Tuesday, September 25, 2012

SCMA fall conference

Early bird pricing will expire soon for the 24th Annual Southern California Mediation Association Conference on Saturday, November 3 at Pepperdine Law School.  The SCMA conference is co-sponsored by Pepperdine School of Law, Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution and is entitled, “The Working Mediator: Improving the Culture of Conflict”

The daylong conference begins with a Keynote Address by Kenneth R. Feinberg, recipient of the 2012 Cloke-Millen Peacemaker of the Year Award.  As “America’s go-to guy in calculating life’s worth” and “America’s King Solomon” (Newsweek Magazine, 6/25/12), Feinberg has been key to resolving many of our nation's most challenging and widely known disputes. He is best known for serving as the Special Master of the Federal September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001.  Feinberg was also recently hired to negotiate all claims arising out of the Penn State scandal and reportedly is being asked to become involved in allocating the more than $5 million in donations collected after the shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.  Numerous workshops will follow his keynote address, in every area of mediation practice, along with an Advanced Track co-sponsored by the American Institute of Mediation (AIM).

I will be moderating a panel entitled "Crisis in the Courts," in which we will consider how drastic budget cuts in the California state court system are presenting challenges and perhaps opportunities for mediators.

In addition, on Friday, November 2, there is a dinner/cocktail reception at the Sheraton Delfina in Santa Monica, honoring Peter Robinson with the L. Randolph Lowry Award and welcoming Mr. Feinberg. The guest speaker is Roger Wolfson, T.V. writer for the USA show, “Fairly Legal.”  It is sure to be a fantastic evening.

Go to:  http://www.scmediation.org/24th-annual-fall-conference/ for details and registration. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Cooperation or Constant Conflict

Here is an excerpt from former President Bill Clinton's nominating speech at the Democratic convention last night, extolling the virtues of cooperation over constant conflict (The full transcript of the speech, as delivered, can be found here):

[T]hough I often disagree with Republicans, I actually never learned to hate them the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate our president and a lot of other Democrats.
That would be impossible for me, because President Eisenhower sent federal troops to my home state to integrate Little Rock Central High School. President Eisenhower built the interstate highway system. When I was a governor, I worked with President Reagan in his White House on the first round of welfare reform and with President George H.W. Bush on national education goals. I'm actually very grateful . . .  that President George W. Bush supported PEPFAR. It saved the lives of millions of people in poor countries. And I have been honored to work with both Presidents Bush on natural disasters in the aftermath of the South Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, the horrible earthquake in Haiti. Through my foundation both in America and around the world, I'm working all the time with Democrats, Republicans, and independents. Sometimes I couldn't tell you for the life who I'm working with because we focus on solving problems and seizing opportunities and not fighting all the time.
And -- so here's what I want to say to you. And here's what I want the people at home to think about. When times are tough and people are frustrated and angry and hurting and uncertain, the politics of constant conflict may be good, but what is good politics does not necessarily work in the real world. What works in the real world is cooperation.

What works in the real world is cooperation, business and government, foundations and universities. Ask the mayors who are here. Los Angeles is getting green and Chicago is getting an infrastructure bank because Republicans and Democrats are working together to get it.

They didn't check their brains at the door. They didn't stop disagreeing. But their purpose was to get something done.
Now, why is this true? Why does cooperation work better than constant conflict? Because nobody's right all the time, and a broken clock is right twice a day.

And every one of us -- every one of us and every one of them, we're compelled to spend our fleeting lives between those two extremes, knowing we're never going to be right all the time, and hopefully we're right more than twice a day.

