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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Tea Party's Real Colors Showing Already?

Candidates and supporters of the Tea Party have been loudly celebrating their victories and those of the Republicans in the recent elections. I have been publicly skeptical that Tea Party candidates are really any different than mainstream politicians. However, even I am surprised by how quickly these candidates seem to be exhibiting the "corruption" of power and office.

My evidence? Three of the most well known Tea Party candidates, all vocal and consistent critics of government spending, especially for "social welfare" programs, have all rejected appointment to the critically important House Appropriations Committe. For those who are unaware, this is the committe responsible for the actual budgeting of the federal government. They determine spending priorities and evaluate spending bills and decide what spending bills will be sent to a vote.

Why would Michelle Bachman (MN), Steve King (IA) and Lynn Westmoreland (GA), all of whom are adamant about controlling spending and reducing taxes pass on what has always been a prestigious assignment? Because it's easy to be critical of others who make spending decisions. It's easy to decry the abuse of social welfare programs. It's easy to attack popular programs to which you are opposed. It's quite another thing to have the courage to stand up and say I'll help make those difficult decisions. It takes courage to put yourself on the line when you know every decision you make will be criticized by someone. These three, and many others like them, lack the courage to put their political career on the line to do the right thing, regardless of how hard and uncomfortable it may be. Throughout the campaigns they adroitly avoided giving any specifics about where to cut spending and to preserve this ambiguity requires they avoid a position on this committee. There they would have to have actual ideas, actual alternatives and stand on real principles. Take this as the first of many examples of the Tea Party embracing politics as usual.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Is America Really Ready For "Change"?

Much has been made of the dramatic Republican surge around the nation in the 2010 elections, particularly in Congress. The new Republicans, especially those running under the Tea Party label, all made gaining control of government spending and debt the centerpiece of their campaigns. Very few people object to financial responsibility, though many are skeptical given how many times we have heard this from both parties over the last couple of decades. I, myself, am actually less skeptical about the willingness of the politicians to address the issue (and my skepticism is considerable), than I am about the willingness of the American people to make the sacrifices that will be necessary to make genuine progress.

If the United States is going to really gain control of spending and the ballooning national debt, Americans are going to be required to sacrifice in ways that haven't been seen since the Great Depression. The question is, given the partisan nature of our politics and the seemingly self-focused and entitled nature of the American people, whether these sacrifices will be accepted by enough people to make them a reality.

Anyone who believes that we can tax our way out of the problem without reducing spending (the liberal view) isn't being realistic. On the flip side, anyone who believes we can just cut spending to solve the problem (the conservative view) is equally unrealistic. People need to view the current spending/debt problem of the government the way they would a family with the same problem. Ask anyone who has climbed out of debt and they will tell you it took both increasing income (taxes) and reducing expenses (cutting spending). This requires sacrifice and commitment, and yes, pain. While there are clearly individuals who have the strength to successfully negotiate this process, I am not certain that the American people as a whole are ready to face this challenge.

A major problem we face in this dilemma is the partisanship rampant in our politics, where both sides see compromise as a weakness, and in some cases as something to be avoided no matter what the cost. With so much of our government spending already pre-determined because they are "entitlements" based on set qualifications, discretionary spending is actually a relatively small part of the national budget. This means sacred programs will have to be cut and every program will have to reduce spending, no exceptions.

Let's be honest...the structure of programs like Social Security and Medicare will have to be seriously re-evaluated. Military spending will have to be subject to cuts. Incentive programs to corporate America will have to be scaled back. Farm subsidies, oil subsidies, manufacturing subsidies, etc. will need to be reduced or eliminated. Congress will have to take the lead and reduce the number of staffers, committees, hearings, and foreign trips. Individuals will need to be willing to forgo the pork barrel projects in their district (which is how they choose most of their representatives in the first place). Tax rates may have to increase at least for the duration until real progress is made on the debt. Corporations and investors may have to lower their expectations for what is a reasonable return on investment (which has been outrageous in the last two decades).

Finally, individual Americans need to understand that their participation in the necessary sacrifices is not optional. Americans need to take an honest and objective look at their lifestyle and adjust expectations until we have met this challenge. We will have to consciously choose to build smaller homes (and stay in them longer), drive our cars more miles before replacing them, eat out less often, conserve energy to reduce utility bills, avoid indulging our children with every desire of their hearts, and stop paying exhorbitant prices for ordinary goods because they have the right "brand label". In other words, Americans are going to have to make many difficult, heart wrenching, sacrificial choices.

Getting the politicians to accept this challenge is actually the easy part of meeting this challenge. The difficult part is convincing the American public to accept the "medicine". To most people, sacrificing means "others", not themselves. As I said, I'm skeptical.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

An Open Letter To My New Congressman

Congratulations on your election to the United States House of Representatives! I am a moderate independent who, quite honestly, did not vote for you. However, now that the election is settled, I am one of your constituents.

Given that you now represent my interests in Washington, D.C. (and therefore work for me), I would like to suggest to you how I believe you ought to approach your responsibilities and what your first priorities should be.

First, DO NOT spend the next two years exclusively obstructing President Obama. Disagree where you feel obligated to, but make a genuine effort to look for areas where consensus and compromise are possible. I imagine you teach the children you so love that when they are fighting they must find a compromise position to actually solve their problem. Compromise IS NOT a dirty word and was THE key in the foundation of our great nation, for without it the Constitution could not have been written.

Second, recognize that sacrifice is going to be crucial in effectively addressing the challenges that face the United States. However, the people expect their representatives to spread the sacrifice around. If programs for the indigent and poor must be reduced or eliminated, there ought to be corresponding reductions in programs that benefit the wealthy and powerful. Remember that approximately 98.5% of the people you represent earn less than $250,000 a year and about 95% earn less than the $174,000 salary you will earn in Congress. The majority of people you represent are smart enough to understand that our financial problems are so deep that both spending cuts and tax increases will be required of any serious effort to reduce the national debt.

Third, DO NOT prostitute yourself to big business interests. The fact that a business (or individual) has more money available to influence you should not make their interests more important than mine. I am the representative ordinary American, earning right at the 50th percentile, with three children, and a mortgage on a home I can afford. Respect me enough to care enough about my interests at at least the same level as the interests of the millionaires and billionaires that you will begin to see on a daily basis.

The VERY FIRST thing you and your fellow Congressman should do is to quickly and clearly eliminate ALL laws, rules and regulations which allow American businesses to profit from moving jobs overseas! I am not saying that you should prevent them from moving jobs, they have the Constitutional right to do that if they choose. However, they should in no way profit at the expense of hard working Americans or the United States Treasury. It is time to recognize that one of the reasons that small, hometown businesses are suffering so severely in this recession is that large multi-national corporations are destroying local economies by moving jobs out of our nation and pocketing billions of dollars that would previously have flowed through hundreds of thousands of workers into those struggling local enterprises. It will not solve all our economic woes, but it would be a significant first step.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why The Tea Party Is Not The Answer

Before I go forward, let me make clear two points. First, I am not an opponent of the Tea Party movement or its candidates, I agree with some of their views and I disagree with some of their views. Also, I believe there are some Tea Party candidates that would make very good candidates in state and national offices.

This said, however, I am convinced that the Tea Party is not the answer to fixing the political problems that exist in the United States today. If you really drill down into the Tea Party and examine their candidates objectively, you'll find that they really don't differ from the two major parties. Too many of their candidates only differ from the "establishment" candidates in some of their political beliefs. Like Democrats and Republicans, many (if not most) of the Tea Party candidates are hypocritical and corrupt.

Assorted Tea Party candidates have lied about their education (Delaware), employment (Colorado), use of unemployment (Alaska), etc. Others have engaged in divisive campaigning, pitting groups against one another. Too many have demonstrated a lack of understanding (or misunderstanding) of the Constitution, the views of our founders and the ills of the early America they so passionately want to return to (Delaware, Alaska, Florida). Some have bordered on racist (Nevada, Arizona). Too many rail against the evils of unrestrained government while completely ignoring the evils of unrestrained corporate greed.

