It’s Fully Approved. That Means Almost Nothing.

The big news this week is that the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19 has been “fully approved.” That means the FDA has moved beyond the original emergency use authorization (EUA), and is now giving it their highest stamp of approval. [1] Many people said they would not take the vaccine because it only had the EUA. So now things are going to change.

Except, they won’t. Because that’s not the reason people aren’t getting the vaccine. The main reason we’re hovering at 52% fully vaccinated is because people don’t trust the government.

The next step in this process, of course, is mandates. Already lots of companies are requiring that employees get vaccinated. Colleges are requiring students be vaccinated. Cities are requiring restaurant patrons to be vaccinated. By the time you read this, there will likely be more mandates.

And guess what happens with the millions of people who don’t trust the government when that same government requires they be vaccinated? The obvious: even more distrust.

This post is about the pandemic, but the problem is far deeper. Most of us don’t trust our government. And the government acts like it doesn’t know (or doesn’t care.)

The first step to build trust is to admit that it’s not there. To acknowledge why you might not be trusted. To explore opportunities to be worthy of trust. And to show, patiently and repeatedly, that you can do what you said you were going to do, and apologize when you fail.

That’s what we want from one another. And it’s what we should expect from a government of the people, for the people, and by the people.


Half of all jobs could be done remotely

That’s the line from a recent podcast I heard talking about the economy. It’s a widely reported figure from lots of sources, and it checks out. Barbers, carpenters, and surgeons need to go into a place of business. Programmers, call center workers, and video editors could do their work from home or most anywhere.

We know this is true practically, because once the pandemic started zillions of people who were going to offices stopped going in–but kept working. And now with new variants and some school closures and other issues some of those zillions are still working from home. And apparently, a lot of managers (and employees) report increased productivity as a result. [1]

But this isn’t about the pandemic. And it’s not even about working from home. It’s about something we could have done, all along. In this case, it’s working from home: which allows us to get more done, and also, something most people prefer. [2]

So why did it take a global health emergency to relocate people from looking at computer screens in offices to looking at computer screens on their kitchen tables? Why didn’t we do that before?

A lack of leadership.

One of the many reasons I’m running for Congress is because I think we need a new kind of leadership. And while of course, I want to advocate for people working from wherever they can get work done, this is only an example.

But it’s one that’s been obvious to those zillions of people for ages. And what’s been obvious to all of us as well is that we don’t get much out of our elected leaders.

It’s time for another obvious change. It’s time to vote for someone who is genuinely paying attention.



The Right Answer is Usually “That’s Not a Good Question.”

I spent a lot of time in consulting in my career, particularly in the field of information technology (IT). With computers, people often ask if something can be done or if a problem can be fixed. These people are sometimes the individuals working in regular, non-IT jobs. Sometimes they are managers, or salespeople, or customers.

And they all want to know if something can be done. The answer to that question is always the same: “sure, it’s possible.” Because it is technically possible. Given enough time and resources, you can solve most any IT issue.

But the answer “sure, it’s possible (with enough time and resources)” is the answer to almost any question! Ask your neighbor to do open heart surgery, ask the next person in the carpool line to do some translation into Monogolian, ask someone to design a phone app for your collection of home recipes–and they can probably do it. They might need a decade of training and millions of dollars in equipment and a support team but they can do it.

Because in IT as well as most places in the world “can you do this” is often a bad question. The question should rarely be can. Instead, ask should. As in: “should we do this?”

Politics is no different. We spend a ton of energy demanding: “can we implement policy X?” or “can we cancel policy Y?” But these questions presume that the arguments were already made and are widely known.

Can we expand farm subsidies? Can we cancel federal student loan debt? Can we reduce taxes? Can we increase border funding?

But most of the time, these are not good questions. Instead, ask should. As in: “should we implement policy X?” or “should we cancel policy Y?”

Because the question should we inspires discussion and debate. Should we is a place of research and study. Should we is where all of us go to learn and maybe even change our minds.

Once we’ve decided if we should, then we’ve done the hard work. We’ve made the best choice we can with the information available.

Because if we should, the next question is how.

Being Half Right

After a long day at work, I often find myself tempted to drop into a gas station and buy a bottle of a sports beverage. I’ve apparently convinced myself that the “zero calorie” version is healthier, and that the particular contents of this drink will refresh me. I believe it will restore my energy as if I’m a character in a video game.

Of course, this isn’t true. What I actually need is hydration and electrolytes. The brand isn’t magic, but it is convenient. Drinking more water–perhaps with some salt–would do the trick as well.

My post-work beverage routine isn’t wrong. But I’m only half right. I do need to drink more water, but I don’t need the neon-colored liquid in the distinctive transparent bottle. I’m half right.

