Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why Not?

"That's impossible! Never happen. Not is a million years. OK, not in my lifetime."

These phrases are uttered daily by well-meaning people. Change is hard. Changing long-held conscious and unconscious thinking is even harder. There are a few people temperamentally wired for change; however even these initiators of innovation have some habits that are hard to break.

If we are going to solve some of the economic, political and social problems of our era, we must welcome change, as long as the proposed ideas and actions are rooted in well-established values. We often confuse morality with modality, or purpose and method. Within ethical boundaries, there are multiple sound ways to achieve noble ends.

Here are some reasons change is vital right now:

  • As most Americans see more than 30% of their earnings going to taxes, there is something wrong with GE paying no taxes.

  • As Congress cries poverty as they manage social programs, perhaps they need to shed some perks and join the rest of the citizens in paying for health care and pensions.

  • Colleges and universities need to rediscover the mission of professors and students learning together. Let's try to graduate more students debt-free instead of multiplying irrelevant courses.

  • A good society takes care of those in need; however, most citizens in such a commonweal do not believe such help is a "right."

  • A death tax on monies already taxed is foolish. Far better to give incentives for investing.

  • We can drill judiciously and have private-public partnerships developing alternative energy sources. Look how far batteries have come in just a decade.

  • Reformation of systems begins with reformation of self. A republic is only as strong as the virtues of its citizens.

  • We can be honest and humble about history and hope without denigrating the achievements of our past and indoctrinating earnest minds with politically-correct but empirically untested formulae.

  • Change is hard. There is, however, no virtue in stubbornness born of fixation on old methods.

  • Unregulated capitalism and bureaucratic socialism achieve the same end: a few are enriched at the expense of most.

Why not change how we do things? From government services to business ethics; from education to social welfare - we can do better if we keep the good of all in mind. Why not? The only limiters are our fear and pride.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Radical Means Rooted

When we hear the word, "radical" we imagine 1960s hippies, Greenpeace boats or suicide bombers in burkhas. It is sad that this important word has been historically hijacked and used for extremism and fringe movements. The etymology of this word is "radix" or "rooted." For something to be radical not only implies change, but change that is deeply rooted in unwavering principles. As we begin the marathon to the 2012 elections, I propose that candidates must be radical - that is, rooted in values and vision that can imagine a better future. Why should the crazies on the far right and far left steal a word that may be our best hope? It is tragic to listen to the inane commentary in all media. If someone is pro-life, they are part of the "Radical Right." If someone (like me) speaks at a Tea Party gathering, I am pandering to "radicals." If someone wants federal health care, they must be "radical left." If someone voted for Obama (in a year that no Republican had a chance), they are unwittingly part of the "Radical Left."

Let me unequivocally state that their are "radicals" on the Right and Left that subvert common values and imagine and America and the world in totalitarian terms. I am deeply disturbed by the policies and principles of the Obama administration and I will work tirelessly to see another President elected in 2012. I want local, state and national leaders that share my principles to be in office. I am also weary of libertarian extremists that think that no government regulation is needed and that the "magic" of market economies will solve all our problems.

What we need is radical change - action rooted in values and vision that are not trendy, but truthful; actions rooted in values and vision that inspire moral and spiritual transformation. Here are some "radical" ideas for a 2012 platform:

  • Let's live within our means.

  • Politicians must have term limits and pay into the same pensions all Americans invest in.

  • Let's have an effective, nimble military. We can cut waste and lessen the hold of the "military-industrial complex" on our Congress.

  • Let's make sure health care is available to all and that there is ethical oversight. BUT - this is best delivered locally by the private sector.

  • Let's welcome all legal immigrants, deport all undocumented prisoners and hold businesses, schools and all agencies accountable for who they admit and hire.

  • Let's welcome people of all faiths or none - and refuse special accommodation for any one religion.

  • Let's deport any leader who desires the destruction of the USA and advocates jihad for a sharia future. The same severity is also applied to any domestic left or right-wing groups undermining the Constitution.

  • Let's affirm the results of anthropology, biology, history, psychology, sociology, and common sense and affirm that the family ideal is a man and woman in lifetime marriage nurturing the next generation. Other adult consensual relationships can be recognized, but they are not marriage.

  • Let's fund our public schools well, stop merely teaching to tests and remember that all education centers on students actually learning from teachers that know their subjects.

  • Let's rebuild our infrastructure with public-private partnerships that are well-supervised, but free from backroom deal makers who add cost and foster corruption.

  • Let's have real transparency in government - why do we need secrets, apart from sensitive intelligence and personnel issues? "Open covenants openly arrived at" needs to be our motto again.

  • Let's bring together local and regional educational, business, religious and social service leadership, remove the media from the room, roll up our sleeves and create new ways to combat that tangible problems we face.

  • Let's remain friends with Israel, and offer full support to a Palestinian leader willing to unequivocally abide by the accords penned in 1978, 1992 and 2002...everyone is served by democracy, bilateral economic friendship and a region at peace.

  • Let's believe in the Constitution. It is neither the Bible nor a "living document" - it is the foundation for the greatest experiment in freedom the world has ever seen.

No matter what policies we advocate, our hearts and minds must be united in common moral virtues that affirm both individual liberty and love for neighbor. We must celebrate common goods and well as personal achievements. We must rid ourselves of narcissism and reaffirm reverence for God and respect all humans who are made in the image of God.

