Seven Unspeakable Truths

Americans live in a state of deceit and denial inculcated by the insidious accumulation of entitled thinking that has reached a tipping point beyond which the destruction of social order and national power is certain.  Like children without rules or boundaries we have become tempestuous and, in more cases every day, violent.  We still have the capacity to identify the truth but lack the courage to speak it.  Our leaders, including President Obama, will not speak these truths.  I will.

There are seven truths—things I am certain of after significant study and deliberation—that America must face if we are to maintain our position in the world, even if only in relative terms.

  1. The wars we have chosen to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan are unwinnable; we must move expeditiously to extract ourselves from the center of this quagmire and deploy a strategy of offshore balancing to contain terrorism while, at the same time, develop new sources and forms of energy to become energy-independent.  If we don’t, we will find ourselves at the center of a much larger confrontation beginning in the Middle East (probably between Israel and Iran) and spreading from there.
  2. The obligations of our government to supply public goods, particularly Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, are financially unsustainable—even if we radically reform our healthcare system—which isn’t going to happen.  Debt is not power.
  3. Our critical national infrastructures including transportation, power grids, and water supply systems are rapidly approaching a period of catastrophic failure that will cripple our economy more than the current financial crisis.  When main street fails, it’s over.
  4. Climate change is a reality, notwithstanding the unfortunate apocalyptic grandstanding by Al Gore and a few rogue scientists, but the orthodoxy of environmentalism is wrong.  We must find new ways to conserve and produce energy that allow economic growth to be sustained.  We must do this for the environment and, moreover, for our national interest; for our health and security.
  5. Within twenty-five years the dollar will no longer be the world’s reserve currency.  We must move expeditiously to begin the process, region-by-region, of migrating to a common currency—the ‘globo’—to protect us from non-US currencies being used against us and to mitigate the inherent instability produced in a global financial system populated (currently) by 178 different currencies.
  6. Our primary and secondary education system is broken.  Today, we are maintaining our global edge on the back of our superior universities. While our students catch-up because they have access to college, unlike the developing world (especially China and India), this will change.  We must immediately move to improve the quality of teachers and reduce the burden of unions and bureaucrats. Parents, teachers, and communities must wrest control of this system, which is in rapid decline.
  7. The absence of a liberal immigration policy, which has always been the lifeblood of America’s capacity for self-renewal, will lower our replacement rate and increase our dependency rates to levels that will produce demographic-induced collapse.  If you want a preview, look at Japan.

Rival interests do not defeat great powers; they collapse at their own hand.  In America, we have the knowledge and the means to maintain our position in the world and to secure our future for many generations.  If we do not face each and every one of these truths, we will fail.  Let the real discussion begin.

By |2017-05-25T22:26:36+00:00February 21st, 2010|General|0 Comments

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow!

Mother nature has accomplished what reasonable people cannot: closing our federal government for the week.  While our government’s effectiveness remains unchanged—nothing is getting done—at least the majority of pols and pundits are home-bound, awaiting the arrival of a lobbyist to deliver a Honey Baked Ham and shovel their driveways.  Meanwhile, we have been granted a respite from the din of weak-kneed incompetence.  If the current storm persists, we might even get the Olympics started before the Boehners and Pelosis can spray on their faces and return to the podium.  (Maybe we can even get some of those new C-17 cargo planes the Pentagon doesn’t want to haul some snow from DC to Vancouver to finish grooming the freestyle course!  Sigh, I digress.)

