Monday, December 15, 2008

Gay and Lesbian Marriage

These days, the apparently 2nd-most divisive issue (after abortion) Americans are grappling with is extending the status of marriage to gays and lesbians. The climate for this debate has escalated as a result of several state Supreme Courts ruling that gays and lesbians have the constitutional right to marry, which in turn has provoked a run of anti-gay marriage laws and amendments explicitly outlawing same. While the recent California ballot initiative may yet be overturned on the grounds that an unconstitutional process was followed with this initiative, the debate is sure to continue. For traditional believers, this issue strikes at the core of their religious faith, as the whole discussion is ultimately rooted in religious/biblical beliefs. For gays and lesbians, the argument centers around their perceived right to have the same opportunity of marriage as any other citizen.

Let us first separate both outside edges of this discussion. Firstly, I am not personally gay, so I have no personal stake in either outcome of this debate. Secondly, there is a large group of people who oppose same-sex marriage because they reject homosexuality itself, hence by extension they oppose any form of recognition to such relationships. But not all anti-same-sex-marriage people are automatically anti-gays and lesbians; this is a seismic shift in public opinion over the last 30 years. There is not only a growing body of straight people who are supporters of full same-sex relationships, but there is a similarly growing group who can be supportive up to a point but in good conscience just cannot make the leap to same-sex marriage. For them, there remains something about “marriage” that inherently defines a male/female union.

Vermont was the first state to formally endorse “civil unions,” a legal status that gave to same-sex couples defined rights and privileges that were closely akin to marital legal rights. Massachusetts has allowed same-sex marriage for several years now; the sky over Boston has not fallen, same-sex children have not turned out extraordinarily degenerate, crime rates have not increased. Traditional male/female marriage thrives unabated, and our species continues to be adequately re-stocked. Connecticut will be the next state to follow. I am quite confident that Connecticut, and the California couples who married in the legal interim, will experience similar very ordinary results. Many employers and insurance companies have already moved to grant similar benefits to same-sex couples. Yet our Republic still stands.

There are actually two issues which we must relook at. One is the meaning of marriage itself. I am not convinced that there is an inherent constitutional right to marry, but it seems pretty clear that there is no constitutionally-based discrimination in who can marry. My most radical conviction is that the institution of marriage in America is in itself unconstitutional, a violation of the First Amendment mandate for the separation of Church and State. Marriage in America mixes two concepts. One is the granting of inter-dependent legal rights and responsibilities to two individuals for such things as automatically shared property ownership, required financial/physical support, implicit power-of-attorney authority in emergencies, parental rights and responsibilities, etc. All of this is codified and is equally applicable to all citizens in that jurisdiction of legal age.

But marriage is also a religious rite, practiced and conferred within the differing rules, traditions and dogmas of each religion, and therefore is NOT commonly applied to all people. It is done to express a spiritual and emotional commitment between two individuals that is beyond the range of state contractual rights, and to do so in witness by family, friends and the individual’s religious community. In virtually all religious traditions, the chief meaningful requirements are love, commitment, and personal fulfillment. I can see where some religious groups might theologically position their concept of marriage as additionally requiring a male-female relationship, along with other cultural roles and expectations. If one particular denomination or church has the right to define such as they see fit, then other religions just as rightfully should be entitled to stake out their theological positions – such as among a man and many wives (or vice versa) (currently legally banned); or between same-sex individuals (banned in 48 states); or requiring the same nationality; or only allowing separate races (once true and now banned); or requiring participants to be of the same faith (varying rules in Catholicism).

Complicating this is the mixing of legal authority for marriage. The State inherently grants to religious practitioners the power to create a legal marriage. Most all marriages are created this way. Thereby the State endorses the varying patchwork rules of our religious groups and their mixed (and perhaps unconstitutional?) rules. And we have made religious practitioners “agents of the State” ― a mixing of state and church most definitely abhorrent to our Founding Fathers’ principles. The lesson continues to be: when we mix canon with civil law, religion with state, individual beliefs with universal enforcement, the results are never good.

The only way out of this protracted social battle is to go back to square one and separate the two issues. For the State, let any two people (“domestic partners”) be granted a defined packaged set of legal rights (a “civil union”) upon their petition, recognized universally. In fact, virtually every such right can already be granted now by individual contracts or assignment of agency between any two people. So let us just make a consistent legal package easy for everyone to obtain. For “marriage,” let us simply remove any legal basis by the State, and return that designation (“husband and wife”) to the religious groups who rightfully own it. If Episcopalians or Southern Baptists determine that they have to split into Group A and Group B over same-sex marriage permission or prohibition, then so be it; religious groups have historically separated and subdivided themselves before over all sorts of differences (e.g. interpretation of texts, dogma, forms of ritual, family rules, governance). Ultimately, it is only in separation that there can be a coming together.

Far too much time on this issue is being spent over semantics and political demagoguery. Yet we must recognize the very real power that drives people to have their union blessed within the spiritual framework called “marriage.” The greater challenge of gay marriage is to our ability to accept, coexist with, and not fear ideas and people different than ourselves, rather than insisting on a universal sameness. What ultimately counts are the values of love, responsibility and caring. Jesus said, “Render under Caesar [the state] what is Caesar’s (“civil union”); render unto God what is God’s (“spiritual marriage”).” Human beings may grapple with this topic, but I have no doubt that God’s love is encompassing enough to include any human acts driven by a desire to love and commit to one another. Within that greater context, I have no doubt that the institution of marriage will continue to be quite safe in America.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Underwriting Corporate Mismanagement

The latest chapter of our economic collapse now centers on what to do with our Big Three US automakers. Cries of impending doom fill the air. Chants of “it’s not our fault” are spoken daily by both the corporate CEOs and the autoworker union leadership; all blame is elsewhere. So the three well-dressed CEOs flew into Washington in their luxury jets to jointly ask for $25B in a “bridge loan” to keep them afloat as they continue to spend their way into zero-cash poverty.

They sat together smugly as they tried to virtually blackmail Congress into giving them the money “because you cannot put 2 million people out of work.” Yet there was no contrition expressed; there was no sense expressed that “we’re in tough times so we have to operate differently”; most importantly, there was no PLAN for corporate survival. There was no knowledge about whether $25B was even enough to achieve the interim funding goal, or was just a down-payment on future installments. No arrangement was even determined for how much of the $25B each corporation would get. It was simply “pay us something so that we can operate business-as-usual.” Chrysler’s CEO acknowledged some measure of personal commitment and responsibility to all of this by announcing that he had gone to a “dollar-a-year” compensation; GM’s head had cut his compensation by 50%; but Ford’s CEO stubbornly expressed that his compensation level was “just fine at this time, no change is needed” (@$7-9M). It was as embarrassing and frustrating a public relations debacle as I have seen in a long time, and a sad testament as to how low the bar has now been set for corporate executive capability.

What these people, and their union counterparts, seem to fail to understand is basic investing and lending principles. The American people do not lend or invest in companies, whether directly or through financial institutions or the US government, because we like you or not. We do not do it, and should not, because nice people need jobs if they are jobs that contribute unmeaningful work at an excessive price. We do not financially prop up companies who produce and/or overprice unneeded or shoddy goods, or provide poor customer service and follow-up to the sale. No thank you, we look to find other providers instead. And the past business/financial plans of these companies have simply been continually out of sync with America’s greater needs.

When we invest or loan, we do so not in a company or individuals; we invest in a PLAN. A plan that takes us into the FUTURE. A Future with an above-average chance to SUCCEED. To date, these 3 companies and their CEOs and union leaders are offering none of these ingredients. There is no Plan whatsoever; $25B is being requested to maintain an antiquated Past way of doing business; hence the probability of long-term Successful Viability is highly limited. Why would we go for this unacceptable high-jacking scheme?

It is fairly easy to be successful when times are good; hard times require people of special talents. There are many good CEOs and small business owners out there whose good reputations are being besmirched and overshadowed by the visible incompetents. There are CEOs and business owners who are smart and capable enough to see the current shape of things, figure out the handwriting on the wall, and react smartly and adroitly to guide their companies through this current storm. Probably arriving in better long-term shape than they are in now. We need to recognize these business leaders and support them in those intelligent ways that we can.

So what to do with GM, Ford and Chrysler? The probability is that Congress will ultimately blink and fork over some operating cash for these companies. The extreme economic and political realities will demand it. In and of itself, I am not necessarily opposed to government loans/investments in private businesses if done for specific objectives under tight conditions for a limited timeframe. So it should be in this instance. But this funding should come with heavy strings attached. Specifically: a) replace the current management team in each company, along with at least 51% of their Boards; b) renegotiate the union contacts and executive pay to be competitive with industry rivals, i.e. challenge the union to choose either the losing battle to protect wages and benefits at the expense of jobs, or adjust to winning a battle to define and support new competitively-sustaining jobs, and further require executive compensation to set a new model for corporate responsibility; c) submit a clear strategic plan with detailed tactical plans for how these companies will realign themselves to the realities of the US auto buying marketplace. Not a plan of tokenism and public relations, but a long-term plan reflecting serious deep change in thinking, costs, entitlement, and marketplace.

Absent this, then I say let them go into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, as recommended recently in an OpEd article that a friend forwarded to me, written by Mitt Romney in the New York Times reflecting upon his father George’s successful turnaround of American Motors back in the 1950s. (See Chapter 11 will de facto force these changes onto these companies, though it will also cause much unwarranted investor chaos. With Chapter 11, the sky will not fall, and doomsday will not arrive, and cars will still be sold; the airline industry and others have already demonstrated a successful life after Chapter 11.