Too many have been hesitant to share their political views in a clear and open manner, avoiding anything but the most supportive media in their attempt to hide their real views from political analysis. Too many are simply running to "defeat Obama." Too many have pushed the political landscape away from the middle (where most Americans stand) to the extremes. Too many believe compromise is an evil and corrupt process.

And like the mainstream politicians of the Democratic and Republican parties, too few provide actual plans for how they'll accomplish their objectives. There are no detailed plans as to what programs should be cut. Like the two parties, there is no meaningful conversation about the need to sacrifice (at all income levels, individuals and businesses) to solve the nations problems.

In the end, while they may bring some fresh ideas and a fervent passion to these leadership positions, I don't see them actually effecting real change. I don't see a difference in the level of honesty, character, leadership or trust among Tea Party candidates as I see in the candidates of the two major parties. Like those before them, they will govern for the benefit of themselves and their major financial backers.

It will take a much more fundamental change in the attitudes and character of the American people than just changing who represents us in government to effect real change, but that recognition has not yet taken hold among the general population. It will only happen when we recognize that our leaders reflect our character as a people and that we are responsible for changing our nation (from the bottom up), not our government (from the top down).

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Rights? What About Responsiblities?

Americans are well versed on their rights. Just ask and you'll find that nearly everyone is an expert in their Constitutional rights...and even some that aren't in the Constitution. Interfere with somebody's effort to do something and see how soon they explain to you what their rights are. And we are fortunate that we live in a country where we have enumerated individual rights like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures, freedom to vote, etc. However, this is only 1/2 of the citizenship equation and one to which an unbalanced amount of attention is given by most Americans.

In our self-centered focus on our rights as an individual, we too often forget that we also have responsibilities as citizens. The only way a civilized nation can succeed and survive is if everybody accepts the compact which binds people into nationhood. Every citizen has the responsibility to be a good citizen. In the United States this includes many things but I believe the following are among the most important.

One, we have the responsibility to participate intelligently in the governance of our nation. The most visible aspect of this is voting. Personally, I believe if you don't vote, you lose you're right to complain....and nearly 1/2 of Americans abdicate this responsibility each election.

Two, we have a responsibility to pay our fair share of the cost of providing the essential services necessary to keep the nation safe and operating efficiently. While "fair share" can be a political debate, far too many people purposely work to avoid paying their fair share. Tax cheats ought to face severe penalties...perhaps even the loss of citizenship.

Three, we have a responsiblity to recognize that everybody else has the same rights as we do and to understand that means rights will sometimes collide. That means we must be willing to occasionally forgo our individual rights for the good of the larger society. You often hear people say "it isn't all about me", but we need to more often live this truth.

Perhaps politics and culture would be less contentious today if we spent less time worrying about our individual rights and spent more time focused on the responsibilities of citizenship.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Which Candidates Should Be Disqualified

The 2010 elections are poised to be among the most contentious in our nations' history. There are some good candidates, some bad candidates and some just outrageous candidates. There are a multitude of issues upon which people vote, any of which can swing a voter for or against that candidate. But one issue should automatically disqualify a candidate from earning your vote.

That issue? The movement of American jobs overseas. Any candidate running for office who has the creation of jobs as one of their principle campaign issues but has participated in the elimination of American jobs to increase corporate profits by moving jobs overseas should automatically be disqualified from your consideration. We have a candidate running for Congress in Kansas who is running on his ability to create jobs, but he has a proven history of outsourcing jobs to foreign nations. Connecticut also has a candidate who switched a contract from an American company to a foreign supplier. Similar situations are known to exist elsewhere in the country.

These candidates have failed to prove that they will work for the ordinary American worker and in fact have shown themselves a threat to the American workforce. How can candidates who have personally benefitted from closing American production facilities in favor of foreign facilities be trusted to work in the interest of those whose jobs are in jeopardy or have already been lost?

It's time to send a loud and clear message to American business leaders and our political representatives that this issue is non-negotiable. If you have sent American jobs to other nations you are fundamentally unfit to represent the people in the halls of government.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Where Did Our Nation Go? What Did I Miss?

I'm back after a lot of summer distractions including my summer vacation with my daughters, an expansion of my job (more travel) and working a second job. But, thankfully, I'm back just in time for the final push in the 2010 elections.

Perhaps the most common theme you hear from candidates this year is their commitment to "take back our country!" I have just one question about this: where did it go and who took it? I mean, I know I've been very busy and distracted, but did I really miss our country being take from us?

Were we conquered by a foreign power, perhaps Mexico, Canada or Iran? Or was a monarchy installed while I wasn't looking? Did somebody stuff it in their pocket and walk off with it?

Of course the answer to all these questions is an emphatic NO! The whole notion is absurd. This nation is still a nation of laws ruled by the Constitution. We remain the place people from around the world want to come to. We still select our own leaders in relatively safe and secure elections. We still have ALL the freedoms included in the Constitution. We still have one of the highest standards of living in the world. Our children are not slaves to a foreign leader nor do we pledge allegiance to an overseas power. In total, we are still a sovereign nation beholden to no other nation.

You can't take something back that is already yours and in your possession. Certainly we are divided and disagreeable politically at the moment, but it isn't the first time in our history that has been the case. The question is whether we will fare better than Civil War by coming together or continue to march down the road of division until we destroy ourselves from within.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

I-Phone Insanity

I was absolutely amazed by the stories I heard in the media concerning the release of Apple's new i-Phone last week. People stood in lines hours long, even waiting through the night, to be the "first" to get this phone. Some people even paid hundreds of dollars to secure a better spot in the line!

This is more evidence that the people of our nation are totally distracted and focused on material things that don't even matter. We can't get 50% of the people to vote. A majority of parents never attend a parent teacher conference at their children's school. Widows and orphans languish in institutions for lack of attention. Many organizations trying to do public projects to better their communities suffer for a lack of volunteers. Many churches are bordering on empty on Sunday mornings.

The most common explanation? People lack the time to do these important things. Yet, people have the time to waste to sit in a line for a product that the manufacturer will supply in more than adequate quantities. It's not just the i-phone. People stand in unbelievable lines for new movie releases, new book releases, concerts, sporting events, etc. It is totally insane and a sad commentary on modern American culture.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Time to Get Honest About College Athletics

It seemed as if the entire nation was mesmerized by the recent chaos surrounding major conferences within college athletics. University alumni from coast to coast expressed their heartfelt opinions (and some panic!) concerning whether their team or that of a rival should or shouldn't leave/join specific conferences. It was particularly acute here in Kansas where the state's two major universities faced banishment to "obscurity" in the face of the impending demise of the Big 12 Conference.

However, most people missed the most critical point of this entire spectacle: that of the place college athletics should have in our society and within our universities. The time has come to stop pretending that college athletics, particularly the major sports like football and basketball, still has any genuine connection to the academic purpose of a major American university. Major college athletics is out of control and is now the primary driver of policy and strategy in most major universities. College football and basketball coaches almost universally earn more money than the President of the university (the equivalent of the university CEO). A university's athletic record and reputation has supplanted the university's academic reputation as it's marquee promotional tool.

Universities and alumni routinely overlook violations of NCAA rules regarding recruitment of and incentives to potential athletes. Too many (though not all) athletes are not really students at all, but rather semi-professional athletes biding their time until their sport "allows" them to turn professional. Massive fundraising organizations are able to raise tens and hundreds of millions of dollars for the most modern sports facilities while ignoring aging and lacking facilities and equipment in the sciences, engineering and the arts. Oh, and academic scholarships!

The time has come to cut these semi-professional endeavors out of the university setting and let them operate as the huge business enterprises they have become, somewhat like the minor leagues in baseball. Free them from the often conflicting and hypocritical regulation of the NCAA. In an age when there is a growing criticism of the academic vigor of the American university, it is imperative that we re-create an environment in which academics is the paramount focus of our universities. It is time to allow students-in-name only to pursue their impressive athletic opportunites elsewhere while freeing up resources for young people with a sincere interest in learning.

Monday, June 21, 2010

I'm Back....Here's Another Centrist Thinker in Kansas!