Reasonable, thoughtful people from many corners of scholarship and journalism are starting to seriously question the future of our government.  James Fallows recent essay in The Atlantic, “How America can Rise Again” offers a lengthy survey of America’s strengths and weaknesses.  He recounts America’s history of overcoming adversity, but laments that the system that largely enabled those victories is broken today. He argues, “That is the American tragedy of the early 21st century: a vital and self-renewing culture that attracts the world’s talent, and a governing system that increasingly looks like a joke.”  He explores a range of options including “an enlightened military coup … a new constitutional convention … a viable third party … [or] hope for another Sputnik moment” to right the ship. In the end, he settles for “muddling through” over “starving the beast” as the best worst choice.[1]  Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig argues in The Nation, “if you want change, you have to change Congress” and solicits readers to sign a “change Congress petition” that calls for a new “Fair Elections Now Act” to subvert the insidious power of lobbyists.[2]  Still others, like Tim Dickinson in Rolling Stone blame Obama for “ muzzl[ing] millions of followers eager to fight for his agenda” and effectively trading in his “Yes We Can!” pledge for a mockingly “No, we can’t” reality.[3]  In the end, what happened to Obama was simply stated by Clinton advisor James Carvelle: “Washington always wins.”

While many, including myself, can easily point at the government to assign culpability, the larger reality is that our government will not and cannot face its problems.  Moreover, when you set questions of ideology, capability, and blame aside—turn off Obama’s teleprompter and wash the notes from Palin’s palms—and just look at the numbers, there is no chance our government can sustain its current or future obligations.  Absent a series of syzygystic miracles, it will collapse under the weight of its own financial malfeasance.  It is time, as Jacob Weisberg argues at Slate, “to stop blaming the rascals we elect to office and start looking at ourselves.”[4] It is time to take the initiative—to quit staring at our government like an infant who has discovered his navel—and take our future back; one person, family, school, and community at a time.

[1] James Fallows, “How America Can Rise Again.” The Atlantic, January/February 2010.
[2] Lawrence Lessig, “How to Get Our Democracy Back.” The Nation, February 3, 2010.
[3] Tim Dickinson, “No We Can’t.” Rolling Stone, February 11, 2010.
[4] Jacob Weisberg, “Down With the People.” Slate.com, February 6, 2010.
By |2017-05-25T22:35:56+00:00February 10th, 2010|General|0 Comments

Rebooting “We the People”

We the People of the United States of America are in trouble.  Our democratic experiment is in peril, dominated by demagoguery and corruption.  The concerns of our Founding Fathers have come to fruition as ‘errant man’ has prevailed in the institutionalization of mercenary-grade rapacity.  Congress continues to get nothing done (albeit at great expense), and our Supreme Court has now put the final nail in the coffin of our liberal democracy by ruling that our Constitution really meant to read We the Corporations.  While liberty was once our common bond, anger has taken its place. Unless we find a way to reboot our democratic values we will soon enter the Pantheon of former superpowers.

While this may sound like a jeremiad, we have got to find a way out of this.  Our government still has power and money, but no longer has its people; who have and always will be its principal source of strength. If anyone could have succeeded in rebooting our democracy, President Obama arguably had the best shot, but a wide mandate evaporated in the quagmire of Washington DC.  Someday we may come to realize Obama was the canary in the coal mine, a sign that bright young leadership could no longer produce reform and renewal.  The system is ungovernable. It now exists as little more than a host for parasites.

Smart people with big money those at Goldman Sachs have made their risk assessment and are deeply discounting the capacity of the United States government.  While many rail against what they believe is a greedy behemoth, the reality is the folks at Goldman are simply doing a better job of pursuing their self-interest.  And, they have made their bet: they don’t believe the government can do anything to govern them.  They know what the rest of us are now realizing; our government—once a model for the free world—has a terminal case of constipation, which has immobilized its power. The partners at Goldman Sachs know they will always be able to out-smart and out-maneuver regulators in Washington.

There is a way out, however, thanks in part to new technologies that offer us new ways to form new modes of collective action.  While our government may be entering a slow but certain period of entropy, we have the capacity to form new relationships and associations to solve seemingly intractable problems.  The solution starts by taking a page out of Goldman Sachs’ game plan and learn to ignore our government.  Turn our back and, to the extent possible, quit feeding/funding the monster it has become.  Each of us must pick an objective—education, healthcare, alternative fuels, security, communication, technology, whatever.  Set out to organize those with common interests, whether or not they too are Americans.  When a solution is found, pursue its execution with all the energy and resources available, with or without government support or approval.