But most importantly, get new people behind the automotive desks. As these CEOs now return to Congress with a whole new skin-deep public relations program to try to make up for their last performance, we need to remember that their problems are NOT new. These companies have been in trouble for a generation. The current economic conditions did not cause their failure, they only clearly exposed it and made us say “no more.” It is clear that only external forces move these current leaders, not innate talent. The last time I looked, there was not a George Romney or Lee Iacocca bold corporate leader to be found among them.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Differing Views of a Mountain

In the next few years, this country has some enormous decisions to make about its directions, and our government’s best role and what services it should deliver how to we the citizens. The process of arriving at these decisions is inevitably going to bring out many divergent opinions across the political and philosophical spectrum. Will we listen respectfully and learn from each other in this process, or continue to posture ourselves in the “I’m Right / You’re Wrong” dialog that has so crippled us for far too long? I offer the following narrative as a context for this forthcoming national discussion, written some months ago but held until an appropriate time, such as is now.

I was recently standing alone on the front porch of my mountain home, looking at the clear view of layers of mountain ridges in the distance. For me, such a view affirms “the biggestness” of this world and our life in it, and testifies to the extraordinary design creativity that is part of God. But I also began to think about what others might see if standing in this same exact place, looking at the same picture in their eyes.

· The naturist, who sees in these mountains an unending nurturing home for myriad wildlife and plant life coexisting together;
· The geologist, who sees in these mountains the beauty of mounds of rock piled upon each other from millions of years of physical pressure and erosion;
· The farmer, who sees in these mountains all of the steep angles and knows this is “worthless” farm country;
· The natural food aficionado, who sees in these mountains nature’s farm already producing all the sustenance needed;
· The logger, who sees in these mountains all the trees that can be taken out of these woods for the new homes that can be built;
· The home developer, who sees in these mountains large parcels of one-acre home sites waiting to be bulldozed out into “vacation homes”;
· The conservationist, who sees in these mountains so many of those vacation homes to thereby obviate the original vacation attraction;
· The outdoors person, who sees in these mountains virgin woods in God’s original state to experience;
· The mystic, who sees in these mountains a gathering of nature spirits that tie all the elements into equilibrium and interdependency;
· The spiritualist, who sees in these mountains proof of a God that is un-provable.

We are all looking at the same picture. But we each “see” something different. Yet the mountain simply sees itself as “the mountain.”

The Buddhists talk about seeing the “emptiness of things,” seeing things as they truly are versus what we choose to interpret onto them. As we grow in chronological age we overlay our personal experiences and lessons learned onto that which we see, and thereby narrow our view. As we grow spiritually we conversely see all of these overlays, and yet we also see none of these. It is simply what it is: the mountains. And that is what we now see clearest of all.

The mountain may have its Facts of trees, rocks and dirt. But its Truth is relative, and its Rightness or Wrongness is entirely subjective to the lens of our own personal experiences and exposures that shape our individual perspectives. Our Wisdom is found in our capacity to hold all of those divergent views together in our hearts and minds, and our ability to reach beyond them all to find and build upon the largest common thread that runs through them all.

“People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they’re not on your road doesn’t mean they’ve gotten lost.” (H. Jackson Browne)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Post-Election Observations - 2008

It is finally over, this marathon presidential election of 2008. And while it is still fresh, I offer some general comments about what we have seen during this long period of campaigning, regardless of your candidate of choice.

Best Run Campaign: Obama, no question. Highly disciplined, consistently on message (minus a few Biden relapses), smart visuals, overwhelming organization. Right out of past Republican election machines (without the sleaze) that left even Bill O’Reilly marveling. Hopefully an indication of his governing ability to come.

Most Intelligent Comment Made: From Colin Powell, who said of Obama “He is not a Muslim, but what if he was?” A disarming challenge to all of us, to the collective Republican Party, and to all small-minded bigots around the country regardless of political affiliation.

Biggest Broken Promise: No, it was not Obama’s reneging on limiting himself to public financing, which thereby allowed the Democratic candidate for the first time to have a greater financial war chest than his Republican opponent. Rather, it was McCain breaking his promise to run a “respectful campaign”; it was anything but.

Worst Campaign Selection: Sarah Palin. Trading our country’s future for support from a limited-interest group.
Good Campaign Selection: Joe Biden. The difference in credentials said it all.

Worst Political Decision: McCain’s call to “suspend his campaign” (he didn’t) and return to Washington to straighten out the financial mess. A national emergency became subsumed to electioneering (as Obama predicted). McCain didn’t deliver, and further he showed he was not even in command of his own party. He showed impetuousness and erratic behavior, not leadership. The man who would be on his white horse had it shot out from under him.

Best Political Decision: Obama’s strategy to “take it to the red states,” building on his organizational strength and financing resulting from his long national setup run against Hillary.

Biggest Lies and Lousy Arguments: Truth was, as usual, a major casualty of the election. The distortions made of facts, including the insulting use of “labels” (terrorists, socialists, etc.); the reach backwards by Republicans to tired old themes (e.g. tax cuts when we are already broke; “socialized medicine” from the 1950s) versus new ideas; drilling for off-shore oil that is a miniscule source for our needs and will not be available for 10 years instead of focusing on non-energy oil; etc.

Greatest Exhaustion: 21 months and over $2billion to elect a President is inane. Other than giving Obama time and training to be ready for the final stretch run against the other party, was all of this time and money really needed?

Big Anticipation: A few future weeks of political quiet on TV, and sending hundreds of mediocre, previously nameless self-appointed would-be political pundits and analysts back to deserved anonymity. Start with Joe the Plumber and the ridiculous airing of his irrelevant opinions for his 15 minutes of undeserved fame.

Looking Forward To: Being able to go to sleep at night without having to pray for the continuing good health of a President in order to keep a scary Vice President out of the White House (i.e. Cheney, Palin)

Biggest Hope: That the Karl Rovian ugly tactics have been sufficiently trashed by enough Americans that divisiveness and name-calling campaigns disappear. That patriotism no longer wears a party hat, and “Real Americans” are not separated good guys/bad guys, but includes all of our many diverse peoples, beliefs, geographies, religions, and aspirations.

And in Conclusion …: Regardless of your political convictions and desired outcomes, the objective assessment is that Obama ran a poised, focused, smart, and controlled campaign a la prior Republican and Bill Clinton campaigns. McCain ran an erratic, shoot-from-the-hip, lurching campaign that was continually looking for a message, constantly on the defensive a la Dukakis, Gore and Kerry. And so Obama won, and McCain lost. Competency still matters.

November 4th was an historical day of demonstrating an overwhelming expression of the democratic vote and peaceful change which we are called to represent to the world, reaching a new milestone in equal opportunity, hearing a very classy concession speech from the John McCain integrity we used to know, and receiving an excellent summation of where we have arrived from Obama’s victory speech. Now the real work of “delivery of promise” begins. That won’t be easy. That delivery needs the participation, help, hope and prayers of all of us.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Election Choice 2008

It has always been my intent that this blog be politically objective and as non-partisan as possible. Sometimes that is hard to do when discussion has to confront the actions of an individual. In those instances, I have tried to focus my commentary on the ethical and/or spiritual principles illustrated by those actions.

Tonight, I have to confront that same delicate dilemma. But there is a very important, if not critical, presidential election coming up in two weeks. Perhaps not THE most important election in our history as some have inappropriately called it (think Washington, our first; Lincoln on the eve of our country’s attempted dissolution; FDR on the eve of WW II). But certainly critically important in setting tone, priorities and directions for the next four to eight years after the disaster of the last eight.

So what should guide us when we enter the voting booth and try to make that important choice? Health care delivery is in desperate need of wholesale surgery. Our educational system needs a major re-schooling in how we communicate knowledge and inspire learning in students of all ages. The financial industry requires new insurance policies against greed and folly. Alternative energy solutions need a jump-start. Our overall economic environment needs to find a new delicate balance between regulation and control without stifling the incredible creativity of American entrepreneurs already waiting in the wings with new innovations. Ending our “first-strike” war and its attendant runaway unfunded costs while still enhancing our national security must be accomplished SOON.

Yes, these topics are all very important issues for voters these days. They are the principal grist of speeches and debates and position papers being thrown at the public in a never-ending stream each day. Yet as important as they are at this particular moment, I do not believe that they are the fundamentals on which our votes should turn. They are today’s alarms. Tomorrow, there will be others screaming for attention. And next month others still. Our 1-day vote has to therefore turn on a longer view of more fundamental criteria. And for these I would suggest the following as the truly critical needs for our country:

The first fundamental need is to restore our Rule of Law. In the past eight years, our Constitution has been trampled by politicalization, partisanship, prejudice over process, secretive decisions, official disinformation and factual distortion, and the loss of individual freedoms tending to a new “guilty until proven innocent.” Our Constitution and the laws derived from that are what keep our system of governing whole. Losing that framework sends the country ever closer to spinning out of control. The litany of specifics and examples is too numerous to list here, but has fed a steady stream of news reports to an increasingly fearful and cynical public. Restoration of governmental respect for law and its impartial administration is a first-order priority.

The second critical need is to reclaim our role as a True World Leader that we squandered after the special opportunity presented to us after 9-11. Ending the unilaterally-acting bully that we have become, lecturing the world on its conduct while ignoring the shortcomings of our own. In spite of all the difficulties we read about every day, the world is in fact poised to do some great things IF brought together in concerted actions without demonizing and finger-pointing each other. Without separating us into two absolute good guy/bad guy demarcations. And without insisting that every country and every people think the same, act the same, govern the same. This will only happen with fresh thinking about world views, conciliatory and respectful interactions with all peoples, embodying humility instead of arrogance, and providing the leadership of quiet demonstration of our values instead of empty rhetoric about values not truly lived.