Ok, I'm back again. I was sidetracked by my oldest daughters high school graduation and a promotion at work. However, I have a number of ideas in the old brain pipeline and hope to once again blog more regularly. For now, follow this link http://www.hutchnews.com/Columns/arnhold-2--1 for another Kansan who is also seeking a center path. He's also proof that not everyone in Kansas is a registered conservative.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Real Lesson of the Gulf Oil Spill

The people of the United States are rightly up in arms about the ecological disaster that is unfolding off the coast of Louisiana. As important as the lessons to be learned about off-shore drilling are and as important as the debate about whether to allow off-shore drilling is, they really are secondary to the more important issue: the dramatic institutionalization of financial greed into the American character.

Although British Petroleum is technically a British corporation, businesses around the world long ago integrated the American business model into their operations, thus it is still an example of the corruption of the modern capitalist model. It is clear from the evidence that has been shared to date that BP and its partners on the Deepwater Horizon rig put profits ahead of the safety and well-being of their employees and the American people. This has become the standard and expected practice of American business as the nation has come to worship the almighty dollar above all else.

Do not misread my criticism as condemnation of capitalism, it is the best economic model ever conceived. However, capitalism in its original and pure form never placed profits above morality, safety and community. The capitalism practiced by far too many American businesses today is a prostituted version that views profits as the ONLY concern, especially among the large national and multi-national corporations. It is not limited to off-shore oil drillers. Mining companies ignore the hundreds of safety violations in their mines, ultimately resulting in the deaths of dozens of miners. Trucking companies regularly and knowingly run trucks above legal weight limits, playing Russian roulette with the lives of ordinary people who share the highways with trucks that are exponentially more dangerous as they move farther overweight. Even companies that once were known for their commitment to consumer safety have changed their ways and put profit ahead of everything else. Compare the response of Johnson & Johnson to the Tylenol contamination in 1982 to their response to similar problems in 2010 to see how the morality of business has changed in the last generation.

Where is the outrage among the American people? Is this the kind of economic system we want to be known for? Are we really willing to exchange greater short term profits for decreased consumer safety and greater worker mortality? Where is the leadership in this nation that is charged with representing and protecting the interests of the people (oh, yeah, their beholden to the contributions of the business interests!). And where is the American church that seems so concerned about the morality in my home, yet seems so unconcerned about the morality that actually affects peoples lives?

If there is outrage to be reflected in the Deepwater Horizon crisis, it should be directed at businesses who sell out the well-being of the American people for a few more dollars. Only a dramatic change in perspective and business practice will ever prevent future industrial disasters.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

America's Real Fundamental Problem....Leadership!

While there is wide agreement throughout the United States that it is facing huge challenges and perhaps our very survival is threatened, there is a vast list of reasons offered by people as to why this is true. People blame large government, over-reaching government, too much government spending, Wall Street scandals, activist courts, greedy business leaders, the worship of money, advancement toward socialism, welfare mentality, mediocre schools, too many liberals, too many conservatives, removal of prayer/religion from the public sphere and ....add your own cause here.

I propose that the real problem, the one that rises above all those listed above, is the dangerous lack of real, honest, committed leadership throughout our national institutions and within the citizenry in general. A close examination reveals a prevalence of poor leadership in the primary institutions of government, business, education and religion. Real leadership is defined by focus, commitment, honesty, selflessness and sacrifice, attributes that are clearly missing from the majority of leaders within this country.

Government is an easy target for blame in this problem and rightly so. Especially at the national level, politics has ceased to be about public service and doing what is right for the entire nation and has become destructively partisan and hypocritical. Congressmen oppose good legislation simply because it is proposed and supported by their opponents, especially if that opponent is the President. Congressmen are against a bill after they are for a bill....after they are against it (???). The political parties purge those in their party that don't walk a narrowly defined party line. Compromise (which is the only thing that allowed this great nation to be created!!!) is viewed as weak and/or corrupt. Lost to history are the men and women who went to Congress and worked for the good of the people, even if it meant not getting everything their beliefs would desire or that they didn't get re-elected.

Business is also an easy and appropriate institution to place blame. American business leaders have become completely oblivious to the lives of their employees and the damage their pursuit of ever-greater profits is wreaking upon this nation. CEOs of already profitable companies have no shame in shutting down American factories and moving jobs to lower cost nations simply to increase profits (and their compensation). Companies engage in risky and dangerous practices with the attitude that any financial consequences are just "a cost of doing business", even if it costs people their lives. National and international conglomerates have completely discarded the concept of community and the benefits a fair and vibrant enterprise contributes to the entire community. They only see a need for greater and greater profits, even if it means treating employees as simply another input resource instead of as neighbors and family.

Although significantly impacted by factors beyond their control, schools also lack critical leadership. Grade inflation is not a myth because schools have caved to the pressure of parents who all think their kids are exceptional. Parents come after teachers who have difficult grading practices because it puts Johnny or Susie's chance at Harvard at risk (forgetting that most of those children have no chance at Harvard to begin with). As a result, too many students graduate without the skills necessary to succeed in college. Parents routinely undermine teachers who attempt to enforce discipline and academic standards. Administrators routinely avoid the discomfort of releasing poor teachers. Testing has shifted the burden of learning from the student to the instructor, even when most people acknowledge that a willingess to learn is paramount to academic success.

Finally, even churches in modern America show a lack of leadership. Modern megachurches build multi-million dollar monuments to their righteousness while millions in their communities wallow in hunger, underemployment and homelessness. Pastors across the nation extoll the virtue of believing the right thing, saying the right thing, doing the right thing in order to receive God's financial and material blessing. Capitalism and Christianity have merged into an indistinguishable duo. Rare is the call to selflessness and sacrifice demonstrated by Jesus! Tolerance and compassion have been replaced by a "spiritual" search for personal, materialistic, emotional, and political fulfillment

Unfortunately, much of the blame must be born by the people of the United States. Most all of us decry the wickedness of those things with which we disagree. We demonize those who disagree with us. We call for others to sacrifice while ourselves being unwilling to sacrifice. We criticize Congress but re-elect our representative at a rate above 90%. We are angry and distrustful of business and its priorities and practices, yet continue to clamor for more consumer goods at ever lower prices. We profess ourselves a Christian nation, yet woefully fail to live a life a Christ like life of love, generosity and sacrifice.

The fact is that none of that long list of problems will be successfully solved until a group of real leaders steps forward. We desperately need a broad and diverse group of people with the ability to problem solve, to motivate and to inspire. We desperately need people willing to be honest about the difficulty of the challenges we face and tell us the truth, not what we "want" to hear. We desperately need people willing to lead the charge of commitment and sacrifice that is necessary to solve these problems. We desperately need people willing to sacrifice their own careers/positions (in every institution) to tell the truth and push people to do what is necessary. We desperately need a populace that is willing to reward, rather than punish, real leadership.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

My Positive Experience at a Tea Party Meeting

Last week, I decided to attend the meeting of a local Liberal, KS group that is loosely affiliated with the Tea Party. They actually go by the name We The People, but their genesis was the Tea Party movement. I know a few people in the group who assured me their purpose was not radicalism, but rather educating the electorate and motivating involvement of the ordinary citizen. So, curious and professing an open mind, I attended. As a point of disclosure: I have already blogged about several areas of concern I have about the movement.

I sat in the back, determined to just observe and listen, to give a fair evaluation of their actions and purpose. Although there was some early discussion of national events, this group actually focused most of its energy to local and state races. The most consuming discussion centered around whether to endorse candidates, how to evaluate candidates and how to encourage more people to run for local offices. I applaud their discussion because it was civil, well informed and genuine. Although, there were several points where I felt I could add to the discussion, I purposely chose not too, as my goal really was just to watch and listen.

However, toward the end of the meeting, the moderator asked a direct question of the attendees: how many of you have a negative view and how many have a positive view of the Tea Party movement? No one raised their hand expressing a negative view and about 1/2 raised their hands with a positive view. I spoke up and asked what about a neutral view? The moderator asked me to explain what I liked and what I disliked about the Tea Party movement.