“We the People” can form more perfect Unions.  The time to get started is now.

By |2017-05-25T22:45:10+00:00January 22nd, 2010|American Identity, General|0 Comments

Human Rights: War and the Righteous

Human rights scholars and advocates were busy last week.

While President Obama reconciled security, morality, and human rights in his speech in Oslo, members of Congress were tied to an effort to incarcerate and/or execute homosexuals in Uganda.  In Obama’s remarks at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, he identified one of the principal tensions our leaders must wrestle with as they uphold their oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States: between assuring our security and protecting human rights. Throughout most of American history security has held primacy over morality as the modal framework of foreign policy. As a result, human rights, based in a moral precept of liberty, have been occasionally compromised to achieve security. But, as Obama pointed out in his elocution of the contradiction of waging war to achieve peace, “We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend.” He argued that the “United States of America must remain the standard bearer in the conduct of war” to serve its dual aims of security and morality.[1]  In these words he rejected the advocacy of realpolitik prominent during the Nixon-Kissinger era, as well as the hyper-exceptionalism of the George W. Bush era, for a nuanced hybrid of realism and idealism—waging war with moral compass in-hand—an ideological approximation of Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Christian realism.”[2]

Meanwhile, a few senators and congressmen waged their own war against Ugandans by supporting its leaders who are about to pass an anti-gay law that would deprive suspected homosexuals of their freedom and, under certain circumstances, their lives.[3]  Why are these senators, who presumably have a grasp of the American concept of human rights, supporting leaders in Uganda who are trying to legalize the incarceration and execution of homosexuals?  The short answer: because they can.  Their motive and means reveal the dark side of a network of powerful fundamentalists—of a dubious and power-centric theology—who wield influence saturated by righteousness and bigotry. Their common bond with the president of Uganda: they are all members of “the Family.”[4]

The Family is an informal network of Christian fundamentalists that has existed in the United States for many years.  They are also referred to as the “Fellowship,” or “Fellowship Foundation” and sponsor the annual National Prayer Breakfast, attended each year by numerous politicians including the President of the United States.  They own and operate residences in the Washington DC area for the care and fellowship of members, including members of Congress.  Their “man in Africa” according to Jeff Sharlet, author of The Family, is Yoweri Museveni, president of Uganda. The relationship between Museveni and the Family dates back many years and includes business and moral development.

Uganda has become the sandbox of righteousness for members of the Family who believe their particular interpretation of the Bible is supreme to the laws of man. Their “life equation” according to their leader, Doug Coe, is Jesus + 0 = X.[5] Jesus plus nothing is everything.  Jesus is all you need.  And, not surprisingly, homosexuals are evil.  In Uganda, they have twisted the concept of God’s love with such abandon they have morphed it into hate. Personal liberties, as conceived by the Founding Fathers, are no match for their righteousness. Their concept of separation of church and state is a “myth” that, when interpreted through their evangelical lens, only prohibits the state from influencing the church.[6]  Their concept of human rights includes the right to imprison and execute humans who do not conform to their beliefs.

Human rights are likely more safe than they were under Bush with Obama’s contemplation of foreign policy.  But, human rights remain in peril every day as religious fundamentalists, like those who claim membership in the Family and occupy seats in Congress, operate as rogue warriors waging hate.