The third critical need is to provide Competence in Governing. Winning elections may be a necessary first step to governing, but the supposed purpose in winning is to enable one to then govern competently and fairly across the broadest sweep of the many conflicting constituencies and positions of the American people. After 8 years of mediocre performance delivering critical needs, after 8 years of legislative stalemate or pandering to one narrow constituency, after 8 years of financial irresponsibility by both parties, talented competent people with technical skills for their jobs along with big-minded thinking (instead of small-minded parochialism) is necessary. “Shaking things up” is NOT what is needed; things have already been shaken up so badly they are completely broken. We need to put all of Washington’s Humpty-Dumpty parts back together again in a way that they work together as a whole, not instigate more fighting and arguing and shouting. This rebuilding will not happen with someone who continually criticizes and cannot deliver his own base party; one cannot claim bipartisan leadership if he cannot even show effective leadership of his own partisan party.

These are the three key criteria. Put these cornerstone changes of attitude and method into place, and all the detailed issues that will certainly come and go will have a chance to be properly resolved. Without those cornerstones, it will be more of the same that we have already experienced.

When I look at these two completely distinctive candidates, only one appears to have a chance to achieve these changes. We do not need a twin set of would-be mavericks to “kick butts” in Washington, we need a person who can listen to all sides and find a workable middle ground that moves us forward. We do not need a shoot-from-the-hip impulsiveness, we need a thoughtfulness that thinks through actions to their probable conclusions. Given two candidates neither of which comes from an executive/administrator background, we can only look at how each has run his campaign for clues as to how he might govern; only one has demonstrated a well-managed campaign across the country for the duration of this campaign using innovative 21st-century techniques while surrounded by top-quality advisors that have stayed steady yet adaptable and responsive to events throughout. Only one has shown the capacity to look at old issues from a new perspective. In these times, we do not need a person with a legendary temper and petulance, qualities that are now on full public display.

For this important election, it is as much about repudiating where we have been as it is about talking an informed risk in casting a hope for tomorrow. One candidate is simply from a past time, a different era, and time has moved on. It is time this country moves on with the other candidate. The resume may be shorter, but it is the RIGHT resume. It is the resume of Barack Obama.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

McCain's Lost Way

“For what shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Jesus, Mark 8:36)

For many years I was an admirer of John McCain. The story of his imprisonment in North Viet Nam was a compelling statement of his character and strength of will. He continually talked about a willingness to decide political questions on their own merits, regardless of political party position or any popularity contest. He seemed willing to work with Senate colleagues of either party to accomplish the country’s legislative needs, as we often used to see in Congress in the 1950s/1960s. He was warm and accessible to news reporters, credited with being a “straight talker.” It was my belief that throughout this time he genuinely acted from a firmly held core value of “honor” that drove his actions.

Then eight years ago, he ran for president. He did well for awhile, until he went to South Carolina for its primary election against Bush the Junior. Here he ran into the new Republican attack-dog politics, and he lost. John McCain was never the same thereafter. The navy man who is the son and grandson of admired and successful naval admirals had come up short; failed and unsuccessful. He was forced to watch his rival George go on into the presidency that he had seen as belonging to him. “Hell may have no fury like a woman scorned,” but ambition is never so fueled as by the failure to live up to success expectations one perceives on him-/herself.

So after 4 years of lying in wait until his next opportunity could arise (preparing for the 2008 election), a very different John McCain emerged. One we did not recognize at first, until our slight confusion gradually gave way to a clear view of this new persona. John McCain had learned the “how to succeed” lesson all too well. Like the based-on-reality fictional Willy Stark who was beaten down by the entrenched political machine in the 1940s movie All The King’s Men, John took the devil that had beaten him and made that devil his new campaign platform.

So began the turnaround. He served as a commencement speaker for the evangelical preacher that he had once (accurately) denounced as a purveyor of hate and intolerance. He suddenly was a new forceful advocate for a Republican right agenda that he supposedly had always supported, albeit apparently not for public view. Ronald Reagan was now revealed to be his model and hero, though McCain has neither Reagan’s oratory skills nor his vision, and he glosses over Reagan’s true legacy of expanded government and bloated deficits from giving tax cuts on upper incomes. And after years of pronouncing himself to be a true-blue (true-red?) Republican supporter of free markets and deregulation, one Wall Street meltdown later he is all for “strong oversight and regulation of the financial industry.” Having for years understated his war experiences (as most war veterans similarly do), he now rolls out those stories at every opportunity in a play for the nobility / sympathy vote. (Notwithstanding that being a captive in war does not in/of itself make one either inherently more patriotic nor any more qualified to be Commander in Chief!)

In short, it is now a strategy of do and say anything and whatever is needed to get elected. George Bush and his team were singularly all about being elected; they had no clue about subsequently GOVERNING this country. John McCain is now about winning at any cost. The man who last spring promised to run a “respectful” campaign has so far done anything but. He is almost universally seen as the dirt-thrower this go-around, moving beyond the “stretching the truth” to outright and undeniable lies approaching “swift boat” demagoguery. Interestingly, he even uses a new campaign tactic of accusing his opponent of exactly his own weaknesses before they can be used against himself. The man who helped to write the current rules that try to limit the influence of lobbyists and their money in politics is now shamelessly surrounded by same. The man who thankfully protested against political sleaze in 2000 has become the poster boy for that very sleaze. Not surprising given that his campaign team is led by former Bush team players. And he caps this reversal of character by choosing an increasingly obvious incompetent running mate whose only qualification was to be a philosophical bone to the political party who doesn’t really trust (or like) McCain as their own candidate in the first place. This rather than truly considering “country first” and selecting a highly credentialed associate capable of leading this country if and when necessary.

The sad part is that I actually do not write this blog item as a specific criticism of John McCain the political candidate. Rather, I write it as a commentary about what happens when one loses sight of who she/he is, when the push of our inner demons and self-perceived inadequacies cause us to forget who we are truly about. It is what happens when winning by any means replaces integrity, and ambition trumps honor. In these incredibly difficult times, this country needs some hard, thoughtful discussions about the issues that face us. The opportunities that are possible, and the choices that we need to make. The ways we can find some common ground that has been missing, so that we can move forward instead of spinning in do-nothing circles.

This is a time when we need conversations among a wide variety of thoughtful and experienced persons. This is a time when we could benefit from the contributions of John McCain’s thinking and dialog. But not this erratic John McCain who we no longer know. We need the John McCain that we thought we knew in 2000. The one who seemed to speak from core values of honesty, integrity, and fairness. Unfortunately, that John McCain who once acted from a personal place of deep honor is now nowhere to be seen.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Religion Of Prosperity

An interesting phenomenon of the last few years is the emergence of the “prosperity theology” movement within religious settings. Joel Olsteen has seemingly emerged in the forefront of this movement, but there are a number of religious speakers working within this financial success umbrella. For many of these practitioners, such success definitely seems to be working well for them personally. A number of more traditional religious speakers have expressed serious concerns about bringing “financial success” so prominently into a religious/Christian setting. But given the large crowds attending these presentations, there is undeniably a broad audience interested in this message.

I have a somewhat mixed reaction to this movement, although I do not have a lot of personal interest in pursuing this theology for myself. However, in light of today’s economic turmoil and multi-billion dollar bailouts, the topic seems very relevant to consider. On the one hand, I am all for any spiritual framework that looks to de-emphasize the traditional guilt and damnation philosophy that makes up the core of many religions. A positive message of uplift that affirms people and the opportunities available to them is certainly welcome. The challenge for people to take responsibility for their lives and their outcomes, rather than continuing a cycle of negativism and victimization excuses, is certainly needed. Helping people to “unstuck” their lives and improve their financial condition can be a helpful trend.

In and of itself, obtaining wealth is fine. When matched to, and supportive of, our life’s fuller meaning and values, well-matched and measured financial success can be both satisfying and enabling. When financial success supports clearly understood greater values and purpose, such a pursuit can be perfectly appropriate.

The troubling part of all this is what appears to be the lack of a greater context for this emphasis on achieving financial success. Money as an end unto itself is an empty-calories diet --- filling and satisfying in the moment, but without long-term nourishment. An excessive sugar diet can easily turn from a treat to an addiction, if not ultimately a life-threatening long-term diabetic disease due to an inflow in excess of one’s capacity to absorb. So it can be with money.

What I do not hear (at least with sufficient emphasis) within prosperity theology circles is the caveat that one should first establish clarity in his/her life --- purpose, priorities, focus, work. I.e. what is it that truly fulfills us? Obtaining the finances needed to achieve that quest is the true financial success. Without this yardstick of what constitutes personal success, the chase for the dollar becomes completely open-ended.

What are one’s true drivers for financial success? When is enough enough? Will a person simply display the finances that one has achieved by the toys that she/he accumulates? Or is the driver rather about obtaining the finances that are necessary to simply allow you to fulfill the true YOU that you are within?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Greed Reclaims Its Due

This past week we have watched the virtual collapse of our American financial industry. At least a significant component of it in the investment banking and mortgage guaranty segments. Cumulative wide-spread greed once again has asserted its ultimate consequences, and those consequences will affect all of us in some manner.