Being half right is where almost all of us with politics today. We are are right in that there is a widespread, coordinated campaign designed to pump us with dubious information, load us up with fear and moral superiority, and inspire us to take the to streets. That really is happening. We’re right about that. We are the target of sophisticated messaging.

What we’re wrong about is the actual truth of what’s happening. Yes, there are powerful operators spending tons of cash to change our beliefs and bully us into acting. But it’s not so we can stop a bunch of bloodthirsty murderous fascists. There really aren’t many of those people if any. The goal of the messaging is to preserve existing power structures.

This is hard to accept, especially if you’re convinced that the (party name here) is filled with evil people who will do unspeakable things. The simple reality is that people in power want to stay in power. But you know who benefits from those preposterous claims? The people in power.

If we think about politics like we think about sports drinks, it becomes clear that most of the resources are focused on marketing, not on being healthy. And the more effective that marketing is, the less we’ll think about the simply reality.

I’m half right about sports drinks. Which means, I gotta quit drinking them only because I’m thirsty. And too many of us are only half right about politics too.

Because here’s the most important part: being half right means you’re also half wrong.

Everything is a lie (except it isn’t, not everything)

One of the biggest challenges with politics is the prevalence of falsehoods. These days those spread throughout our world faster than the speed of thought thanks to the invention of the meme. Here’s one that I came across. I blurred out the specific topic it was about, because that’s the distraction:

There are two parts to this lie. First is the insistence that the claim is a “truth bomb.” Here’s a good rule of thumb: if you have to tell someone how powerful/brilliant/mind-blowing an idea is, then it’s probably not actually that special. Genuine innovations or jaw-dropping statistics speak for themselves.

Second, there is the use of the word “everything.” Now for the second rule: if a claim uses absolutist language (e.g. everything, nothing, always, or never) then it’s likely an exaggeration if not a flat out lie. Most of the time, there are exceptions. Or as the old saying goes extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

Do you find yourself wanting to know what this meme was about? It went on to say “everything the government is doing right now is designed to make you fat, weak, stupid, depressed, and lazy—” which obviously is not true. The government is installing stop signs. The government is sending people to inspect factories for safety. The government is paying teachers and firefighters. And of course the government is doing things like requiring food to have ingredients printed on the label, which is the opposite of the specific claim.

This is another way that lies are spread. Watch out for the word “everything.” It often signals that someone is trying to make you angry rather than to encourage you to think.

Answering More Questions

A few weeks back, I wrote a post about answering the questions that are often asked of politicians. (Reminder: a lot of candidates from the last cycle didn’t bother to answer some of the questions.) Here’s the next one.

What issues will your campaign focus on? Telling the truth. I keep saying this, but that’s because there’s nothing more important. Most politicians are not being honest with you. It’s important to note that their dishonesty, however, is quite nuanced. For example, last time around someone responded with:

I am committed to solving the climate crisis.

This reply is pure politics. First is the signaling, with climate crisis. The use of the word “crisis” sets up the fight by putting other people on the defensive. If you have any other view, then you’re ignoring something which is IMMEDIATE and CRITICAL and MUST BE ADDRESSED RIGHT NOW OR WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!

The term “crisis” refers to something where we are truly at a turning point. But that’s not where we are with climate change. It’s never been the case, no matter which expert you talk to. Rather, the general consensus from scientists is pretty straightforward:

  1. Humans have changed the planet’s atmospheric system on accident
  2. Humans could help slow that change or maybe even reverse it if we work together on purpose.

How quickly those things happen, how strong the effects, how much we do, and whether it’s worth it–these are all critical questions.

But it’s not a “crisis.” Something we’ve been talking about for decades can’t be a crisis. An asteroid headed toward earth? That’s a crisis.

(I know that people who are gravely concerned about the climate may object to me pulling back this word. But I think it helps their cause. If you want to convince the skeptics, then use accurate language. That gives them less to critique.)

I could also talk about the word “solving” which doesn’t actually represent the problem at hand. Climate change is not a riddle or a Rubik’s cube. We’ve already taken tremendous action in response to the changing climate and based upon current predictions. What is next is more action. That’s not a “solution” but using that word allows the listener to believe that climate change is “solvable” and therefore something they can look forward to not worrying about.

That’s what this candidate said was a key issue. “I am committed to solving the climate crisis.” You probably didn’t know eight words could be so sneaky, did you?

What issues will your campaign focus on? Telling the truth. I can write and speak about climate change, and I will. But I promise to only tell the truth, with no spin, no pushing, no effort to make my opponents look bad.

Beyond, of course, what they do themselves.

We Ignore What Doesn’t Seem to Matter

I think I’ve heard it in a few different cartoons. Certainly it appears in books and TV shows and rap music. It’s a variation on the quote:

People fear what they do not understand.