Unfortunately, the faction that now dominates the Republican Party doesn't see it that way. They think government is always the enemy, they're always right, and compromise is weakness. Just in the last couple of elections, they defeated two distinguished Republican senators because they dared to cooperate with Democrats on issues important to the future of the country, even national security. They beat a Republican congressman with almost 100 percent voting record on every conservative score because he said he realized he did not have to hate the president to disagree with him. Boy, that was a non-starter, and they threw him out. 
One of the main reasons we ought to re-elect President Obama is that he is still committed to constructive cooperation. Look at his record. He appointed Republican secretaries of defense, the Army, and transportation. He appointed a vice president who ran against him in 2008. And he trusted that vice president to oversee the successful end of the war in Iraq and the implementation of the Recovery Act. . . .President Obama appointed several members of his cabinet, even though they supported Hillary in the primary. Heck, he even appointed Hillary.
I am proud of the job she and the national security team have done for America. I am grateful that they have worked together to make it safer and stronger to build a world with more partners and fewer enemies. I'm grateful for the relationship of respect and partnership she and the president have enjoyed. And the signal that sends to the rest of the world, that democracy does not have to be a blood sport, it can be an honorable enterprise that advances the public interest.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

More on bi-partisanship and negotiation

My prior post on this topic attempted to refute one of President Obama's critics from the left, Thomas Frank, who is skeptical of the value of bi-partisanship. Critics on the right seem even more strongly attached to the notion of politics as struggle, rather than as an effort to reach accommodation. According to Ramesh Ponnuru, a writer for National Review, President Obama is kidding himself if he thinks that after winning re-election, the Republican Party is likely to become more cooperative than they have acted during his first term.
If Obama wins re-election, the Republican Party will react by moving right, not left. It will become less likely to compromise with Obama, not more. 
Ponnuru reaches this conclusion based on the likelihood that President Obama will win by a smaller margin than in 2008, unusual for an incumbent, and that the Republican Party will strengthen its control over Congress. In that situation, the Republican Party is likely to feel even more emboldened to push its conservative agenda than previously. 

There is a thinly-veiled plea in this analysis, to consider voting for Romney instead of Obama, in the hope that renewed Republican control over the government will allow the government to function more effectively than under the existing stalemate. If voters are sick of partisan gridlock, they should not support Obama, goes this argument, because in President Obama's second term, the Republicans are going to become even more obstreperous than they already are. So we might as well just hand the reins over to the other party if we want to eliminate all the partisan wrangling.

I question the premise of this argument for several reasons. First, the upcoming budget negotiations, which all parties have agreed to put off until the lame duck session after the election, have been designed to force the Republicans in Congress to compromise regardless of who wins the election (because otherwise all the Bush tax cuts will expire and automatic cuts to the defense budget will kick in). That means the Republicans in Congress must compromise on allowing revenue increases to be part of the equation if they want to avoid that result. But if Romney wins, Republicans in Congress will probably be less likely to recognize the necessity of compromise.

Second, the outcome that conservatives are advancing, that they will take an even harder line after the election, is not what most people, particularly moderate and independent voters, seem to want. When asked, people respond positively to the suggestion that the parties work together to find common solutions. They respond negatively to obstructionism and delay. Again, this seems true regardless of which candidate wins the presidential election. People are disgusted with Congress because its members seem unable to work with people of the opposite party to solve common problems. On the other hand, most voters seem to favor a more balanced approach to budget and tax issues, and to preserving social programs, than the Republicans are proposing. So while Romney supporters are probably right that people want the government to function more smoothly, that doesn't necessarily show support for smoothly passing the whole Republican agenda.

Finally, let's not forget the crucial role of the United States Senate, the bane of practically every president's existence. Unless one party has a super-majority, which neither party is likely to get after this election, the Senate has considerable power to put a monkey wrench into any president's plans. Democrats are not likely to roll over if they find themselves in the minority. And in the Senate, a minority of Democrats would still have the power to derail much of the Republican program.

Can the Republicans promise to end partisan gridlock? Only if they gain effective control over the entire government, and are empowered to pass a program that is probably a bit too extreme for most voters. If President Obama is re-elected, will that usher in an era of good feeling in Washington? Not very likely, but there may be some pressure on the opposition to participate in the process in a more constructive way.