they agreed to go to Detroit and live there for five or ten years. Start businesses, take jobs, whatever.” His reasoning is that the population of Detroit has dropped from about 1.8 million in 1950 to just over 700,000 in 2010, including a 26% drop in the past ten years alone. He would wave his magic wand, repopulate Detroit with immigrants, and solve both Detroit’s problems and our broken immigration problem.

Boy, did the Mayor blow this problem solving exercise:

* Define the problem – the problem is not that Detroit has too few people and we have too many immigrants. Detroit has structural economic problems and we have porous borders which allows us no control over who enters the country. So the Mayor did not even the define the problem correctly.

* Define the desired solution – the desired solution is to have a coherent immigration policy and strategy that secures our borders and only allows in immigrants that we want to allow in. Forcing people against their will to go to Detroit is not a solution. Plus, we do not have a magic wand so the proposed solution is dead on arrival if a magic wand is essential to implementing the solution.

* Collect data: if the mayor had taken the time to collect a little bit of data he may not have made such a ridiculous proposal. The reason Detroit has fewer and fewer people is because there are fewer and fewer jobs. Just dumping millions of immigrants into the Detroit metro area does not create jobs. The population would not be so low if there were jobs available, and no magic wand to can fix that problem.

* Look at various scenarios and hypothesize the likely consequences of actions: Did the mayor not think that one of the likely consequences of this plan would be the comparison to the internment camps for Japanese Americans during World War II? The forced shipping and relocation of certain types of people? Forcing people to stay at a location, likely against their will?

* Choose and option and develop the necessary support tactics – without that magic wand, this plan for solving the problems is not feasible and we should be thankful for that fact.

What was he thinking? Forced relocation, magical job creation, still porous borders, etc. Hardly a good problem solver, this mayor of the largest American city.

– Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve have shown that they are not very good at problem solving either. No one at the Fed, in any position of power, was able to foresee the coming of the Great Recession until it hit the Fed and the rest of the country in the face. How people in those positions of the Federal bank, those responsible for the health of the economy, could not see that problem coming is almost beyond belief.

Thus, it makes you a little more than scared when these same people and the same institution decides to start printing money out of thin air to fix the problem they never saw coming in the first place. Printing money out of thin air is also known as quantitative easing and the Fed printed and injected about 0 billion of phony wealth into the economy to try and get it moving.

According to an article in the May 6, 2011 issue of The Week magazine, quantitative easing  did pump up the stock market reduced the cost of American exports, and allowed companies to borrow money at lower costs. However, in the areas that really matter, and which affect most Americans, quantitative easing did not reduce the unemployment rate or reduce the cost and expand the availability of mortgages and consumer loans.

Thus, the solution from the Fed helped out Wall Street and U.S. manufacturers but did nothing to help the ordinary American. In the process, it weakened the dollar which will likely lead to much higher inflation in the coming months. Seems like the Fed did not define the problem correctly, did not attain the desired solution, and did not understand the likely consequences of printing money.

– Obama Care is, of course, a prime example of bad problem solving skills from the political class. The politicians working on health care reform that ended up with the abomination called Obama Care did not even understand the current problem, i.e. what is causing escalating health care costs in America. The root causes are probably a combination of the following symptoms:

1) Americans eat too much.

2) Americans eat to much of the wrong types of food.

3) Americans do not get enough exercise.

4) Americans smoke too much.

5) Americans on average are getting older, resulting in more old age diseases such as dementia than in the past.

6) The American health care system is in dire need of tort reform.
The American health care system restricts cross state line medical insurance competition.

These define the problem and the problem solving exercise should emanate from these facts. Tactics should eventually include a public health approach to eating, exercising and smoking along with tort reform, encouraging competition, and researching and finding cures and remedies for old age diseases. Instead, the political class blew the very first step by mis-defining the root causes of the problems and ended up with a government bureaucracy and taxing solution that does not fit the problem. What were they thinking?

It is a shame that the problem solving skill set used  in the Bin Laden action could not be used in the rest of the government by the rest of the political class. Many Americans are shocked they pulled off the Bin Laden exercise. It is not that we did not think our armed forces would act admirably and heroically, but that our politicians would execute the plan as efficiently as they did. Kudos on this one case.

However, there are many other problems that need this type of execution skills and we need to change a few things in our political processes to repeat the Bin Laden success, some steps of which:

– Institute term limits for all Federal political positions. Many of those sitting in Congress have been sitting in those same seats for decades. Since our major issues are decades old, one must assume that those long timers in Congress are short on problem solving skills. Thus, they need to be removed from office and term limits is the only way to do it in order to get some fresh views and fresh ideas into Washington, hopefully from people that know how to solve a problem.

– Remove politicians from Congressional committees if those committees fail to execute their responsibilities to at least minimum performance standards. One example of this would be the  “walking guns” situation above. If a Congressional committee is responsible for overseeing the ATF and the ATF is purposefully allowing guns to be shipped to violent Mexican drug cartels, at some point in time, that behavior has to result in dismissal from committee posts.

– Apply a defined problem solving process to the national issues of immigration, drug abuse, energy policy, education reform, and health care costs in order to properly execute the simple problem solving steps listed above. The proposed processes would exclude members of the political class and their associated lobbyists. These two groups tend to short circuit any reasonable problem solving in  order to first solve their own selfish needs and issues, with the best solution to the problem rarely being considered, never mind implemented.

Again, thanks to all that successfully implemented a cogent problem solving process in the Bin Laden exercise. However, are we continually going to be thinking: “What were they thinking?” relative to other political class and government programs until we can fix our political processes, orienting them to problem solvers and not incumbents only looking to get re-elected?


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