Thursday, February 17, 2011

So Many Questions - But Will We Accept the Answers?

Local, national and global events assault our senses as we go about our day, consciously working and unconsciously worrying. What is the meaning of the unrest in the Arab nations? Why is the USA going to rebuke Israel at the UN? Will the politicians stop posturing and figure out how to get spending under control? When will we welcome our troops home from inhospitable lands that resent our presence?

But there are other, more pressing questions. Will I have a job next year? Will we be able to pay our mortgage or rent? Will my investments - especially in real estate - hold up? Will my kids have a better or declining future? Is climate change real? Is today's solar flare a sign of things to come?

As I write these words, I am grateful for the breakfast I just ate, hot water that works, clean clothes and a full "to do" list for the days (OK, weeks and months) ahead. I have a great marriage, three wonderful adult children, purpose in life and friends and colleagues that challenge me toward growth and love me as I am. As Art Garfunkel sings, I am "blessed and truly grateful."

But the questions remain and I cannot hide away in my office or try to create some kind of detached mental or physical bunker to escape my connectedness with the real world. One of my gifts is clarity, so I want to get to the heart of each matter in a few sentences and confront myself and others with our responsibility for the current problems. It is not enough to talk about "them" before we look in the mirror.

The unrest in Arab nations is not new, but it is well-planned and staged for a global audience. Corrupt regimes are being challenged and the protesters are in two groups. The first consists of moderate or liberal, well-educated and caring people who want to establish freedom. The second group, lead by the Muslim Brotherhood and other devotees of radical Islam, will join with the first temporarily to be rid of the current regimes. Their goal is to gradually impose sharia law and attempt to return these lands to Koranic values. On the surface this sounds like self-determination, but it means oppression for women, dhimmitude (inferior) status for other religions and a long-term aim of a universal caliphate, thrusting the world back to the 13th century.

Peace with Israel is simple: She must have an unconditional guarantee that her existence and sovereignty will be honored by Palestinian neighbors and surrounding nations. Settlements will stop and boundaries will be established when Arab leaders want peace. As long as the Arabic speeches scream blood libel and spew out violent propaganda, there is little hope for resolution. Whatever influence Obama thinks he has (and it is precious little) should be spent arm-twisting Arab nations and the Palestinians, not lambasting Israel.

Our leaders must summon the courage to stop the economic bleeding NOW. Impose an immediate freeze on all increases, cut ALL budgets by at least 10% and start looking for ways to re-empower states and localities and re-engineer the process of resource distribution. The tragedy at the federal, state and local level is that when cuts are imposed, they hit the most vulnerable instead of targeting the bloated boards and bureaucracies. We need more dollars for the mentally and physically challenged, the young and the old, and for the classrooms. We do not need more dollars for employee pensions that must be privatized, duplicate agencies and wasteful Pentagon contracts. Cut the fat, keep taxes reasonable, eliminate the death tax, and create environments for wealth creation. We can again be the economic leader of the world if we will stop lying to each other!

The moment spending is under control, investment will grow, money will be more available and stability and growth will return. Our understandable personal fears will diminish if our future is not wasted by the abusers of power and purse.

By the way, one of the core issues underneath all our problems is that we cannot sustain a warfare and welfare state simultaneously. Both Democrats and Republicans have lacked the courage to stand up to the false compassion and the faulty contracts that place us in this mess.

Let's keep rapid deployment troops near terrorist hot spots and bring home our troops. We do not need to be an occupying power in inhospitable lands. Taliban leaders can be toppled by popular unrest - and we can support this intelligently. But the presence of US forces long-term is now a liability. "Bring Him Home" Mr. President.

Underneath the overt media-driven narcissism, below the surface of our consumerism is a wellspring of compassion, creativity, hard-work, neighborliness, entrepreneurial strength and hope that is the soul of the USA. With a moral and spiritual awakening and some common sense, we can renew our land and be the beacon of hope for a world.

I remain hopeful and realistic. History demonstrates the great good that comes from concerted ethical action (Wilberforce and slavery; MLK and Civil Rights) and the tragic consequences of economic and moral decline (Rome in the 3rd-4th century and Spain after 1588). Let's make history by creating a better future starting today.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Behind the Veil

Thanks to the Wizard of Oz, thoughtful people learn to ask what factors are behind the events, ideas and pronouncements that hourly assault the airwaves, radio frequencies and web world. Let's go behind the veil and look at some current items:
  • "The Exception is the Rule" with Obamacare. We now know that their are more than 700 waivers for those opting out of a law that was supposed to transform our system, save money and offer better care. The biggest donors get their waivers, including major unions. What does this say to the rest of the working-class who will be penalized if they do not participate? We can do better.
  • Egypt is in turmoil. This police state of 80 million souls has been a melange of freedom and oppression, faithful ally of the US and cautious supporter of moderate Islam. Her treaty with Israel makes her a pariah to other Islamic nations, but she has not had to spill her blood in war since 1973. It is too soon to predict the outcome. I am hopeful that a secular state that allows Islamic culture to flourish can emerge and that persecution of the Christians (10-15% of the population) will abate. Underneath the polite rhetoric are Muslim Brotherhood members who see any democracy as a stepping stone to full Sharia law.
  • The dollar is dying because we devalue it every day that we add to our deficit. How did we go from the low-$100 billions to the $1 trillion mark in overspending? We cannot sustain a centrally-controlled warfare and welfare state. We must rein in spending, decentralize services and eliminate the special privileges for the political classes and some public employees. Behind the veil of stupidity are nefarious global economic forces content to watch our self-destruction and fearful of our leaders implementing sane policies.
  • Pagan revelry is alive and well in the media. The obsession with image and form and the explosion of mainstream pornography is just a higher-tech version of the self-destructive paganism that the Hebrew prophets warned about for a thousand years and the early Christians refused to submit to as they went joyfully to martyrdom. Without being prudes or restricting free expression, thoughtful people need to use the "off" switch and mobilize their economic influence and moral suasion to turn our culture toward attitudes and behaviors that celebrate our humanity instead of glorifying animalistic urges.
  • As I pen these words, a snowstorm is blanketing my city. I am grateful for clean water, central heat and food in the pantry. Millions around the world are longing for simple survival against cold and heat, disease and famine. Behind the veil of trillions in charity are economic and political powers who want to keep Majority World nations the serfs of global feudal lords. We need to provide emergency relief and empower people to become self-sustaining. If millions of American used some of their time and treasure to further cooperative efforts here and around the world, we can ensure a better global and local future, one community at a time.
The Wizard of Oz is not FDR. The books were written years before - sorry to disappoint certain conservatives. Nor is the Wizard a theocratic dictator. The Wizard is a symbol of all that operates just beyond our first glance. But when people of integrity pull back the veil, they suddenly eliminate fear and find themselves able to make a difference. Let's go out and create a new future, free from nostalgia and utopianism, but free to imagine and implement our deepest principles.