In such times, it is awfully tempting to look directly at those industry CEOs who led these companies that are now going under. Tempting because it is so easy to do, and it is so accurate. Marginal leaders reaped the benefit of profits virtually pushed to them by the herd mentality of mass consumers who followed an expectation of guaranteed can’t-lose financial success. Then, when the shallowness of that business leadership and decision-making surfaced, these CEOs were sent packing. Unfortunately, those CEOs have packed a lot of cash into their exit suitcases from the wealth that they have fraudulently taken, with no accountability to their firms or the taxpayers now rescuing them. The issue of excessive executive compensation has been talked about for years, with nothing done to arrest it. It seems to be a nice, albeit somewhat exclusive, club to belong to.

As right as it is to castigate these CEOs for taking their ill-gotten gains and running, their bigger failure is that their actions and greed invariably helped to promote a broader such environment within their mega-companies. If the CEO is paid that much without accountability for company success, then it leads many on the corporate ladder expecting their pro rata share. At any cost, from any action that will achieve it. Except that the big bucks still only go to the top folks, they have never filtered down proportionally. (So much for the now discredited Reagan-era “trickle down” tax cut theories.) So in airline companies, automobile companies, and so on, worker-bees who are in fact critical to the CEO’s success are laid off or receive less-than-inflationary raises while simultaneously executive compensation continues to grow. The corporate resentment and “who cares” attitudes understandably increase across the organization.

The loss of caring and professional integrity can also grow in direct proportion to the growth in company size. As we continue these mega-mergers, operating decisions get made further and further away. Local ownership and oversight diminish. Despite reams of government regulations and published corporate policies, increasing anarchy grows in these increasingly distant everyday operational offices. In pursuit of sharing in the apparent expanding financial bubble, increasing numbers of lone rangers start making up their own rules, out of sight. Bad credit decisions get made; mortgage sellers and loan officers detached themselves from their outcomes since that mortgage is just going to be sold off to another company; your “local lender” has almost no control over lending decisions made about you as your loan passes from desk-to-desk, company-to-company, individual loan into a bundled security package. It is all detached, faceless, nameless, and conveniently hidden from visible guilt. And inappropriate consumers are taken into the wolf’s den of sleaze, enticed by a vision of a better status in their lives. As an economic commentator recently said, “bad capitalism drives out good capitalism in everyone’s rush to keep up [with each other’s income statement].”

Yes, it is easy to point fingers, because there are so many worthwhile targets to point to. But are we prepared to point one of those fingers into our own mirror? Not all of us outraged, innocent-bystander taxpayers are quite so innocent. Collectively, we have been willing to stick our heads into the sand and ignore the reality that we have helped to perpetuate, if not cause, this financial breakup. We continue to demand credit to buy what we cannot legitimately afford. We are willing to vote into office politicians who give out money to us that they do not have through ill-thought tax refunds and stimulus packages, special grants, and giving specialized allotment supports and tax loopholes to selected business / industries / agricultural operations. We do not protest too loudly when our president asks us to pay for the mega-billions being spent for the Iraq war by “going out and shopping” (no sacrifices), when we should have been asked to cut back our buying and instead invest in our own country (instead of leaving the war to the rest of the world to finance for us). As stockholders in these big corporations, we have endorsed the big CEO salaries and golden severance packages as long as we have seen our stock investments rise. As our fear of financial consequences grows, we have increasingly demanded guaranteed protection and safety from the consequences of our financial decisions.

Sooner or later, fast-rising economic booms always burst. We’ll demonize financial leaders because they deserve it. We will watch political leaders gyrate to the music of shifting public opinion while they try to look like they know what to do on our behalf. But will we also look in our own mirror and acknowledge our culpability in not first putting our own house in financial order, and in not demanding that our business and governmental leaders (of all parties) do the same for our collective “we”? Are we capable and willing to reject our own personal “bridge to nowhere” but reject it meaningfully, honestly and from the get-go instead of making it a meaningless after-the-fact sound-bite?

The financial bottom line of all of this is that we have collectively been living beyond our means for 8 years or more, and we have lied about it to each other and ignored it to ourselves. At our peril. Our peril has now come due. In abrogating our own sense of self-responsibility, my 5 grandchildren will have to help pay off the bills we have so foolishly created.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Vice President Choice - Yes It Matters

Last week, John McCain introduced his choice of a running mate to the American People. Someone out of everyone’s radar screen, a political unknown from Alaska. A female on the Republican ticket for the first time. There is no question that her very newness has moved the spotlight, and her acceptance speech has generated cohesion and excitement in the diminishing Republican Party’s base of voters. But over the next weeks after the celebrity attention wears off, and the lens of detailed inquiry clarifies the focus, what has truly emerged here?

The short answer is that we see the continuation of raw and blatant politics, packaged up in the Karl Rove “spin and big lie” marketing tactics. If “experience” has been John McCain’s claim on the presidency, then how does his VP choice stack up to that? To wit:

· Fresh faces can be refreshing. But only if they bring something new to the fore. A new face on an old package will be seen through very quickly.
· Based upon her pronouncements and her record, former Buchannan-for-president supporter Palin’s politics are to the right of even George Bush! Be it energy policy (drill and drill some more), fiscal policy (more high salary tax cuts), anti-abortion (not even allowed for rape and incest, nor are individual “decisions” allowed --- even for her daughter). I expect more of these positions will continue to be detailed by others over the next weeks.
· The length and nature of her political and governmental experience are frankly laughable vis-à-vis becoming the #2 leader of this nation. What is even more sadly laughable is watching McCain campaign and honorable Republican officials squirming to try to convert that non-experience into something believable. Service in the PTA and mayor of 9000 people is creditable public (or community organizing!) service, but it hardly makes one specially qualified for the #2 national office.
· Neither does being the civilian leader of the Alaska National Guard make one a military leader. The real role of our national guards has been to provide local and humanitarian support, not a true military function. In their present service as part of the Iraq military force, however, they are totally subsumed to the US Department of Defense --- the governors are non-players. Sarah’s son going into military service may provide her with an empathy toward the difficulties faced by military families, but it will not provide any insight into managing the role of that military.
· Foreign affairs experience requires one to have experience with the needs and concerns of foreign nations and their leaders. Simply “living in a state next door to Russia” does not give any special insight into the conduct of foreign affairs, which requires dealing with over 175 countries which do not border Alaska. As one commentator said, “Saying that living next to Russia gives someone foreign policy experience is like saying that living next to Lake Michigan makes me a catfish!”
· If her gender is supposed to attract a new female vote, that does not seem to be working out. Her extreme domestic positions, once better known, will never pull over the Hillary voters. By several polls already, working mothers and traditional-mom Republican women are not necessarily supportive of her “5 kids with new baby + vice president” ambitions. She complained last spring about Hillary playing the “gender card” when complaining about the attacks on her, and said that she should be tough enough to play with the big boys, yet now any complaints on Sarah are “inherently sexist and unfair.” You can’t play it both ways.

I would normally agree with Obama and McCain that “family is off limits for political discussion.” But when your role as “mom” is presented as a qualification for the job (versus simply being a biographical line item), AND when as governor you line-item veto funding for sex education programs, then in that instance what happens in your own back yard thereby becomes a topic of legitimate discussion.
· So then we come to her acceptance speech. It was easy to see why many in Alaska like her, and probably many others in America who embody western frontier self-reliance and feisty take-‘em-on politicians. The self-described shotgun-toting moose-burger reformist proved this image true on that night. Except that she also showed a continuing sarcasm and insulting denigration to her opponent and people of different beliefs, while she conveniently made NO mention of her own political beliefs. She was able to talk at length about the only one issue with which she has apparent knowledge (oil energy). Then she lied about Obama’s tax proposals and her sale of the governor’s airplane (yes she listed it on E-Bay, but it didn’t sell and was subsequently sold privately). She further managed to completely skip over her being the object of a legislative investigation in Alaska about her ethical conduct.

All I saw in her speech was the specter of 4 (8?) more years of stalemate government in Washington, with continued bitter and ugly partisan battling. A naive in-your-face outsider reformer will be eaten alive by the Washington power structure, virtually assured to be Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress. It takes compromise and good working relations with respectful goodwill to bring change to the mini-kingdoms of Washington, D.C. Sarah Palin’s style of meat-ax combat may work in Alaska for a time, but will bring neither change nor benefit to the American public.

So is it reasonable to question Governor Palin’s positions and experience with respect to her being a potential vice president? Yes, given that a) it substantively consists of only 1.5 years as an isolated governor, preceded by typical introductory community activities and positions that can be attributed to millions of other Americans, and b) her positions are so out of sync with millions of voters. John McCain and his team profess shock that her background is being questioned by the national press and American public, such that he cancelled a Larry King interview because of a CNN reporter’s tough questions to a senior McCain aide about Palin’s experience. The real shock is that McCain and company were so unrealistic to believe that they could spring a complete surprise on a voyeur American public and not expect all of this snooping and grilling to roar forward. It is reflective of the same disdain of “the public’s right to know” that we have witnessed these past 8 years.

Someone recently asked me, “So does the VP choice really matter? Isn’t it really all about the presidential candidates and what they believe?” My answer was, and is, a resounding “No,” that the VP choice matters a lot. For 3 reasons:
1. Other than selecting his campaign team, the VP choice is the first real statement about the kind of people a president will surround him-/herself with. You ultimately elect a governing team, and the many Department Secretaries and policy minions that make up the Executive Branch are as important and consequential as the president. (Think “Brownie, you’re doing a heckofa job!”) Just look at the cast of characters who have come and gone over the last 8 years, where they’ve taken us, and the results of their tenure. Who has John McCain now implied will be the members of his cabinet and advisors?
2. Since Walter Mondale’s VP service to Jimmy Carter, the VP has come to have a very substantial role in Washington. The role has become a true advisor to the president, a key voice in decision-making, and a direct influence over some operational functions. As the past 8 years demonstrates, we need to be very concerned about what advice and input our president is receiving.
3. Since 1841, 7 vice presidents have become president upon a president’s death; another one upon Nixon’s resignation; and under today’s presidential succession/incapacity laws, Wilson’s VP would have ascended to the presidency. On that count, 1 in 5 VPs have had to step into the job. 72-year-old John McCain would be the 6th president since the last succession occurred. This is a real statistical probability.