My response was that I liked the fact that the movement was encouraging the participation of ordinary people in ways not seen for some time and that they were attempting to hold our political leaders accountable for their decisions. Of course, this received a positive response from those in attendance.

Then I ventured into the areas I disliked. Here I discussed the rancorous, seemingly partisan nature of the national debate (which is not limited to Tea Party members) and the need for the movement to quickly and forcefully remove radical elements (racists, anarchists, etc.) who see the Tea Party as a possibly mainstream vehicle for their radical views if they wished to remain relevant in the political system. I was also concerned about how the movement often appeared to exist just to be anti-Obama.

However, I devoted most of my discussion to the question of whether the Tea Party truly wants to represent ALL the people or if it was just a front for a dedicated conservative movement. I explained how my own centrist views were viewed as liberal in places like Kansas and Utah, but conservative in places like Connecticut (all places I have lived). I also pointed out that there are many in our own town who are not conservative.

I will admit I was pleasantly surprised by the response I received. I was not attacked, though some asked some good, probing questions. After the meeting, I had several people approach me and thank me for my input and compliment what they saw as a well thought out, reasonable and relevant observations of the movement. Obviously I can't speak to the behavior of most Tea Party groups, but I have to commend those in my hometown Liberal, KS for what seems like a genuine and effective commitment to the idea of a truly inclusive, grass roots political movement without an excess of ideological extremism.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Taking Back Our Country?

Ok, did I miss something? People are rallying across the nation with calls to "take back our country." Exactly who do we need to take our country back from?

Were we invaded by a foreign power and nobody told me? Were we conquered by a roving band of barbarians and I missed it? Did we become a colony of another world power and I am just unaware? Obviously not, since I think Iraq and Afghanistan would take a back seat to a foreign invasion of United States soil.

So did we have an insurrection within our borders that transferred power to a king or dictator? Are we living under martial law? Have we come under the control of aliens from outer space?

As far as I can tell, we still have our sovereignty and enjoy the same rights and privileges that we have for the last 223 years. The Constitution IS still in effect. We STILL have freedom of speech, religion and assembly. We are STILL protected against unreasonable searches and seizures and arbitrary law enforcement. We STILL have the right to own personal weapons. We STILL have the right to vote in local and national elections. We STILL have the right to live and work where we choose. We STILL have the right to travel freely throughout our country. We STILL have the right to raise our children with our values. There hasn't been one Constitutional amendment or principle repealed since prohibition was repealed.

We STILL have a vibrant press that allows the expression of political ideas covering the entire spectrum. We STILL have a peaceful transition of government as political leadership moves fluidly from one party to the other through the years. We are STILL a nation operating under the rule of law. We are STILL the one nation that immigrants from around the world most want to come to. Current hardships not withstanding, we are STILL a prosperous and affluent nation.

So just exactly what is that needs to be taken back? Is it a longing for the good old days? Do we want to take back the years and rollback to the days when racism was prevalent and in fact restricted the rights of large groups of people? Do we want to go back to the pre-World War I era when women often weren't even considered citizens, but rather property? Do we want to take back the safety net that has been created to help the most needy and vulnerable portions of our population? Do we want to take back the advances in education that changed a system that often denied a reasonable education to many minorities? Do we want to take back the advances that have reduced the ability of business owners treating employees in unfair and capricious manner? Do we want to take back our welcoming nature and stop accepting immigrants from other countries...especially those that don't look like us? Do we want to take back our civility and return to the frontier days when often times the law was made by he who had the quickest draw? Do we want to take it ALL back and return to a long gone time when any mob with the greater strength and weaponry could seize the government?

Honestly, I find this whole idea ridiculous. Our country operates under the same principles as it always has. Certainly it's facade may look different from year to year, generation to generation, but the core remains the same. Throughout our history there have been movements of people wanting to "take back our country" or "return to the America I grew up with" or a variety of other similar phrases. They have always sprung up from discontent among groups of people who were upset that there ideas had fallen out of favor or failed to garner sufficient support to dictate social and political policy. Fortunately, for them, they live in a nation where it is STILL acceptable to voice that dissatisfaction and to believe that somehow our government has been hijacked by those who would prevent the very discourse taking place in the public square today!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Call To Core Tea Party Members

It is no secret that I am not a fan of the Tea Party movement that has sprouted in the United States. With that said, however, I will defend their right to organize and lobby for their views. I don't have to agree with them to respect their Constitutional rights and their political views.

With that said, I implore the core Tea Party members to stand up and take control of the group. It is time for those who are rational and level-headed to exercise some tough love on the group before it spirals out of control and overrun with outrageously radical elements.

I've already discussed in a previous blog posting the need to confront the racist element (small though it may be). Now it is time to stand up to those who seem bent on pushing down a path seemingly leading to armed insurrection. News has come out of Oklahoma that Tea Party members and some legislators there want the state to authorize the creation and funding of an armed state militia and there is similar talk in a small number of other states. Though they profess only lawful and peaceful intent, one has to seriously question this. First, states already have a militia called the National Guard. Second, it is the responsibility of the federal government to provide for the protection and defense of the states. There is no reasonable need for the establishment of such state militias. One cannot deny that there are elements in the Tea Party movement that would love to promote an armed insurrection against the federal government. As a former history teacher, I can't help but see a correlation to events in the South prior to and leading up to the Civil War (a war, which incidentally, settled the issue of the supremacy of the federal government over the individual states).

So, I implore that vast majority of the Tea Party to stand up and clearly and adamantly denounce such dangerous and divisive actions. Yours is a noble movement with just causes and legitimate concerns (yes, I can say that even if I disagree with your views and methods). Do not let it be hijacked, for the consequences could be grave for the nation and the ultimate goals of the Tea Party rejected by a nation that has always ended up rejecting political parties/movements that become too radical.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Paying It Forward

One of the best movies of all time is Pay It Forward which told the story of a young teen boy who takes seriously his teacher's assignment to come up with a project that would change the world. Initially stumped as what to do, he stumbles upon the idea of paying it forward. In this process, you do something helpful and of significance for another person and their only obligation to you is to do the same for another person. Thus is created a continuing string of altruistic events which help people in need and improves the world.

The Sunday magazine insert American Profile this week had the inspirational story of a man in San Diego paying it forward on a regular basis. For the last 45 years, when he has the time and resources, Thomas Weller takes to the highway and assists motorists in distress (over 6,000 and counting). He supplies fuel, changes tires, calls emergency services, etc. And he refuses all efforts to compensate him for these generous acts, instead instructing those he helps to find a way to do the same for someone else when the opportunity presents itself. This is the true spirit of America. I pray that this philosophy will take hold and spread like a wildfire across our great country.

You can follow this link to the full story of Thomas Weller: http://www.americanprofile.com/heroes/article/39320.html

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

There IS Good TV If You Know Where To Look

People complain constantly about the quality of television today, this even as they watch endless hours of it. Reality shows that are anything but real and promote deceipt and scheming. Sitcoms that demean fathers, mothers, marriage, education, religion, etc. Dramas that constantly push the envelope of decency.

Ah, but there is good tv out there. Two examples are Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and Undercover Boss. Home Makeover, though it is sometimes over the top in terms of the size of home and amenities included, has a great purpose. It rewards deserving families with new homes. Generally these families live in squalid housing while giving of their time and money to give to those with greater needs than their own. The stories of the families and the sacrifices they have made are inspiring and usually deserving of this incredible blessing.

Undercover Boss has executives (usually CEO/President) of American companies going "undercover" within their own companies. They camouflage their appearance and spend a few days working the front line jobs of their organizations. They spend time with employees who, though often the face of the company, are often the lowest paid employees. The typical experience is that they learn that the most basic jobs aren't so easy (one even got fired!) and that the company often isn't as connected to their employees and the issues they face as they believed. With few exceptions, these executives come to realize the quality and dedication of their employees and the need for changes within the structure and policies of the company. The only downfall is that the CEOs most in need of this experience are probably unlikely to participate.

If you haven't watched either of these shows, I encourage you to do so. You will not be disappointed...and you are likely to be inspired.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Oh, Give Me A Break!