Let's be radical!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Real "Arab Spring"

There is no serious movement for democracy in the Middle East. The little bit of liberal/secular opposition to dictatorships is being consumed by Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Any regimes that even think of working with Israel or the USA will be subject to protests and violence.

Our current Administration is naive at best and self-destructive at worst as it attempts "outreach" to Islamic movements. There has been no moderation, no negotiation, no evidence of any change except further radicalization.

Here are the real signs of an authentic "Arab Spring":

Denunciation of terrorism.

Official diplomatic recognition of the State of Israel (even within 1947-1949 borders). Agree to the Oslo Accords and let Jerusalem be the capital of two states that choose to cooperate instead of hurt each other.

Economic, political and social reform and services for the three generations of Palestinian refugees. The Arab world has enough money to make sure no one is in poverty.

End the violence against all other religious communities and allow freedom of press, religion and speech, even allowing women and men to change religious affiliation without fear.

End the oppression of women, allowing full access to educational and professional opportunities.

Join the global world of democracies, allowing fair and free elections and being accountable for where money is used.

I have a dream - a dream for all under the oppression of Sharia Law to be free - free to reinterpret an ancient religion; free to change affiliations; free to speak and think without fear; free to become the people God created them to be. This is the dream of our founders in 1776/1787. This is the dream of the Civil Rights Movement. This is the dream of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the "Prague Spring" of 1968. This is the dream fulfilled as the Berlin Wall came down.

President Obama, please stop appeasing leaders who want our destruction. Please stop alienating Israel. Please recognize that we have the history, political structure and diversity that gives us moral authority to influence the world for good.

If we do not remove our blinders, there is a clear and present danger that this pseudo Arab Spring will become the global winter of jihad.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

One Event - Multiple Narratives

The death of Osama bin Laden is as close to a"fact" as we can assert. As a historian, I am fascinated by the context and significance of the event for different groups of people. OBL's death is confirmed by his followers, but there are multiple meanings we need to understand.

For most Americans, this is a brief moment of payback for the awful attack of 9/11/01 and the taunting messages of a leader in hiding, a coward who directed his minions to destroy our nation.

For most Muslims, this is a moment of relief, tempered with the hope that cooler heads will allow further rapprochement between "normal" Islam and the West. For the Islamic radicals, OBL is a new martyr who will inspire others to carry out his nefarious agenda.

For the Obama presidency, this is a welcome moment in the midst of economic sluggishness, legislative gridlock and the beginning of an interminable campaign for re-election. For Republicans, this is a moment that vindicates some of Bush's policies (is anyone talking about Gitmo any more?) and a chance to press the President on other issues.

For Pakistan, this event is an enormous embarrassment. OBL's presence at the compound had to be an open secret in several circles. For Al-Queda, this is a serious blow in spite of all the bluster. For other Muslim nations, this is a reminder of their own internal challenges as they balance realpolitik with accommodation of multiple radical factions.

For thoughtful people of every background, this is a moment to reflect. How are we going to protect our citizens while trying to win the hearts and minds of millions who are not yet radicalized but leaning in that direction? What military policies will be successful in rooting out terrorists while not creating a neo-colonial occupation by American and NATO forces? For all Americans, how can we create a hospitable and safe place for people from all lands to find a home here?

Chanting "USA, USA!" must give way to humility, prayer and service that will not allow hatred to find a home in many hearts. While we rejoice, let's reflect. While we praise our troops, let's purge ourselves of anger. While we debate meaning, let's find meaning in the good we do every day.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

5-1-2011: A Date to Remember

Osama bin Laden is dead. Perhaps this is another historic "end of the beginning" (to paraphrase Winston Churchill) as civilized humankind confronts global terrorism. It is too early to prognosticate all the implications, but we can pause, praise our special forces personnel and take stock of what is needed to see real progress in this conflict.

Until the Eschaton, there will be enemies of all that is good and peaceful - radicalized persons who pervert faith and justice into hatred and violence. We will never eradicate every evil person, but we can make progress in our war on terror and impede the ability of these groups to find new recruits.

My prayer is that May 1, 2011 will be a date we remember because millions of people decided to abandon self-destructive narcissism and choose a life of faith, hope and love, serving God and others and finding identity and purpose in worship and service. In our fallen world, we need the military sometimes. In a world longing for redemption, we must confront unexplainable challenges. We must combat terror with truth, ideology with insight and perversion of religion with genuine piety and righteousness.

This week marks the passing of a great spiritual leader, David Wilkerson, founder of Teen Challenge and Times Square Church and a formidable preacher of uncompromising truth rooted in the unconditional love of Christ. Today marks the beatification of Pope John Paul II, a tireless ambassador for freedom and one of the men responsible for the fall of the Iron Curtain. From his resistance to the Nazis in WWII in Poland, to his outreach to the world, he exemplified faith and humility joined with political acumen and pragmatism. These two men exemplify the courage and love we need to turn our nation and the world toward real justice.

Please join me as we reaffirm faith and first principles, commit to justice and peace and refuse to capitulate to fear. Such virtue cannot come without inner transformation. Such a work of grace is ours if we will believe the message of Easter.