We not only elect a vice president, we also elect a president-in-waiting. Think a potential President Dick Cheney (the most arrogant and destructive Washington player since Joe McCarthy’s excesses in the 1950s), or even a president Dan Quayle. With all the persons of real talent, experience, and character available in the Republican Party, some of whom were fully tested and vetted by the recent primaries (think Huckabee if you really wanted to appeal to the right wing without having to pick an unknown inflammatory loose cannon), is Sarah Palin really the best choice John McCain could come up with? A person who is now completely under wraps because the campaign refuses to allow her in front of interviewers until they can properly train her for the national stage? Most importantly, what does this first “executive decision” say about John McCain?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

$4 Gas

During a recent business trip to Savannah, I had a very interesting conversation with a member of that unique social scientist group ---- my cab driver. I always find these conversations insightful, given their exposure and conversations with such a diverse audience of riders. (A few weeks earlier in Houston, my driver from the Philippines gave me a long and refreshing discourse on his excitement in almost becoming a new U.S. citizen.)

In this case, my driver was highly motivated to discuss the issues of $4/gallon gasoline. Certainly highly pertinent and of direct consequence to this small business entrepreneur. After we each concurred with the seriousness of this economic grenade thrown at our economy, the question was “so how do we fix it?”

His main point was that our people can no longer avoid the reality of our excessive oil consumption. Even forgetting all of the political overtones of this issue, the need to realign our power needs with smart sources of supply has to become our major priority. My driver argued a strong case that, once we break the unholy alliance of Detroit automakers with Houston oil companies and create space for American scientists and entrepreneurs, solutions are there waiting to be had. Whether it be better mpg optimization of the gasoline we do use, or the use of non-gasoline fuels, or the use of simplified economical cars appropriate to their functional use (versus driving Hummers to the local grocery store), the answer is NOT continuing in the same old directions. We do not need more oil; we need a whole new thinking about our transportation needs --- and the lifestyles we live that demand such transportation.

Given the extreme difficulty in getting us to make changes in our lifestyles, family, and work mentalities, my driver’s belief was that $4/gallon was the best thing that could happen to us. (Notwithstanding the obscenely excess profits retained by the oil companies.) That appears to be the level of pain necessary to finally move us into action.

When he also made a pitch for more off-shore drilling, my response was “but if we need to move to a fundamental change, isn’t chasing more oil simply a fool’s mission that continues to divert us from the hard job we need to focus on?” He switched gears and went to my argument: partly the strength of my unarguable logic, partly his adroit reading and accommodating of his backseat client!

He also related a story about passengers from Brazil that he had driven. That country’s focused and coordinated effort to switch to domestically-created bio-fuel is a standard for “what can be done” to aspire to. His passengers confirmed that @48% of Brazil’s fuel is bio-fuel. But they said the equally important news is that they are using sugar cane residue as their bio-source, which has no impact on the food supply (unlike the corn that we are unwisely diverting into fuel). Further, most of the remaining fuel consumption is coming from natural gas, not oil-based gasoline. All of this has reduced their import of oil/gasoline to almost nil --- and gotten them off the world petroleum market merry-go-round.

The bottom line is that Jimmy Carter’s energy warning 35 years ago, ridiculed at the time, was right. And we are all responsible for doing nothing about it. The blame belongs to all of us, but it is counter-productive to spend much time on that. It is not about America wasting our time talking about summer gas tax holidays, off-shore or Alaska drilling, or diverting corn into ethanol at a net financial and carbon loss. It is not about stupid ideas and nonsensical political slogans.

It is about designing new function-appropriate cars. It is about new fuels that are replenishible and harvestable from stable political environments. It is about relocating homes / work / neighborhoods / to eliminate bumper-to-bumper cars on our “expressways.” It is about redesigning the workplace for telecommuting, or distributing corporate operations to the rural communities that need them. It takes big picture, integrated thinking coupled with a national plan. John Kennedy sent the nation to the moon. George Bush didn’t even know gas had reached $4.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Support Our Troops

In my driving, I frequently pass vehicles with bumper stickers proclaiming “Support Our Troops.” The good news is that this is one instance in which we have actually learned something from our Viet Nam experience: the separation of the duty of military personnel to observe the directives of its civilian policy-maker leaders, versus those policies and directives themselves. (Unfortunately, the moral dilemma illustrated at Nuremburg from WWII and My Lai from Viet Nam of taking “just following orders” to the absolute is still being painfully worked out.) Notwithstanding, continually reaffirming to our young men and women that their sacrificial efforts in many various forms on our behalf is important to do.

The other day, a truck passed me with a billboard of a bumper sticker that read “My USA supports our troops. NO aid or comfort to our enemies. No way.”

That person’s passion on the subject was clear. The danger in this passion is that proper and needed debate on the policy and direction questions is so often quickly dismissed under the “support our troops = support our policy” umbrella. Weak policy hides under fake calls of patriotism; outdated policies survive under the demagoguery that “a change of direction increases the vulnerability of our troops.” Such statements reveal the rhetoric of a fool.

“Supporting our troops” does not preclude arguing with our political leaders about the missions we give to those troops. These troops are an important investment for our nation; they are critically needed at certain moments in our nation’s life. But they are an instrument of human lives. Their use requires our greatest wisdom that we can possibly bring to bear, wisdom that arises from open debate and cautious judgment. Being clear about their objective, keeping them from being used stupidly, and ensuring the full complement of their toolkit, is collectively the true best possible support we can give to them.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Primary Observations

Our long presidential primary season has mercifully come to an end. Perhaps not quite up to par with “our long national nightmare has ended,” but close. As required, almost 20 aspirers have been winnowed down to two left standing, with a couple of 3rd-party crusaders nibbling at the fringe. Excluding the issue of its elongated timeline, it was certainly one of the most interesting primary campaigns in years, and most engaging in the level of citizen participation. And very revealing in many forms. I offer the following observations:

1. Cut future primaries to be shorter and less costly. Enough said.

2. The campaign introduced us to a diverse variety of characters. Some of these should never have kidded themselves (Brownback, Dodd). Some enlivened the discussion (Paul, Huckabee, Kucinich). Biden distinguished himself with his intelligence and experience and finally found his persona. Romney is still looking for true character. Guiliani never found a strategy that made any sense. Edwards connected but was always second choice.

3. In the end, McCain snuck in between the Republican confusion about what they wanted or didn’t want. Hillary and Barack captured the “new day” imagination of voters who need to see a major turn in direction and the players.

4. At certain milestones, there is always a general turnover in politics. John Kennedy ended the reign of the WWI generation who led us through WWII, and (except for Carter’s election) moved leadership to the young “greatest generation” vets of WWII. Bill Clinton said goodbye to the WWII generation and passed the mantle on to the Viet Nam/60s generation. Whether McCain will be the last of that generation, or Obama will represent the handing over to the kids of the 60s, we will have to see. The generational contrast will be a significant factor this fall.

5. For perhaps the first time, every state (and even Puerto Rico!) primary mattered to the final outcome on the Democratic Party side. This was a wonderful yet unexpected side outcome of this election.

6. For that reason and others, people were very wrong to call for Hillary’s early concession and withdrawal from the campaign. As were the news media for building steam under that call. Similarly, Huckabee was right to go on until McCain had the definitive numbers in hand. You fight until the closing bell or you have no fight left; you do not sit down in the 3rd quarter and bail out.

7. If Obama wins in November, he will owe a big “thank you” to the Clintons. Truth is and thoughtful intelligence notwithstanding, he is inexperienced on the national stage and with the national media. Bill/Hillary are among the toughest competitors to go up against. Obama is a better and more viable candidate this fall for having been so tested through this primary. And he was thereby forced to build a national organization that can now be drawn upon in the fall. In contrast, McCain’s early victory did not translate into early funding or organization building.

8. Hillary, even though she lost, is a far different and better person and politician than when the primaries started. A better campaigner and more understanding of herself. The last two months of her candidacy leading to her campaign-ending speech and Obama endorsement, were masterful.

9. The news media were typically abysmal. It was all about the election game of polls, the numbers, who’s ahead, and what trivia can be converted into inane headlines. With few exceptions, they were minimally about issues, factual research, calling out candidates on their claims, or providing clarity to the smokescreens and pandering of candidate’s speeches. Thankfully, there is still “The Daily Show” and its reruns of leaders’ and candidates’ past statements to serve that function (comedically or not).

10. The big question is: will John McCain be able to prevent his election apparatus from succumbing into the Lee Atwater / Karl Rove campaign negativity and have the “new campaign” he has promised on meaningful issues instead of personality and phony hysterical sound bites that we have endured these past 8 years? Or will it be another year of arguing about lapel pins, cooking recipes, who’s a true patriot, class/racial/ethnic divisions, and fear? Propaganda, image and distorted words? We shall see which John McCain shows up for this election. Both McCain and Obama have thus far exercised good judgment in disavowing, or calling to task, inappropriate statements and actions by their supporters.