Let the season of campaign silliness, sleaziness and hypocrisy begin! With the passage of health care reform complete and polls showing near equal levels of support and opposition to the bill, politicians in both parties are beginning the process of pandering to voters of every persuasion.

Republicans are circulating a memo that outlines strategies for taking credit for the passage of the health care reform package. Are you serious? Well, I suppose there is some support for this approach, given that many of the components of the package were originally their ideas (years ago). So, I guess they were in favor of the bill before they were opposed before they were in favor? How confusing! I can't wait to vote for Republicans who run on the idea of integrity and their commitment to the right views regardless of how it affects their election chances.

But even more ridiculous is the case of Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. She is currently running competing television ads. One touts her opposition to the health care bill, the other touts how she stood with President Obama against the Republicans in pressing the bill through Congress. She must be living in an alternate universe! 

The biggest problem in this situation is the fact that we keep electing people who treat us as if we are really that stupid! It really is time that the voters of this country demand that elected officials be honest and stand up for their votes. I believe that most people, like myself, have far more respect for people they disagree with if they show integrity than they do fore people whom they agree with but lack that integrity.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Why A Health Insurance Mandate Is A Good Idea

In the aftermath of the passage of health care reform in the United States, conservatives are on the attack, promising a repeal. One of the sections drawing the most ire is the mandate that people carry health insurance coverage.

Though I know that it will outrage a fair number of people, including some of my friends, I belief a mandate to carry insurance is a good and responsible requirement. People forget that insurance is actually purchased more to protect others than to protect oneself. A man buys life insurance not for himself, but to protect his family in the event of his unexpected death. People purchase long term care insurance so they won't be a burden to their family or taxpayers in their old age. All but one or two states require automobile insurance and impose penalties for failure to comply. This insurance is required to protect others in the event you are at fault in an accident..it is your responsibility as a driver to have the financial ability (generally through insurance) to imdemnify another driver if you cause an accident that causes their loss of property.

I fail to understand why health insurance coverage is any different, given the potentially catastrophic financial costs of some health problems. Unfortunately, your failure to secure insurance to cover these catastrophic expenses comes at my (and the public in general) expense! The real truth of the matter is that when a person fails to purchase health insurance and is unable to pay their medical bills, the rest of society pays those bills. They are paid in higher charges at physicians offices, pharmacies, hospitals and medical supply companies, or in higher taxes when the government is forced to step in. I don't see how you have the right to make the rest of us pay because you choose not to act responsibly. Most opponents object to having to pay all sorts of costs either privately or through taxes so should we just allow you to go without insurance and then refuse to provide treatment when you have a major health event?

My final comment has to do with this conservative opposition to this idea. How many of you who oppose this idea realize that it was originally a Republican idea decades ago and was part of the 1993 Republican health care proposal made in response to Hillary Clinton's health care reform proposals? Those who led the 1994 Republican congressional revolution actually proposed and supported mandated health insurance coverage!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

What Each Party Should Do Right Now

With the battle over health care reform essentially over, the question becomes: what next? Here is what I believe each party should do in the immediate future.

I give Republicans credit for their swift and clear condemnation of the threats that were directed at Democrats in the aftermath of the passage of health care reform. It is a great start on what their most pressing priority ought to be. That priority should be to communicate in a loud and clear manner to everyone, particularly the Tea Party movement, that there will be absolutely no tolerance of racism, hatred, threats and violence. While certainly a very small minority within the Tea Party movement, these angry, hate mongerers are bringing dishonor to this grassroots movement. The Republican Party wants to bring more people into their party, but they need to make it clear that people who behave this way are not welcome in the party. Truth be told, if the Republican Party can find a way to effectively integrate the Tea Party organizations into their campaign, it could be a boon to their election prospects in the Fall 2010 elections. However, if they make this effort and fail to eliminate that aspect of the conservative movement, it will be used as an effective tool against them by Democrats. If they are truly committed to winning elections this fall, they need these groups to join with them. But they have to decide in what manner they are willing to win those elections. Do they want to win on principles and ideas or are they willing to win at any cost, even making unholy alliances with those who exhibit the worst America has to offer?

Democrats, on the other hand, need to take steps to show that they are not just about expanding government and controlling everyone's lives. They could obtain significant political capital if they spent the near term conducting and implementing a genuine and determined effort to eliminate outdated and ineffective federal programs. Let this be the time where they disprove the notion that once a federal government program is established it is eternal. Force every department of the federal government to identify 10% of their current budget to be eliminated. It could be eliminating a single program that is no longer relevant or effective, or it could be doing businesslike reductions in staff, purchasing, and program delivery across the breadth of the agency. Require these evaluations be done, no exceptions, within 90 days. Then pass these measures into law so they take effect with the next budget. This would amount to around $350 billion (350,000,000,000!)While this would not eliminate the budget deficit, let alone the national debt, it would be a meaningful step in the right direction. It would also show the electorate that Democrats hear their concerns, recognize this IS a major problem in need of attention, and that they really are not just big government tax and spend types.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Without question, the thing that has irritated me most about the health care reform debate is the incessant questioning of my love, loyalty and patriotism toward my country. Sure, the nasty rhetoric and propaganda from both sides, the vitriolic attacks on congressman voting for the reform bill, and the appearance of backroom politics all irritate me. However, those problems arise ocassionally in our democratice political system.

However, I have absolutely no tolerance for people who question another's love for their home country. Although not limited to conservatives, at this moment they are engaging in far more of this despicable behavior than are liberals. Conservatives are waging an open attack on all who disagree with them on health care reform. It started with accusations about socialism and communism. When that failed to move people sufficiently, they moved to accusations that supporters of health care reform had a devious plan to destroy the United States. And finally, the coup d'grace was to question their love for this country.

To conservatives I say the following. First, if this doesn't describe you...you have an absolute responsibility to stand up and denounce those who engage in this behavior. Remaining silent on these anti-American assualts implies that you agree with and support those beliefs. I know of many conservatives who recognize that those with whom they disagree are still loyal Americans, they just seem loathe to stand up and denounce those who do.

Second, for those who don't believe this is happening or that it is blown out of proportion, just look to the comments being made by conservative leaders. Sarah Palin talks about "taking back our country" as if it has somehow been hijacked by a disloyal band of extremists (even though conservatives actually rank third in self identification polls behind independents and liberals). Sean Hannity and Glen Beck regularly question the loyalty of those who dare disagree with them. And a number of conservative congressmen have openly accused proponents of health care reform of hating the United States.

Finally, using loyal opposition (disagreement) is one of the fundamental pillars of our democratic system. It is my right to have a different opinion, to have a different vision of what this country should be, without my loyalty being questioned. That is exactly what the British did when colonial Americans disagreed with their policies! Has the McCarthy era really been so long ago that we have forgotten the lessons of widespread hysteria brought about by accusations of disloyalty? And as a disclaimer, I also criticize liberals when they question whether opponents of health care reform love people because disagreeing on public policy issues does not mean you don't love your friends and neighbors.

Criticize me for my views. Challenge my assertions. Disagree with my ideas. But STOP questioning my commitment to my country NOW!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Conservative Hypocrisy on CEO Compensation

Four conservative Republican Senators are questioning, even threatening, federal funding for the Boys & Girls Clubs of America because they are concerned about the nearly $1 million annual compensation package for CEO Roxanne Spillett. Charles Grassley (IA), Tom Coburn (OK), John Kyl (AZ) and John Cornyn (TX) are expressing concerns about whether the head of a non-profit group should be earning so much money when the organization lost $13 million in 2008, is having difficulty funding local clubs and is even closing clubs in some cities. To quote the Senator's letter to the national organization, they "..find it hard to reconcile this loss given the amount spent on executive salaries, perks and lobbying expenses..." They also questioned the organization's travel expenses. To summarize their concerns, they are troubled that such a large compensation package comes at the expense of those the organization serves: the children.