I do like to know the origins of things, and no one seems to have figured this one out. But I also find that statements about the human condition tend to become universal. This is how we think about other people. If they don’t understand, then they are going to be afraid.

I suppose it’s true. It’s seemingly the message of every movie about aliens, that we fear [them] because we don’t understand [them.]

But I think government is different. Yes, basically nobody understands how it is structured, what officials and bureaucrats do, and how those people are motivated. The experts who study the public can tell you that most citizens are pretty disappointed in their elected leaders [1] and also that most citizens don’t know much of anything about their elected leaders. [2]

That’s weird by itself. But I believe something different is going on. I don’t think people fear their government as much as they just ignore it. Most people I talk to about politics shake their head and roll their eyes and hope to change the subject.

Because really, why should we pay attention to something which doesn’t appear to be paying attention to us? There are protests and rallies and election days, but for most people there is very little change.

Instead, I want government to be something everyone understands. That doesn’t need to come through intense study, however, but through the profound power of trust.

Because if you believe someone in government actually cares, then you have a reason to pay attention. To give feedback. To participate. To do more than sigh and walk away.

If you trusted the person in Congress representing you. Imagine what would happen.



My Not-Secret Strategies

Campaigns spend all kinds of resources on highly confidential materials. There are secret plans and opposition research. There are polls and focus groups.

I’m not doing any of that. I am not even keeping my ideas under wraps.

That’s because to me, they feel kind of obvious. So one strategy I have is:

Talk to people who politicians don’t normally talk to.

That means smaller communities. More obscure religious groups. Civic and charitable organizations you’ve never heard of. People who are organizing what you’re not sure you support.

It’s a strategy by default. We don’t trust politicians, even those of our own party. So if I am to earn the trust of others, I am going to try doing what other politicians don’t do.

One thing politicians don’t seem to do: go to the people no one is listening to.

No One Sleeps in Afghanistan Tonight

Right now, the country of Afghanistan is being overrun by a the military of a fundamentalist religious organization. You’ve heard of these bad guys. They are called the Taliban.

The scene in Kabul, the capital city, is terrifying. Government officials are fleeing buildings. The airport is overflowing as people rush to evacuate. In the city, people are tearing down advertisements. The reason? Images on the ads may anger the hardliners who are taking over.

Within a week, this will not be the nation it was. And those citizens are petrified. No one sleeps in Afghanistan tonight.

There’s a lot to unpack here: how America got involved in Afghanistan in the first place. Why we were there, what happened, and where we are now. And everyday citizens deserve fair and complete answers to those questions.

But right now, the situation is changing too quickly. The people of Afghanistan are fearful of what is about to happen, minute by minute. They may be rounded up or separated from their loved ones. They may be judged for supporting the democratically-elected regime. Or worse.

Because no one sleeps in Afghanistan tonight.

Tomorrow we can ask about the trillion American dollars we spent on the war, and if it was a waste. Tomorrow we can ask about the 2,312 American lives lost in the conflict, and if their sacrifice has been forsaken. Tomorrow we can discuss policies and practicalities.

But tonight is for the Afghans. For the people of Kandahar and Jalalabad. For the Pashtuns and the Tajiks and the Uzbeks. We should be thinking not of us, but of them.

Because no one sleeps in Afghanistan tonight.

The Art of Fair Questions

I was cleaning up some dishes at work last week when a guest stopped me with a question. “Do you have salt and pepper?”

“Yes, absolutely!” I said, and walked away.

Okay, that’s not the end of the story. I did bring them one shaker of each. But the point is that do you have salt and pepper is not quite the right question. In order to answer correctly, it has to be interpreted in the way the person asking meant for it to be.

We were at a restaurant and I wait tables, so this one is pretty easy to figure out. But in politics, the questions are often not as straightforward. That’s because these questions aren’t just accidentally unclear. They are unclear on purpose, as they are designed to be divisive. These questions are purposefully unfair.

How do you make a bad question? Start with a simple one, and then add assumptions. For example consider:

What is freedom?
Why does the other party hate freedom so much?

Fair questions can seem silly about every day topics. Wondering why is the sky blue doesn’t seem to be improved by saying why does the sky appear blue to me. But compare these:

Less FairMore Fair
Why are poor people so lazy?Is there a connection between poverty and work ethic?
Why don’t billionaires pay their share of taxes?How much do extremely wealthy people pay in taxes?
Which party raided the social security trust fund?How does the social security trust fund work, and has that changed since it started?

Fair questions sometimes take a minute to say. That’s because acknowledging bias requires effort.

Which is one more way you know you’re not in a civil discussion. The more we’re talking in soundbites, the less we’re talking in detail.

Politics needs good ideas in response to hard questions. And that, my friends, takes time.