11. We will miss Tim Russert’s insight, humor, and integrity.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Buying the Presidency - Part 2

Awhile back, a long-time friend wrote to me in regard to my blog of February 5, 2008, that questioned Mitt Romney’s fundraising and spending approaches in support of his candidacy for president. My good friend raised two critical-thinking questions for me: 1) did my concerns about Mitt’s wealth reflect envy on my part, and 2) isn’t Mitt (or anyone else) free to spend his/her money as one chooses?

I am in the process of responding to my friend directly about question #1; that seemed to be too parochial a question to answer within this blog medium. My response to his question #2 is below. The discussion still seems to be pertinent, since Mitt Romney is currently making such an open play for the Republican vice presidential nod.

Do I object to people spending their money as they wish? No, certainly not unless I would invite the same objections to my own spending decisions. I can hope that a person understands that their wealth came from many others, no matter how smart or hardworking or entrepreneurial s/he might be, and therefore there is some level of responsibility due to those “others.” I can hope that people retain their humility in the presence of wealth, realizing that neither wealth nor education necessarily equates with good character, responsibility and fairness. But at the end of the day, it is each person’s decision as to how they use the resources that come their way.

The decisions that they make, and the motivation that drives those decisions, will visibly demonstrate their character, values and judgment. Those decisions thereby serve as the basis of my choices of who I respect not just for their accumulation of wealth, but also for their use of that wealth. If you then choose to go into the public place of government service on my behalf, then my respect of you (or not) now becomes particularly important.

For me, the issues in this instance are neither the accumulation of wealth nor the spending of it. As with most things, it is the thinking and the motivation behind people’s actions that I react to. With Warren Buffet, I admire his success at accumulating wealth (versus his total dollars), AND his humility and grounded-ness at living with his wealth, AND his use of his wealth. With Bill Gates, I can question how he accumulated his wealth, I can accept how he is living with his wealth, and I can respect how he is now using it (though his motivation may still require some examination). With Donald Trump, there is no facet of him and his wealth that begs admiration, unless you consider wealth important for its own sake. But each of these people is certainly free to engage wealth as each chooses.

For Mitt Romney, it was not his wealth I objected to, which he seems to have come to quite legitimately. It is his attitude that came through so pervasively, i.e. that his electability should be predicated on his wealth, that being successful in business inherently qualifies one to be successful in governmental leadership. The reality is that American government is not a business, was never designed from the get-go to be “run like a business” (although that does not preclude utilizing business-like operating efficiencies). Political leadership and achievement is about vision, compromise, building consensus among divergent but equal stakeholders, attending to and balancing conflicting needs rather than playing to “niche market segments” (a la Karl Rove and George Bush). It is not about electability, it is about governing.

The US Congress is not a stockholder’s meeting, the Supreme Court is not a corporate board, and state governments are not subsidiary corporations. It was Romney’s lack of understanding and connection with many facets of the American citizenry, and the failure to truly understand “government” for what it is, that I think ultimately undermined him. It is why his (or any other) campaign must show a broad body of public support – via volunteerism, fundraising, and ultimately votes – in order to qualify one for public office (versus being designated as corporate CEO).

Mitt Romney could have spent as much of his own money as he wanted to get elected. But as Iowa and New Hampshire showed so clearly, if you do not work from a body of principles that comes ahead of electioneering, if you do not ultimately make a human connection with enough people such that they feel you understand them and deserve their trust to act in their collective best interest, no amount of TV ads can buy you the presidential seal.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

12 Year Old Girl Silences the UN

For this blog posting, I am going to let someone else speak . Someone quite eloquent. This is a short video clip of a then-12-year old girl making a speech to a United Nations Conference on Environment and Development a few years ago. The message is still timely. I recommend you click on the following URL location and take a listen.

From the mouths of babes ......

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Talking To Your Enemies

“You talk to the most awful in order to get what you claim to be looking for --- Peace. And you will be surprised ... You don’t negotiate with your friends. You negotiate with the person you regard as your enemy.” (Bishop Desmond Tutu, South Africa)

A few weeks ago, former president Jimmy Carter scheduled meetings with Palestinian Hamas leaders in Gaza, and with leaders of Syria. He sought to continue his quest to try to bring some resolution in the Israel / Palestinian / Middle East dilemma. The effort was based upon his belief that no progress will be made without recognizing the reality of the role and influence that these players have, whether we may like it or not. His efforts were predictably criticized by the Bush administration as ill-timed and improper, followed by charges/counter-charges as to whether he was asked by the administration not to go.

Subsequently, President Bush went to Israel to participate in the celebration of their 60th year as a nation. Instead of playing the true positive statesman/presidential role, he instead appallingly took the low road; he pandered to that local audience by calling people who would talk to terrorists and enemies of Israel as akin to “the appeasers who talked to Hitler, leading to tanks rolling into Poland” in 1939. As is typical with this President, disagreeing with his views equates to being a traitor to freedom and our country’s well being. His words and performance were deservingly outrageous to all who seek genuine peace and an equitable resolution to these most difficult problems.

Never mind that his Secretary of Defense recently said that talking to these same people was ultimately going to have to happen. Or that John McCain (notwithstanding his sad continuing quest to be “politically right” rather than principled) echoed Bush, ignoring that McCain had already previously acknowledged that Hamas et al were “the new reality” that we had to recognize and deal with. And all of these words of refusal to talk to Syria, Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah ignored the reality of our current talks with Korea after years of silence ― talks that have been the only cause of some movement and progress by Korea, however slight.

Then, to top it all off, yesterday it was announced that Israel and Syria have already been conducting secret peace talks using Turkish mediators, “with a goal of reaching a comprehensive peace.” The U.S. was nowhere to be seen in this announcement. The very audience that Bush played to with his appeasement labeling was the same audience already talking to an audience “undeserving” of conversation with us!

Northern Ireland has had 10 years of peace, however tentative, because the “ruling party” finally sat down with “the terrorists” and gradually inched their way to trust ― combined with the mothers of Northern Ireland marching to say “no more.” South Africa ended years of racial apartheid and minority oppression when government and rebel leaders sat at the table, overcoming their long hatred, and took a chance with each other. Begin and Sadat finally said “it is time for a change,” and Israel / Egypt / Jordan have had 30 years of relative peace with each other. Progress in relationships, for countries and with individuals, does not come from silent isolation or from punishment for being bad.

Yet George Bush and his people continue to preach “hate my enemies” rather than “find common peace with my enemies.” Yet as was recently said to me, “If Bush was a president with a sound foreign policy then we would not be in the mess we're in. Taking Bush's foreign policy advice is akin to asking a blind man to lead a sight-seeing tour.” Or as the Governor of Ohio said, “who is even listening to this man anymore?”

Neville Chamberlain’s mistake as Prime Minister of Great Britain was not in talking to Hitler; it was what he said to him. Chamberlain gave Hitler the belief that England would not defend its neighbors, that it sought peace at any price. So Hitler took the apparent invitation and marched out believing there would be no consequences to his actions, no resulting war. It took Winston Churchill to correct that critical misunderstanding. Syria, Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah will not act out of fear of America, nor will they respond to our attempted punishments. Neither will Russia, or most any other nation. We have nothing to fear from talking, except perhaps fear of talking succeeding. That is one risk we should take.

“You don’t negotiate with your friends. You negotiate with the person you regard as your enemy.” Such a simple lesson.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Wright Stuff

I recently experienced a clear demonstration of the significant shortcomings of the national press media in America. For weeks, we had been exposed to film bites of pastor Dr. Jeremiah Wright enthusiastically condemning the United States for its shortcomings, including his use of the singular phrase “America be damned.” All of which would have gone by without notice EXCEPT that Dr. Wright just happens to be the pastor of presidential candidate Barack Obama.

These excerpted statements by Dr. Wright led to never-ending headline ravings by the national news speakers and opinion-givers, all of whom never met a headline controversy they are willing to either explore in depth or let die. Finally, a clearly wounded Dr. Wright decided to fight back to try to redeem his injured reputation.

The medium he chose for this counter-offensive was PBS’s interview show with Bill Moyers, one of a handful of national journalists that I respect for their thoughtfulness and thoroughness. What emerged from that hour’s quiet conversation and respectful verbal investigation was a totally different Jeremiah Wright. Thoughtful, very well read and educated, rational, with deeply reasoned messages that he carefully explained. A person with a background of patriotic military service to his country, who had taken a small church in Chicago’s difficult South Side and built a commendable record of growth and support to his community. I ended watching this in-depth discussion with an acute re-appreciation for how little real “information” we receive from the ratings-driven snippets that pass for news in this country. So many people draw conclusions about their fellow human beings from such snippets of words and opinions that have so little context of explanation.

Unfortunately, having made such a positive turn of impression with Bill Moyers, for some inexplicable reason Dr. Wright then proceeded to undo all that he had gained. In an appearance at the Washington Press Club --- televised by several news networks almost in its entirety --- he opted to put on a performance that was a looney-tune caricature of himself. He descended into new race-divisive and unsupportable statements in stark contrast with his reasoned comments in his individual interview, thereby reaffirming the worst criticisms of him. Feeling his oats? Long on adrenalin? Focused on his own ego, his own selfishness while on center stage? Who knows, but it was a grievous and unfortunate error, undermining the case statement for himself he made on PBS. Yet his human frailty and would-be martyrdom of that moment still did not weaken criticizing the news media for creating and continuing much of this would-be controversy in the first place.