Did I miss something here? It sounds to me like the Boys & Girls Clubs is operating in a manner that would make these Senators and their corporate cronies proud! All four of these senators have aggressively defended CEO compensation in the wake of scandals in the financial and health insurance industries. They have shown no empathy for the employees and communities who have been harmed as a result of layoffs and closings that have been accompanied by even higher CEO compensation. Where is their concern about the effect that $1 million, $5 million, $10 million and higher compensation packages prevalent in corporate America has on ordinary workers? How do they reconcile corporate compensation with high unemployment levels and rising poverty? How do they reconcile it with rampant layoffs, reduced work hours, and lower pay for ordinary workers? This is an incredibly clear example of the hypocrisy among current Republicans over the issue of income disparity which is growing worse in our nation.

Don't get me wrong, I actually agree with their concerns about the compensation policies at the Boys & Girls Clubs. I just wish these senators would show as much concern about the compensation policies of corporate America.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Myth of a Dramatic Shift to the Right

Conservatives have convinced themselves that the country is in the midst of giant transformational shift in their favor. They have come to believe that the nation has experienced a dramatic shift away from President Obama and his liberal policies, especially in light of growing criticism from other liberals. They have been even more emboldened lately because of a U S News and World Reports editorial (usually viewed as liberal publication) critical of Obama's performance to this point in his presidency.

I would argue that they are mistaken, that they either have misinterpreted the facts or are selective in the facts they choose to use to bolster their position. The truth is that most of the criticism of Obama by liberals is because they believe he hasn't been liberal enough!

One only has to examine the various approval polls to see that this shift is far less dramatic than purported, if it exists at all. While conservatives trumpet the drop in Obama's approval numbers, theirs have dropped even further, and some of Obama's lower numbers can be explained by liberals who are disappointed that he hasn't been more liberal. Obama's approval ratings (48-53% on average) are higher than Democrats (36%), Republicans (30%) and Congress as a whole (19%!!!!). What in these numbers suggests a dramatic shift to the right? In fact, polls show 57% believe that Republicans are acting simply as obstructionists at the expense of the American people. Claiming a greater mandate than your opposition when your opposition's approval numbers are over 50% better than your own doesn't even make sense.

On the most contentious issue, health care reform, the numbers show an equally dubious claim of a shift to the right. In general, national polls show more people support a "public option" than oppose it (49%-41%). When polled on specific points within the plan, polls generally show support. Certainly, there are portions which raise opposition: the overall cost and abortion funding and coverage among them. Because people may support part of the plan and oppose others, it is possible to explain why people are equally split between continuing to work on the plan now before Congress and starting over from scratch. People clearly want meaningful health care reform, but they want it to be bi-partisan.

Perhaps the voices of conservative opposition to Obama and his policies and plans are louder than those in favor, but that doesn't prove a dramatic shift. As they say on the TV show Mythbusters, this myth is busted.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Liz Cheney's Un-civil Comments

I unequivocally believe that anyone not outraged by the comments made this weekend by Liz Cheney and the Bill Kristol ad that attacked Department of Justice lawyers defending terror suspects is clueless about the foundations of basic rights in our nation.

Liz Cheney and others like her believe that we should only have the rights they themselves assign to us in their infinite wisdom. They constantly accuse those on the left of conspiracy to take away our civil liberties when in fact they are far more dangerous to civil liberties than any liberal wacko. They believe that basic civil liberties only apply to those who they select...and certainly not to anyone who is not a citizen. They forget that a nation is judged by how they treat those who are most vulnerable to abuse and discrimination. They espouse the idea that everyone who is accused must be guilty or they wouldn't have been arrested. And we all know that no poor slob with an inept lawyer has ever been wrongly convicted and no innocent man has ever been sent to death row.

The continuing success of our Constitutional system and our reputation in the world for fair treatment of all demand that we provide the same right to a fair defense to those who pose the most danger to our safety as we offer to everyone else. It may be a bit like taking a bad tasting medicine, but it is the right and Constitutional thing to do. The outrageous and un-American nature of Liz Cheney's comments demand immediate and clear rebuke from every legitimate Conservative. Failure to do so severely damages their credibility.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Meaningful Sacrifice

In my mind sacrifice is defined as surrendering something of value to gain something of greater meaning. This means giving up something important, usually a material thing, for the purpose of achieving a moral or spiritual objective. As a Christian, I believe we have a responsibility to honor the sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross by willingly making sacrifices for others less fortunate than ourselves. Unfortunately, it's a concept that doesn't get much publicity in modern America. Some would argue that we, as a nation, have lost sight of the concept of sacrifice and haven't been called upon to practice it in recent years. While I would agree with this statement in general, there are exceptions that show that sacrifice still exists in this country.

Last week a woman in California made a dramatic, but impressively meaningful sacrifice when she learned that several people in her office at the City of Lathrop would be laid-off as a result of the economic crisis gripping the state. Patricia Overy, although keeping her job, was disheartened by the news. She sat down and discussed the situation with her husband and she concluded that her family was better situated to handle the loss of a job and its income than most of the others facing a layoff. Even in the face of raising three children, dealing with health insurance, and the difficult prospect of finding another job, she decided to ask her supervisor to lay her off instead. As a result, another woman kept her job, a 63 year old whose prospects of finding a new job would certainly have been hindered by her age. The Overys don't sound like wealthy people, which makes the sacrifice that much more striking, yet it doesn't appear that it was a difficult decision.

Events like these are not receiving enough publicity in the press or the pulpit, but there are numerous examples of people volunteering for pay cuts to save the jobs of others, or of taking shorter shifts so others can keep their jobs. However, given that these examples seem to be coming from the most ordinary of our citizens, I once again wonder where the leaders of our nation are in this time. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we were hearing stories like this concerning politicians, CEOs, entertainers and athletes? How many more great stories would there be, how much closer would we grow as a nation, if our leaders were actually leading by example?!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Missed Opportunity

The other night I watched an NBC segment on how the people of the remote community of Gander, Newfoundland in Canada responded to the thousands of air travelers that were forced to spend several days in their community in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and the complete shutdown of air travel in North America. It prompted me to reflect upon the reaction of the American people in the days, weeks, and months after these attacks. It seems like such a distant memory as I recalled the uplifting stories of people helping strangers all across our land. Memories of emergency personnel traveling to New York and Washington at their own expense to help in the search for victims and survivors. Stories of strangers coming together to share suddenly scarce rental cars in their attempts to get home to family and friends. Stories of sacrifice and sharing on a heroic scale. I even had faint recollections of how it seemed that we were coming back together as a people, that our shared tragedy would restore a level of national unity and shared purpose.

As I look at the social, political, cultural and religious atmosphere in the United States today, I have to wonder if we didn't miss out on a golden opportunity to restore our historical sense of pride and unity. Would anyone have predicted, in the aftermath of 9/11 and our shared grief, that less than a decade later our country would be more divided, more partisan, more rancorous than at any point in our history since the Civil War? What would the 9/11 victims have to say to us as a nation if they could speak to us now? Personally, I think they would be utterly disappointed that their deaths didn't result in a greater sense of unity among the American people. I think they would wonder out loud whether the terrorists hadn't in fact accomplished one of their primary goals: scaring and diving the American people. No one can legitimately argue that we are stronger, more prosperous, more secure, more at peace in our divided state than we would be if the promise of that initial post-tragedy unity had been achieved. Is it too late to change it, or is this outcome the final, lasting legacy of 9/11?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Andrew Stack is NOT a Hero

In the wake of flying his airplane into an office building in Austin, Texas there are people, including his daughter who are calling Andrew Stack III a hero. Let me be really clear: he is NOT! a hero. He is a cold blooded murderer who took the life of an innocent person for an illigitimate reason. He should be considered more a traitor than a hero. He attacked the government of the United States and because some people dislike the IRS, they believe anyone who attacks that agency is a hero.

We have seen a growing tide among normally rational people being influenced by radical fringes who think it is appropriate to attack and kill people who work for the government in a misguided belief that this somehow makes them patriots. Too many television pundits and bloggers around the country have whipped up this anti-government sentiment to such a level that many ordinary people now believe it is ok to use violence against their own government. Murder is NEVER an acceptable form of protest!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Symbolic Lesson for American CEOs

I am a staunch and vocal critic of American CEOs. I believe, that as a group, they they have become a clear and visible example of how greed and selfishness have overtaken American society, especially in the area of large, corporate business.