[1] Barack Obama, December 11, 2009, “Obama’s Nobel Remarks,” New York Times, www.nytimes.com.
[2] Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man: A Christian Interpretation (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996.)
[3] Rachel Maddow of MSNBC has been on this story for several days now. See http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/34345821/ns/msnbc_tv-rachel_maddow_show/
[4] For a comprehensive study of the Family, see Jeff Sharlet, The Family (New York: Harper Perennial, 2008).
[5] Ibid., p. 58.
[6] Ibid., p. 339.
By |2017-05-27T18:53:27+00:00December 13th, 2009|General|0 Comments

Trillion Dollar Decisions

There are two trillion dollar decisions bouncing around our nation’s capital these days: healthcare and Afghanistan.  While each significant in their own right, they are chapters in a larger story: the re-definition of American identity.

Ironically, one initiative intends to improve and save lives while the other wages death and destruction—achieving as yet unspecified objectives.  Both cost about the same within their projected ‘lives’ per the Congressional Budget Office and estimates leaking out of the Pentagon and the White House. While no one is suggesting it is an either/or choice—the sublime notion of fiscal discipline notwithstanding—these choices illustrate what is likely a transformational time in American history.  Do we continue to assert our hegemony in the global system (with or without the cover of national security), or do we turn inward and take care of our own house?

Even if we succeed at each—admittedly a foolish assumption—even if we actually take our healthcare system back from the stranglehold of the health insurance industry, pharmaceutical companies, state-based fiefdoms, malpractice attorneys, et al, and achieve affordable, accessible healthcare for all; or that we crush al-Qaeda, the Taliban, build a democracy in Afghanistan, or whomever/whatever it is we’re fighting for today, is it worth two trillion dollars and thousands of lives?  Are hegemony and/or healthcare the right priorities?  What about education, energy, climate change, economic development, scientific research, human rights, international law, or the dependability of the global financial system (to name a few other choices)?

The larger issue is what makes a nation powerful and successful today—cherished by its people and envied by the world?  Which of the laundry list of initiatives collectively succeed in meeting this standard?  Which America will emerge in the next five years, ten years? What does it mean for our children and grandchildren? Will there be any trillions left for them to spend? Will they even be spending dollars?  Are we staring at the sunset of the American empire or its re-birth?  Do our leaders understand the enormity of the moment?  Is Obama the next Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, or Reagan; presidents who transformed our national identity and kept the American dream alive?  Or, are we destined to fumble our way recklessly forward toward a crisis where we are defined by powers, elements, and interests beyond our control?

The moment is Obama’s, notwithstanding the march of members of congress to the lectern to grab their seconds of fame, or the pundits who fan the flames of absurdity to claim the title of last loudmouth standing.  They will still be there second-guessing everyone when this sequel is written.  It is time for Obama to sit alone and contemplate the larger issue: how to keep America on top, cherished by her own and envied my many more, keeping the American dream alive.  The answer may or may not include healthcare and Afghanistan.

 

By |2017-05-27T16:29:04+00:00October 30th, 2009|General|0 Comments

Mr. Brooks ‘n Me

My wife has often suggested, after reading David Brooks’ column in the New York Times, that there is a synaptic circuit—a telemetric loop that runs between Brooks’ mind and mine.  In his column today, “Let’s Get Fundamental” (www.nytimes.com/2009/09/04/opinion/04brooks.html) he argues, citing David Goldhill’s piece in The Atlantic (see “Let the Numbers Speak” post) and a research report from the Brookings Institute, that it is time, as I suggested (see ‘RIP-Teddy’ post), to go for it—all out reform—to swing for the fences.

Brooks is more eloquent than I and has just a few million more readers.  I hope he gets his message across before it’s too late.  I hope he gets his hour with Obama to offer guidance before next week’s address to Congress.  (I’m relatively certain I won’t.)  I hope we actually do accomplish reform rather than, as Brooks warns, just “essentially cement the present system in place.”  But, maybe I hope too much.  And, maybe Obama is all hoped-out.

As Brooks, I, and the Brookings Institute study agree: the problem is fixable.  The resources are there.  The financial imperative couldn’t be more obvious.  The outstanding question: do we have the will?

By |2017-05-27T16:58:09+00:00September 4th, 2009|General|0 Comments