The unfortunate thing in this follow-up event was the negative spillover on the campaign of Barack Obama, without any apparent concern for his parishioner, but also on the larger issues of race relations and spiritual goals. The angers of the Jeremiah Wrights and Al Sharptons and their generation are more than understandable. But these spokespersons undermine their arguments and their objectives by their words. Problems are rarely solved from hate and anger, and ultimately progress will only come when we focus on right for right’s sake, not right for guilt’s sake. Anger and hatred are separating forces, not unifying ones. So Obama was forced to follow in the footsteps of John Kennedy, Mitt Romney and others to explain how as president he would separate his actions in that secular office, responsible to all stripes of Americans, from his personal religious obligations to his church and church leaders. Maybe this is a question every presidential candidate should grapple with and answer, hopefully with the opportunity to do so in a quieter less public arena. Maybe such questioning and understanding is ultimately the real and only gift of this whole Jeremiah Wright episode.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Surge of Illusion

Up until a month ago, President Bush and his spokespeople were pronouncing “The Surge” of American troops into Iran over this past year “a success.” The proof: Iraqi and American death statistics during this period have been down cumulatively. Less deaths = more success. That was the yardstick.

Then, Premier al-Maliki (our staunch ally?) unilaterally decided to play Iraqi macho-man. With no consultation or notice to American troop leaders, he decided to storm into Basra and Sadr City to disarm Shiite militiamen and bring those areas under central government control. His tool for this ill-planned endeavor was the much-heralded “new Iraqi army,” a principal multi-year focus of our $25B security force building project. From this incursion, Iraqi killing spiked yet again. In his best Bush-speak, we were now told that “increased violence shows the success of the surge and our efforts, because it demonstrates the Iraqi government’s willingness and ability to enforce security within the country.” Violence is Progress! What?

Except the funniest thing happened on the way to Basra. Many Shiite army and police force members deserted, unwilling to attack their kindred. Moreover, the militiamen defended themselves well. The Iraqi army ― they who are supposed to “stand up so we can stand down” ― blew it, unable to win the battle and disarm the militiamen. The un-consulted US had to be brought in after the fact to provide air power and weaponry to protect the Iraqi army stuck in their tracks. The army stalled, objective un-won. And we had to create a spin to make it all sound OK.

The objective was for a well-equipped and organized “army” to overpower and eliminate the cleric al-Sadr’s street militia. To remove a powerbase threat to the installed Bagdad government. But the fighting stopped only when al-Maliki made a pitch to Iran’s leaders to intercede in the conflict (which they happily did) and when al-Sadr (not the official government) offered to institute a truce. Only winners can declare a truce, not losers; the fighting stopped only because al-Sadr decreed it.

The whole exercise eerily resembled Israel’s incursion into Lebanon awhile back. A dominant military force invaded to disarm and neutralize a loose street militia, only to be ground down and neutralized itself. Thereby diminishing Israeli prowess and dispelling the aura of invincibility that is in itself a key to its defense. As a result, legitimacy and authority was given to the very force Israel set out to destroy. Lebanon has been stuck with and paralyzed ever since by political disruption from this new legitimized power within its border. Likely Iraq will now be similarly disrupted, forced to acknowledge openly that the real cardholder in Iraq is not the fantasy government in Bagdad. The real power is al-Sadr and the other tribal chieftains. Saddam Hussein understood that there is no natural indigenous “country” of Iraq; it existed only through the brute force of his terror towards the people themselves. (See also the People’s Republic of China.)

So General Petraeus continues to masterfully try to fight a war that will ultimately destroy him. He marches up to Capital Hill for his latest briefing to Congress, a report essentially pre-scripted by the word signals already issued by Bush/Cheney. He says, in words / pictures / graphs, “the surge has been a success.” But we can’t leave because it would all fall apart. And if we stay, “the gains are all very fragile” and could disappear in a flash. We lose whichever way we go. This is not how most of us would define “success.”

Violence in Iraq has been reduced not because of The Surge provided by our young military men and women. It is down because al-Sadr and other chieftains have opted to pull back and protect their resources and turfs, expel the al-Qaida outsiders who threaten their control, and then bide their time waiting for their moment to come. The outcome of Iraq is not in our hands. Nor is it in the hands of the illusionary government in Bagdad ― an empty empire with a king who has been shown to wear no regal clothes.

Yet just after general Petraeus’s testimony, Bush-speak says that we are witnessing a “brilliant turnaround” in Iraq. Have the garden’s rose bushes completely covered the windows of the White House? Through what bizarre colored lens does this President see? And is anyone listening to him anymore? The only “brilliance” that I can see is the decision to “turnaround” and come home. Let be what is ultimately going to be anyway.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Tibet Genocide

Yesterday, I sent the following email individually to President Bush, my two U.S. Senators, and my U.S. Representative:

“Regarding the current events in Tibet: Last Fall the US government awarded the Dalai Lama a medal, amid a great ceremony of recognition. Now, when a strong voice is needed about what China is doing to the people of Tibet, our executive branch is virtually silent. Where is our unified statement of moral outrage? Where is our pro-democracy evangelism now? This is a uniting issue for both Democrats and Republicans. I urge our government to speak up forcibly to stop this continuing shameless cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing.”

In our current political environment where public relations and photo ops substitute for actions of substance, our failure to make an unequivocal public statement about Chinese leaders' actions in Tibet is deplorable. A few individual Congress-people have spoken up. Yet President Bush's only statement on the subject through his spokeswoman is that he "will not cancel his planned trip to the Olympics in August." Condoleeza Rice lamely offered that "we are certainly concerned about the situation in Tibet," and that she "hoped China would show restraint." Well, that strong State Department statement should certainly give Chinese leaders pause to be concerned (given that no such restraint has yet to be seen)!

We have certainly offered up noble statements about bringing democracy and self-determination to selected parts of the world --- most notably those places where we have vested oil interests or can claim politically self-promoting defenses against terrorist threats. If the Himalayan Mountains of Tibet were oil or mineral rich, would we have far more to say about what happens to it? It took Laura Bush to make the case against the oppression of Buddhist monks and civilians in Burma out of her genuine humanitarian concerns. Where was her husband during that similar pitiful situation?

Where there is no vested economic connection, it appears that we have no moral or humanitarian interest. We have become a junior partner in our trade with China. We have become a debtor nation, with China as our creditor, in order to finance our Iraq misadventure. We have become a hollow international voice because the world knows we are already beyond our capacities militarily and financially, and have no reservoir of trust and goodwill to draw from in our strained relationships with other countries.

I had the extreme pleasure of making a solo visit to Tibet in 1999. It was an incredible personal experience to meet these people, and to observe first-hand a culture stymied under China’s external political control. It was very sad to see the relegation of their culture to a "museum status" while being made-over into a Chinese facelift. We brought everything possible to bear to stop this kind of thing in the Balkans 10 years ago. Why not now?

It is easy to show up at the dinner, present the medal, pose for the pictures, and bask in the glow
of a true spiritual and moral leader who embodies the good of his people. Today, when our collective voice is most needed, we sit silent.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Religous Test

The other night, I sat down and read anew the Constitution of the United States and its several amendments. I recommend such an exercise to everyone on some periodic basis (for example, Such a reading provides a good opportunity to refresh ourselves as to the original thinking, priorities, fears, and experiences that our Founding Fathers drew from in writing this fabulous document. Much of what is there would come as a profound shock to the Religious Right and neo-conservatives who continually shout about needing “strict constructionist judges who will “not make laws from the bench but will interpret the Constitution literally.” Because the Constitution ― and the Founding Fathers actions and statement at the time ― rarely support their pet concerns.

One major observation in my re-reading was that the word “God” exists nowhere in that document. Indeed, the closest one might get to that is the one instance of the word “Lord,” and that is only there in the context of defining the acceptance date of the document by the Constitutional Convention as the “Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth.” Hardly a ringing marriage between our country and government and God; certainly a far cry from constituting America as a Christian Theocracy as some self-appointed spokespersons would claim. Further, the only two references to religion at all in the Constitution are in the negative:

· Article VI: “… no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
· Amendment 1: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; …”

Pretty clear one thing they were worried about in 1787, huh?

Yet here we now are in the presidential election of 2008. The would-be election of the head of the American Church of State, if some would have their way. Just as with the Queen of England, who also serves as the head of the Church of England (Anglican Church) and with whom we fought a war to be free of such an investment of Church + State power. As some seek to declare a national religion for America, so apparently we must now also inaugurate a Presidential Pastor.

So we have seen:
· John McCain saying and acting in various ways to cozy up to newfound relationships with Religious Right people previously held at arm’s length disdain. None of it done too convincingly; as they say, “that dog just don’t hunt.” Cancel both principle and credibility.
· Mitt Romney, awkwardly trying to take a page from John Kennedy’s playbook with a “Pastor’s Meeting In Houston” to explain (diffuse) his Mormonism. Except that he only said the word Mormon once; he staged it within a blatant Madison Avenue marketing backdrop at the G.H.W.Bush library; he took no questions; he made a speech and left. Could have phoned it in. As was said about a prior Vice President, “[Mitt], you are no Jack Kennedy.”
· Mike Huckabee, the most avowed pastor-candidate, but failing to get much beyond the 30% vote that the Religious Right minority represents in national Republican party politics;
· Barack Obama, having to defend himself against unfounded gossip charges that he is secretly a Moslem, and having to prove his Protestant church history and membership;
· Hillary Clinton, against her desires and sense of good taste, being forced to discuss her Methodist upbringing, and how her religious faith and counsel from Rev. Billy Graham brought her through the trials of “life with Bill.”