They have grown to be overly greedy, believing they are entitled to multi-million dollar compensation packages, even when the company loses money or goes bankrupt. They treat their employees as just another resource manipulated for profit, quick and eager to lay off workers and transfer jobs overseas so their already profitable company (and by default, themselves) can earn a few more dollars.

They decry the lack of loyalty among employees toward the company while displaying little loyalty to those same workers who lack anywhere near the job security their parents enjoyed. They have completely forgotten their real place in the grand scheme of things, forgetting that without those employees working hard and producing quality products, there would be no profits and no excessive pay.

And they lack the understanding that profit is but one of the responsibilities of a business in the community. There is an unstated covenant between employers, employees, and the community. While a business has the right and the responsibility to make a profit and owners and managers have a right to a fair and just compensation, the business also has a responsibility not to unfairly take advantage of workers or cast them aside in the pursuit of excessive profits as if the employees do not matter. A business also has a responsibility to the community to operate in a way that promotes stability and growth rather than plundering the community in which it operates.

Fortunately, there are exceptions to this trend. ABC News did a story the other day on an entrepreneur who built a large business and decided the best thing he could do as he approached the end of his life was to divest himeself of the company. Instead of selling it for what I'm sure would have been millions of dollars, he GAVE the company to his employees. This means that each of several hundred employees now has a stake in the company worth several hundred thousand dollars! When he was asked why he did this, he talked about how his employees were part of his family and that it was because of their talent, commitment, and quality work that the business had grown to be so profitable and valuable. You can see the story by clicking on this link: http://abcnews.go.com/WN/owner-multi-million-dollar-company-hands-business-employees/story?id=9875038

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating that every business owner go and give away their company. Obviously, public corporations don't really have that option. And families have the right to pass the business down to younger members. The point is that this dramatic gesture is just the culmination of a philosophy of life and business which recognizes that wealth matters less than family, relationships, and loyalty. It is no mystery to me that Mr. Moore's business was successful because his employees have always given him their best effort, just as he gave them his best.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Supreme Court Ruling On Campaign Finance

There has been a huge furor over the Supreme Court's recent decision striking down campaign finance laws aimed at limiting corporate spending in the electoral process. Polls show that 80% +/- of Americans believe the court was wrong in their ruling and these numbers are consistent across party lines.

As much as it pains me to say it, the Supreme Court was correct in their ruling. Don't misunderstand, I don't like the idea of corporations being able to finance elections without limits. However, if we look at current law from a strictly objective point of view, it is the only decision they could make. Current law in the United States recognizes corporations as essentially equal to an individual. Though the officers of corporations enjoy some legal protection from financial responsibility, corporations themselves are afforded most of the same rights and responsibilities as individuals and can in many instances be held to the same standards of behavior and face the same consequences. As long as this remains in American law, you cannot deny them the right to use their money as an individual would and as they choose. The fact that they have more money, while disturbing to some, isn't really relevant when deciding the Constitutionality of law. Even individual citizens can incorporate themselves, so do we apply the same standards to them that public opinion wants to impose on multinational, multibillion dollar corporations? What about churches that have subsidiaries that are incorporated because they're outside the scope of the 501-c protections offered non-profits?

These facts won't appease those who are outraged by the decision, so what can be done? First of all, the Supreme Court was clear that there can be reasonable legal limits. It is quite clear from the decision that laws can be implemented to prevent foreign corporations from using their money to influence American elections. Laws limiting direct contributions to individual candidates remain intact. I believe legislation requiring greater openness and accountability with stockholders would be upheld. This could force corporate executives to be more careful and more open in how they use money in the area of electoral influence.

More extreme measures are available as well. Lawmakers could change the status of corporations, stripping them of many of rights and protections they share with individuals. This would have potentially massive effects on the business, governmental and legal systems, some of which could be difficult and troubling. But it is an option.

I admit to being a bit confused by the reaction of the two parties. For at least two decades we have been hearing from conservatives about how the courts have become so activist, creating new law rather than just interpreting it. The court certainly cannot be accused of being activist in this case, yet they still cannot get any loving from conservatives. And liberals aren't any better. They have warned us for years about how the courts were (or would soon) limit free speech. Here, the court rules against limitations, and liberals are unhappy. The fact that both sides are upset just makes me more certain the court ruled correctly.

Finally, I question whether the decision will really matter in the long run anyhow. Even if the court had ruled in favor of the limitations, corporations and special interest groups have long proven adept at finding loopholes. And I'm not convinced that corporations or special interest groups are really concerned about who gets elected. While they may campaign against certain candidates with negative attack ads, their real concern is having access to officials once they're in office. The real corruption begins with the lobbyists, the gifts, the socializing, the expense-paid junkets, etc. that occur once a person is in office. In reality, this decision had nothing to do with that aspect of being beholden to the moneyed interests, so I question whether a different court opinion would have even mattered.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why You Should Register As A Follower Of This Blog

I don't know how many people are actually reading my blog. Given that it's new and not associated with a newspaper, magazine or blogging site, I know it's a small number, mainly family and close friends. It may not even be in double digits yet. Nevertheless, I encourage everyone who is visiting this site to register as a follower. Why?

Recently, somebody I consider a good friend wrote to me at my private email concerning their disappointment at what I wrote about the Tea Bag movement. Although I felt like they misunderstood the purpose of what I said, that is not for me to judge and I would have willingly posted the comments because they were respectful and heartfelt.

The goal of this blog is to try and promote a middle ground and compromise in our nation, whether it's politics, culture or faith. I really want people to comment on what I write, whether they agree or disagree. I want there to be discussion. However, in order to post comments on this site, you must register as a follower. This allows me to review comments before they are posted. I choose to do this for one reason, and it isn't to censor anyone. I review comments first to ensure that they are respectful. I do not want any profanity or name calling or any of the other invective that is damaging our national conversations.

I don't want this blog to be followed only by people who always agree with me, I want to hear what those who disagree have to say. I am not afraid of hearing opposing comments/beliefs. When I was in business school, we were taught an interesting adage about leadership in business (which I believe can apply to politics and perhaps the church as well) that said if two leaders of a single business always agrees, one of them is unnecessary. Or what about the old saying that there are three sides to every debate/argument: your side, my side, and the truth. It is only through honest and robust discussion that any progress is possible.

So, please register as a follower and join the discussion.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

What the Tea Party Polls Really Tell Us

Tea Party supporters (and by default Republicans) are ecstatic after recent polls showing that nearly 1/2 of voters agree with at least some of their positions. Some inside and outside the movement are reading this as a clear sign that this could be viable Third-Party movement in the elections of 2010 and 2012. But I think not. Why?

One must pay very close attention to a variety of polls, the actual questions asked, and what they really mean in order to decipher what is really going on. And the fact of the matter is that these poll results don't have anything good to say for the two major parties or the Tea Party.

Let's start with the Tea Party. If they are striking such a chord in the political heart of America, why do they only poll favorably at around 45-50% at best? Even more importantly, how can they expect to overtake the two parties with what are very high negative numbers? An even greater question is how can they expect any real success when their premier "candidate" Sarah Palin is believed to be qualified for President by only 29% of all Americans and by less than half of conservatives! To think that any other Tea Party candidate can generate numbers greater than Palin's to become a viable national candidate isn't even reasonable.  But, Tea Party supporters respond, many Americans agree with us on many issues. That is true, but they are misreading the importance of that fact. Given that most Americans are actually moderates, many voters will answer that they agree with numerous positions of Republicans and  Democrats as well. Agreement on "some" issues will be insufficent to build a foundation solid enough to elect candidates outside of the two party framework. Tea Party supporters are likely to be limited to impacting local races and a few Congressional races.

