Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Lebanon Explodes

On Tuesday, January 23rd, street demonstrations broke out in Beirut, Lebanon. The protestors were Hezbollah Shiite Moslems from southern Lebanon, protesting against the current elected anti-Syrian government. 3 people were killed, dozens injured, the airport was closed, and gunfire was exchanged in this first instance of internal protests turned violent. In northern Tripoli, Sunni Moslems fought Shiite Moslems.

Since being created as a protectorate of France after World War I, a once prosperous and stable Lebanon has endured a civil way throughout the 1980s between the southern Shiites and the northern Sunni Moslems and Christians, a successful rebuilding of their country’s economy, a peaceful revolution that pushed the Syrians put of their country after 20 years of occupation, and in the past 2 years elected a purely Lebanese government on their road back to true independence and self-fulfillment.

Then came this past summer’s incursion by Israel, clearly backed and tangibly supported by the United States government. Ostensibly this incursion was directed to the Hezbollah organization in Southern Lebanon in order to protect Israel’s border. In fact, the destruction was extended throughout Lebanon. As a result, Lebanon is now facing billions of dollars in damage to be repaired, serious dislocation of its people, and now its pro-western elected government on the verge of collapse. The best chance for a “Middle East democracy” is virtually in ruins. And Hezbollah is virtually unchanged.

This is yet another example of the outcome of the foreign policy America has been pursing these past years. A policy of good guys versus bad guys, shooting instead of talking, war instead of diplomacy, seeking to overwhelm enemies instead of working fairly with their frustrated aspirations. The U.S. government’s goal in the Middle East is supposedly peace, stability, democracy and self-determination. So tell me once again: after 6 weeks of war, started over two kidnapped soldiers, with all of the property and social damage, and over thousand dead ----- what exactly did those bullets fired from the guns of hatred accomplish?

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Islamic Terrorists: One Word or Two?

Today, whenever someone of the Islamic faith commits an act of terrorism, the news media automatically refers to him/her as an “Islamic Terrorist.” We have been so inundated with that coupled phrase that for too many people “Islam” has become virtually synonymous with “terrorist.”

I never seem to hear about the “Christian terrorist” who kills people providing abortions. Or the “Episcopal terrorist” who wreaks havoc on labs perceived as mistreating animals. Or the “Catholic terrorist” or “Protestant terrorist” who killed indiscriminately in Northern Ireland. Or the “Baptist terrorist” who blew up an occupied government building in Oklahoma City. Nor the Methodist or Presbyterian terrorist who kills in various circumstances for one personal cause or another. Yet in each of these instances, violence was committed in the name of some supposed greater good or higher calling, more often than not towards an innocent bystander(s) who just happened to be there at a particular moment.

Yet we hear about the Islamic terrorist, the Palestinian terrorist, and the Basque terrorist. The common thread? Each of these is perceived by many in our population to be an underclass people with a culture significantly different than our own, a culture likely well beyond our easy understanding.

I would suggest that we need to either stop the name-calling altogether, or use it consistently across all cultures and religions. Terrorism is terrorism, plain and simple. Bin Laden is no different than McVeigh. Each acted with self-righteous indignation against what they perceived as a great evil, their acts made permissible to them by their own interpretations of their religious beliefs. Let us not make terrorists into a caste system of better or not-so-bad or worse. If we do, we thereby injure the reputations and distort our perceptions of many innocents who have not resorted to terrorism for their beliefs.

Corporate Green

For those rightfully upset by the pointed lessons in Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” I invite you to read “How Business Saw The Light” in the January 15th issue of Time Magazine. According to this article:
-Honda is field testing a first-to-market hydrogen-fuel-cell concept car to turn environmentalism into a competitive advantage;
-Toyota is looking to become the world’s leading automotive manufacturer, with its highly popular Prius hybrid, and a goal to reduce to reduce car emissions worldwide in 2010 by 20% from 2001;
-Among other initiatives, Wal-Mart building experimental green-based stores and is seeking to sell a major volume of ultra-efficient fluorescent light bulbs to consumers;
-Goldman Sachs has pledged to invest $1 billion in renewable energy ventures;
-GE has committed $1.5 billion a year on renewable energy and other green research.

Certainly much more can be done in many areas by these and other companies. But let us give credit where credit is due: these are significant gains on the environmental and social fronts. The profit motive itself should not really be our issue. Yes, in its worst form, it creates the Gordon Gekko types in the movie “Wall Street,” or the Ken Lay/Enron implosion in the all-too-real life. America may have lost many of its edges in manufacturing and services, and potentially in engineering and the sciences. But we are still the very best entrepreneurs in the world. The ability of American innovation to respond to consumer demand is a powerful sight to behold. We simply have to make doing the right thing profitable.

So let us not be knee-jerk antagonists to the corporate business world. Let us appreciate and acknowledge them when they do right, all the while continuing to show them where more right is needed and possible. At the end of the day, no corporate business plan calls for going out of business by making products people do not truly want or will pay for. Corporate America will build what we want as shown by our actions, not our words. It is our job to lead corporate America through our power of taking personal responsibility for our actions.

“Consumers remain depressingly ignorant about the environmental impact of what they do. They find no irony in getting into their SUVs to drive a few miles and buy recycled toilet paper.” (Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz.com)

PS: As an interesting parallel note, Wal-Mart is going to begin selling organic foods; Starbucks now pays more for its highly-recognized employee health care program than for the coffee it buys.

Moslems in Congress: Lock the Door!

U.S. Congressman Virgil Goode from Virginia has provided us with the latest example of how to flip the Constitution and the Statue of Liberty upside down. Mr. Goode objected to the election of Keith Ellison of Minnesota to the House because 1) he is the first of potentially more Moslems to be elected to Congress, and 2) he intended to take his oath of office on the Quran instead of the Christian bible. In his unique eloquence, Congressman Goode said:
-America is a Christian nation, so people should swear on the bible to reinforce this Christian heritage
-we need to tighten our immigration laws to prevent more Moslems from entering this country and overwhelming America’s culture and resources

Congressman Goode displays a remarkable lack of knowledge about both history and current events. This is particularly unfortunate given his status as an elected leader and spokesman representing close to ¾-million people in Virginia.
1. Many of the immigrants to this country since 1607 came here seeking political and/or religious freedom (the exception being many of the early Virginia settlers who were seeking economic success --- forced African slaves excepted!);
2. American law has long provided the option to any citizen to swear on any document of personal meaning to the swearer;
3. There is also that little item of the First Amendment prohibiting any one religion from becoming state sponsored.
4. The Congressman also managed to overlook the presence of two Buddhists, one Scientologist, 43 Jews, two Unitarians, and six non-affiliated members in the 110th Congress. I don’t know it for a fact, but I suspect some of these also did not use the Christian bible for their swearing in.

I understand that Congressman Goode speaks from a position of fear for himself and for this country. But fear cannot be allowed to evolve into demagoguery and name calling. This country is about respecting people of all background and beliefs who respect and seek to live in peace with their neighbors. It is not about building walls against “outsiders,” which all of us once were historically.

P.S. Compliments to Congressman Ellison, who is in fact a native-born US citizen who converted to Islam as an adult, and who has never spoken angrily or disrespectfully throughout this whole unfathomable public monologue. He ultimately took his oath of office on a borrowed Quran from Thomas Jefferson's original library. Nice Touch!