All 20-odd presidential candidates this year have had to make some declaration of religious faith and affiliation in order to be a viable candidate. This in spite of our wise Constitutional prohibition that “… no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Romney having to defend his Mormonism was a low point this year; Obama’s need to prove that he is not a Moslem is a similar travesty― and so what difference would it make if he was, except to the bigots for whom Islam = Terrorist = Kill America. And what will we do when a Jew is finally elected President: how will she conduct the annual Christmas Tree lighting service, and to whom will he send the White House Christmas Cards?

I frankly agree with all those who say “Go back to the Constitution.” But some should be careful what they ask for. That Constitution tells us explicitly to “butt out!”

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Welcome A New Country

This week, a new country bounded onto the world stage. Kosovo. An area of ethnic Albanians which has long struggled to assert its own identity. Previously a province of Yugoslavia until that country broke up, then a province of Serbia – neither of which was particularly accommodating to those people. Now it is on its own, a small but newly independent country.

Serbia is objecting to this unilateral declaration of independence. Russia and China are likewise objecting to recognizing this separation. But those two major powers admit that their objections are based upon their own fears of such a move potentially enticing similar separatist movements in their countries. Given all of the varieties of ethnic and religious groups that have been swallowed up by those countries over the course of their histories, it is likely an entirely valid concern. (Think Tibet in China; Chechnya in Russia.)

The Bush administration has encouraged Kosovo’s independence, and has moved quickly to recognize the new nation. Of course, as quickly as we paint Russia and China as being anti-freedom bad guys, we gloss over our own history regarding separation. An extremely costly war (both financially and in human life) was fought in this country 140+ years ago over whether a state(s) could opt out of the United States union. Slavery and economics created a deep national division in this country; the legality or not of succession created a civil war. The outcome of this war determined that, once in, no succession is allowed. It’s been a settled legal question for a century and a half, although the cultural divisions resulting from that war are still with us. Therefore we stand on somewhat shaky ground when we frequently encourage nationalistic separations around the world.

Except in Iraq. Here we continue to try stitch a country together that was created from yet another attempted intervention by post-World War I European powers to create a world map defined by their colonial histories and ambitions. Modern Iraq has existed only in the minds and force of successive despots, ending with Saddam Hussein. Kurds, Shiites, and Sunnis are distinctive cultures, with their own histories of confrontation among themselves. The physical separation of these groups within Iraq has already happened through ethnic cleansing and a relocation of people into affinity enclaves.

Senator Joe Biden has long advocated a 3-region partition solution for Iraq. It is almost already in place now, with each group just waiting for our overdue departure to make it a formal reality. We should follow Senator Biden’s advice. Nations can be formed among people of mixed backgrounds where respect and shared values can be in place; witness this country over 300 years, though not without our periodic difficulties. But in the long run, nations cannot be built and sustained where there is no common aspiration, where a shared identity cannot be established around which to unify a people.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ode To Missed Perfection

Indulge me, please, in a more personal entry to this blog. It is late Tuesday evening, two days after the Super Bowl, where my New England Patriots lost to the New York Giants. And I remain in a funk that has not yet been shaken over this entirely unexpected outcome. So I must ask myself “Why?”

The Giants legitimately earned their victory. There was one key to their chance, which everyone acknowledged going in: for any chance to win, they had to stop the mega-talented New England quarterback, Tom Brady. And they did. They took the gamble no other team had attempted, and threw every defensive thing they had at the quarterback, risking being burned and defeated by “the one big play.” But they succeeded. Eli Manning may have been selected as the game’s MVP, but that was a mis-call. The MVP was the collective Giants defensive line, who rose to a challenge and pulled it off. They are where the accolades should go.

The Patriots deserved the win. But they were not able to earn it when they needed it. They deserved a better end to a spectacular season of record-setting performances. The awards and records will be there for awhile, deservedly so. But to end it with that particular loss, that particular way, seems so wrong. I cannot possibly imagine how those 50+ guys must still feel at this moment; how many “should haves” and “if onlys” have been replayed in their minds over and over. My own imagination has certainly been on continual replay these past days, and it wasn’t even my game to play. So I can only commiserate and empathize with their all too human feelings from a distance.

I think perhaps my personal unending attachment to this loss reflects my disappointment in seeing excellence, if not perfection, go unachieved. We collectively came so close to seeing something that has been significantly missing this past decade: a demonstration of excellence that is all too rare, and is done on a scale that is sharable by the collective many. Few opportunities present themselves for such uplifting reaffirmation of human potential. In my lifetime, there has been the “greatest generation’s” accomplishment in Europe and Asia in 1945; stepping onto the moon in 1969; the fall of the Berlin Wall; the end of apartheid in South Africa; the indelible image of one man standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square in Peking. Various moments in sports and the arts have enhanced our sense of shared culture, such as the Olympic hockey “miracle on ice” victory at a similar time of great emotional need in America. Moments not just of excellence achieved, of arriving at a place well beyond expectations, but doing so in a way that invites millions of people to share in it together. Tiger Woods is unarguably the greatest golfer today, perhaps ever, with a string of accomplishments; but millions of people are not joined in together watching him on the 18th green.

That is the opportunity we have missed. With all of the cash rewards and riches flying around some of us, we nevertheless live today in such a time of mediocrity, missed opportunity, minimalist goals and divisive ambitions. Yet every now and then something is needed to remind us how far human beings can reach in certain rare moments. We have need of that reminder these days; I am saddened that we did not get it. So we can only hope yet again, “wait until next year.” Even the Red Sox finally won, for all of us.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Buying The Presidency

Only slightly into this year’s primary voting, drama and surprises have certainly been a regular occurrence. The primary campaigns also continue to affirm what was predicted: this will be a protracted exercise involving an incredible amount of money. In amounts that many of us could think of as better applied to a host of other needs in this country.

Generally, my goal is to try to be as non-political as possible in this blog, especially as regards plugging or advocating any particular party or candidate. However, one candidate is particularly disturbing to me on the issue of campaign financing: Mitt Romney. Admittedly, there are many things this candidate says that concern me, but one is his continuing emphasis on presenting himself as the “businessman candidate.” From this basis, he promotes that he will bring an understanding of economics and a business/managerial style to his performance as President. In fact, what he really illustrates is the world of the pampered super-rich and overpaid business executive of today: overly slick, excessively wealthy, oblivious to the immoral vertical wage structure that has evolved in America, and freely buying his/her toys of indulgence. Except this time Mitt Romney’s toy is the U.S. presidency, and he’s buying that toy from all of us. And he will make his sale using statements of beliefs that are drawn from, and are no more credible than, a focus-group based Madison Avenue advertising campaign. Two points to observe:

1. Candidate Romney has constantly stressed that one of the chief reasons and benefits for voting for him as the Republican Party’s nominee is that he has the funds to see the whole race through. Maybe this sounds good at first hearing. But these funds he references are, of course, not the funds he has raised from Americans who support his views and candidacy. They are funds from his own bank account. As onerous as our whole campaign financing environment is today, it is at least premised on the idea that funds raised come from people who believe in and support you as a candidate; therefore dollars raised equals one form of measurable support and a statement of viability of a candidate. (Or, it is a measure of how many favors and advantages people expect you will throw their way if you are elected, but we’ll save that discussion to another day!) To ask people to vote for me, instead of McCain. Huckabee, or another candidate, simply because I have more personal money than they to make it through the primaries, is highly distasteful and reflects an incredible non-understanding of the governing role of the presidency. Mitt Romney does not ask us to “vote for me because you believe in my abilities and vision”; instead, vote for me because “I am the richest.”

2. It was recently revealed that Romney is signing up students to solicit donations to his campaign. That is what many candidates do to try to mobilize and captivate the young and energetic emerging voters in this country. Except that Mr. Romney seems to have once again added a new twist to that idea: he is paying such student fund-raisers a 10% commission if they raise at least $1,000 for him. AND they become eligible to win “cool prizes” based upon the level of their results. This is a brand new technique for getting campaign money and attracting student leaders to your cause, never before practiced by a presidential candidate. Don’t bother attracting people to your ideas and persona; just buy them! Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy is now inventory for your small business!

Both of these instances, combined with other related episodes, reflects just how distorted a person’s perspective can get by ambition and an inflated ego that sees the world only through one’s own lens of experience. Being a successful businessman is to be complimented, I have no issue with that. Seeing elective office as an inherently deserved prize to that business success, or seeing leadership and government as just another business management job, reflects a very frightening view of politics, government, and leadership. Especially when you advertise that skewed view so blatantly.

We all understand that the last 50 years have come to treat the election of public officials as just another sales campaign at the grocery store; the presidency as a can of soup. I remain surprised that none of the presidential debates have so far been held at a local Super Wal-Mart (at least to this point!). The good news: the American people have so far continued to draw their votes from their hearts instead of their wallets. All of Romney’s dollars have so far yielded pitiful returns on investments vis-à-vis his competition. (Think Huckabee in Iowa, McCain in South Carolina and Florida.) For a management consultant and venture capitalist who claims to be the only real businessman in the race, the results of his business management and funding strategies do not seem to make an overly impressive case for hiring him.

Once again, God bless the common sense of Americans. Mitt Romney is not the first, nor will he be the last, to try to buy elective office through the largess of their wealth. Many such political wanna-bes have thankfully been consigned to a footnote in history. These business-success stories do not understand that Americans do not really want a business executive as President; they already have a “boss” that they have tolerate every day at work. Americans still like the underdog, still want to be moved by someone who can relate to them, and are still moved towards governmental leaders by the force of their ideals and the intangible of leadership, not by their bank account.