This brings us to what the numbers mean for Republicans. While many Republican leaders are hyping recent poll numbers as favorable to the conservative party, the truth is they should be greatly concerned that the Tea Party movement could blunt what ought to be mid-term election gains. Tea Party supporters are only slightly less unhappy with Republicans than they are with Democrats. Given the fact that Tea Party supporters are overwhelmingly conservative, if they choose to participate within the two party system it will be within the Republican Party. The problem for Republicans is that the Tea Party is far more extreme than most Republican candidates. When the primary season comes, the Tea Party is likely to force competitive primaries in which candidates that are far more conservative are selected. Unfortunately for Republicans, the more extreme a candidate is (whether conservative or liberal), the less electable they become. The result is that a combination of misreading voter angst as a significant move to the right and the uncompromising views of the Tea Party will lead to the presentation of candidates with a lower ability to actually win elections.

So, should Democrats feel good about these facts? Absolutely not! The truth is that Congress (both parties) has lower approval ratings than either party as a whole or than President Obama. The Tea Party movement is more reflective of a general discontent in the nation that leaders of all types (political, financial, business, insurance, etc) are failing miserably in working for the good of the nation. Until some segment of American leadership steps up and shows they are actually working for the people, polls are likely to vascillate wildly between the three choices. This is where the battle for political control will really be won. At this point, neither the Democrats or Republicans, nor the Tea Party should feel confident about their political fortunes. The reality is that at this point anything could happen. Democrats could still salvage their majority. Republicans certainly have a golden opportunity to improve their position. And the Tea Party could muddle up the whole system, especially for Republicans.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

There has been quite a story in television news over the last several days, one I found very inspiring. The Salwen family of Atlanta sold their large historic home, moved to a home half the size, and donated half the sale price of the first home to Hunger Project which works against hunger in Africa. To truly appreciate this story, you first have to understand that this was no ordinary family or home. It was a $1.8 million historic mansion in the heart of Atlanta and the net proceeds were around $800,000.

Many people serve their community and the Salwens are no exception. In fact, the father Kevin is on the board of the Atlanta chapter of Habitat for Humanity. However, few people ever make such a dramatic and impressive commitment to be part of the solution to serving people in greater need than themselves. It seems to have been a family decision. It started with some observations by the 15 year old daughter Hannah when she saw a homeless man and a new Mercedes at the same street corner in Atlanta. After repeated discussions, it was the mother Joan's idea to sell the house (her self-described dream house) and donate the money.

This family should be a great example for everyone in this country during this economically difficult time. I'm not suggesting that people sell everything and give it to the poor (the Salwen's still live in a fairly large, nice home), but rather that we recognize that there are many people in need and we need to step up and make more than just token efforts to help. Real giving often requires real sacrifice. Giving $100 when you have a million really isn't a sacrifice. Devout Christians especially should consider their giving in light of stories like these. Jesus gave everything for us, so we should ask ourselves how our giving compares in the context of his total sacrifice. I encourage everyone to take the time to evaluate what you are truly able to give, compare it to what you have actually been giving, and answer the question of whether you can do more.

I hope you are as inspired by this story as I am. Here is the link to the ABCNews video: http://video.search.yahoo.com/video/play?p=Salwen+family&n=21&ei=utf-8&fr=yfp-t-701&fr2=tabweb&tnr=21&vid=0001864041973

Saturday, February 6, 2010

What You Can Do About Exessive Bank Executive Bonuses

Recently there has been a lot of controversy concerning large bonuses paid to CEOs and other top executives at the nation's largest banks. Ordinary people and politicians alike have been loud in their criticism of these bank executives taking large bonuses, especially in the wake of their recent bailout by the federal government (and thus, ordinary people) that saved them from certain collapse. I have long been a critic of executive compensation practices in America's largest corporations. Too many executives think that they are solely responsible for the success of their company, reaping huge windfalls at the expense of the ordinary workers who are actually responsible for generating corporate profits through their skill, hard work and dedication to that enterprise.

But what can an ordinary citizen do about this situation? PLENTY! In our free enterprise system we all have choices as consumers and those choices have real impact on the profitability of corporations. If you, like myself, are disgusted by these bonuses, you have options.

If you have money in these large banks it is as simple as withdrawing your money and taking it to another financial institution. There are scores of small local/regional banks, savings and loans, and credit unions where you can deposit your money safely. I personally moved my money several years ago to a local credit union with 8 locations, all within one state. These institutions offer the same or similar insured safety as the large banks. In addition, because they are local, they tend to lend money to those in your immediate community, so your deposits help locally rather than in some metropolis hundreds of miles away. In addition, few of them engaged in the kind of risky investment and loan practices that brought so many of the national banks to the brink of collapse. In fact, a suprisingly large number of them reported record or near record profits even during the recent financial meltdown, thanks primarily to their adherence to traditional and secure financial principles.

If, as these "too big to fail" banks seem to believe, money talks, then let yours talk by walking down the street to a local bank that cares about and supports your community. If enough people heed this call, it will send a loud and clear message to the "Wall Street banks" that business as usual will no longer be tolerated and failure to change will result in lower profits.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Stop Bickering!

Do you remember when you were a kid and you would get in a fight with your brother or sister? Remember how it would degenerate into the blame game and name calling with snappy comebacks like "I know you are, but what am I?" and "it takes one to know one"? Am I the only one who sees this in our political system today?

And do you remember how Mom would handle it? After she was done banging your heads together, what did she do? Did she worry about who started it and was to blame? Or did she come up with a solution that worked (at least in part) for both of you? Bingo, she made you compromise and if you objected, she made sure that the next solution was completely impalatable. With my own children I have always made it clear that, in most cases, I don't care so much about who started it as I am with who is mature enough to end it!

I think our two political parties, particularly in Congress, could learn a very valuable lesson from this example. The American people are tired of hearing politicians bicker and blame. They want leaders who are mature enough to get beyond that immature approach and find solutions to the nations' problems. They want leaders who care less about who's to blame (there's plenty of that to go around) and care more about actually leading us to better places. And yes, that means they want leaders who have the maturity and courage to compromise so that each side gets some of what they desire. People are tired of watching the political equivalent of stomping your feet and pulling your hair, when you don't get your way. It's time for our leaders to get down to doing productive work and demonstrating the character exhibited by the leaders that founded this nation 234 years ago.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Loss of the Moderate Identity

There is a raging battle in the United States about whether the nation is conservative or liberal. The answer to this question is....neither! And how do I come to this conclusion? I submit my own array of political beliefs as evidence that a majority of people in the United States are actually moderate.

I voted for Barack Obama for President which obviously makes me a leftist, socialist, Eurocentric left wing radical. But I consider myself an evangelical Christian who believes that Jesus is the only way to heaven which obviously makes me a right wing reactionary. No wait, I believe that we should aggressively develop alternative energy sources, so I am a left wing radical. No, no, I believe that we should carefully expand drilling for oil and build technologically advanced coal power plants, so I am a right wing reactionary. Oh bother! I consider taxes a responsibility, not a penalty, so there, I am a left wing radical. But, wait I do believe we should reasonably limit government and regularly re-evaluate existing government programs for ones that are no longer needed, so I'm a right wing reactionary. Oh, this is so confusing. What AM I?

By now, you get the point. Only a small percentage of people are exclusively liberal or exclusively conservative. There are conservatives who support abortion rights. There are liberals who believe abortion should be illegal. There are liberals who think we have gone too far in restricting religious practice in the public sphere. There are conservatives who think the "religious right" gives too little respect to the faith (or lack of faith) of others who don't share their Biblical worldview. Choose any issue: education, executive compensation, foreign affairs, gay marriage, death penalty, political correctness and you will find large numbers of people that cross the traditional ideological line.

Unfortunately, the moderate majority has lost sight of its identity. As a whole, moderates have been standing on the sidelines while the small number of pure liberals and pure conservatives battle over who best represents the country. I don't think either of them best represents this nation. Both extremes have worked to convince the majority of the country that moderates are rare, when in fact our country has always been defined by a moderate majority. Ask yourself, if things during the infancy of the United States were as politically polarized as they appear now, could the Constitution been written, let alone ratified? How do you explain that we have elected a relatively equal number of liberal and conservative presidents?

The purpose of this blog is to trumpet the moderate path. It goes without saying that sometimes I will seem liberal in my views, while at other times I will seem conservative in my views. That is the beauty of being a moderate, we understand and appreciate the views of both ideological sides and attempt to bridge the gap to create workable solutions to the problems that our nation encounters.