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Archive for April, 2010

During any major political endeavor, especially those which involve sacrifice and huge amounts of spending, politicians will compete to tell us why the endeavor is necessary.  All arguments focus on Why? this is necessary.

However, the details of the how always seem to be overlooked.  Close to nine years after  9/11, the war in Iraq draws to an end (we hope), the war in Afghanistan continues, skirmishes in Pakistan, conflict between Israel and Palestine, the threat of terrorist attacks continues and we are told WHY we must remain engaged.

Very little discussion is focused on how we are engaged; more importantly how we end this peacefully.  It is very hard to find balanced perspectives which illustrate what has been done right and what has been done wrong.

For this reason, I would like to give Kudos to STRATFOR on their analysis of the issues.  Here are three key reports which not only analyze competing interests but also the fallacy that systems which work well in one country can be readily transferred to other countries which do not share the same cultural beliefs, priorities, or modus operandi.

Baghdad Politics and the U.S.-Iranian Balance http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20100419_baghdad_politics_and_usiranian_balance?fn=9216094818

Three Points of View: The United States, Pakistan and India http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20100427_three_points_view_united_states_pakistan_and_india?utm_source=GWeekly&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=100428&utm_content=readmore&elq=5ddd8ae7c9da4f5e8fce416543cdf229

(Forthcoming: Israeli-Arab Balance of Power)

These reports are republished with permission of STRATFOR

There is also an excellent framing of the terrorism debate which puts things in a much more appropriate context than the one offered by politicians.   The current anti-terrorism activity is not about U.S. versus Muslims or claiming that people hate us because we are American.

It is about understanding the Jihadist movement which represents various extreme and fragmented factions within Islam (just like we have extreme and fragmented factions within Christianity)  Lest anyone has forgotten what the terrorism in Northern Ireland was like or the Oklahoma City bombing, Wako, the KKK, neo Nazi groups, etc. here are some reminders of Christian terrorism:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_terrorism

http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/religionandtheology/2432/the_return_of_christian_terrorism________/

http://www.au.af.mil/au/aul/bibs/tergps/tgdom.htm

The current anti-terrorism debate  is also about recognizing that there are just as many Muslims opposed to Jihad as there are Christians and, instead of trying to lead the fight against Jihadist factions, the U.S. needs to take a secondary role and support the Muslims who are opposed to Jihadist extremists.

The Jihadist Strategic Dilemma http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20091207_jihadist_strategic_dilemma

This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR

We need to learn to see past the rhetoric and start to see the people.  One has to ask oneself, if the need to survive is the most basic of human instincts, what makes a person over ride this instinct to survive and become a terrorist or suicide bomber?  What could possibly be so wrong that death is considered to be a welcome alternative?

There are a multitude of reason but for now I will just point to two as they relate to the war in Afghanistan.

Poverty: When someone has nothing to loose including hope for the future,
radicalizing them is a piece of cake.

Experiencing Hatred from Others: Those who are not poor can be radicalized also. 60 Minutes interviewed a former radical this past Sunday.
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/04/23/60minutes/main6425491.shtml?tag=currentVideoInfo;segmentTitle

He grew up in London’s middle class but saw how his white friends were
constantly attacked (beaten & stabbed) just because they would walk
with him in public. When Iraq was attacked, the agrument that the US
is at war because we hate Muslims seemed perfectly logical to him.

This is what is so worrisome about all the current anti-Muslim rhetoric – it
reinforces such beliefs.  To put things in a different perspective, as a Catholic, if suddenly news media and people were to start saying “wearing a crucifix around your neck is bad or should be banned,” or saying “all Catholics
are sex offenders just look at what their priests do,” I would become
radicalized too!  Needless to say when he witnessed tortures during
interrogations his beliefs became even more extreme.

Ironically, it was being thrown in prison with some notorious
extremists (e.g. Anwar Sadat) that changed his perspective. They
showed him he was wrong and the war is about power not hate.  He now
spends his time trying to convince other Muslims that it is not a war
about religion.  Uphill battle though. His wife left him calling him a
sellout.

The differentiation between power and hate may seem trivial.  However, for many, power/oppressive power is something you can bargain with and eventually overcome.  Hatred is a non-starter to which the only response is reacting with like violence.  Turn the other cheek is a lesson most of us have heard.  However, when it comes to how we behave, our instinct to defend ourselves and retaliate typically makes us forget this lesson.

The lesson from all this?

It is not just the actions of our politicians and soldiers which matter.  It is the actions, thoughts and words of each of us in our daily lives which also have an impact on this war.  What we say and do DOES matter, especially when others (i.e. the whole world) are watching!

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So many examples in the news of what NOT to do that I figured I should start posting examples of business done right.

Paid Volunteers is Cheaper than Re-Training
NaviStar Diesel (Huntsville, AL)

When faced with shortage of contracts, this company’s branch in Alabama kept employees on the payroll (with full benefits) and let them work as volunteers in the local community.

Navistar website http://www.navistar.com/Navistar/

ABC News story http://abcnews.go.com/WN/navistar-saves-jobs-50-employees-volunteering-program/story?id=10104687

I’ve seen comments that they are replicating a program Toyota used in 2009 but cannot find details on Toyota’s program. I did find an article on Toyota and Walgreen’s teaming up in Buffalo to operate a company sponsored health care clinic
http://www.allbusiness.com/health-care/health-care-facilities-clinics/14211723-1.html

Rural Outsourcing in Economically Distressed Areas
NewBold Technologies (East Liverpool, OH)

When so many face the pressure of offshore IT outsourcing, this company is successfully using the same model to provide jobs for people in rural America. They focused on creating a 1yr training program for students who don’t necessarily want to go to college and job placement rates are 94%

NewBold website http://newboldtec.com/aboutus.aspx

Got the story from the Pittsburgh Technology Council http://www.pghtech.org/news-and-publications/teq/article.aspx?Article=2002

NewBold wants to expand their model to other economically distressed areas in the U.S.

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It seems every time one turns on the news these days there is some sort of protest bordering on riot.  Media hype is feeding the frenzy but, most amusing, pundits are all sitting around in amazement asking: what is this about?

While I cannot speak for everyone, I will do my best to explain things.  Drawing on my training as a Public Policy Analyst, I will address issues in segments and start by peeling the outer layers of the proverbial onion in order to get at the core issues:

Vitriolic language (aka insults, screaming, racial slurs, etc.): As Fmr President Clinton said, this needs to stop.  Violent words can lead to violent actions and we have already seen the beginnings of this after the health care reform bill was passed.  People were spit upon, property was destroyed, bomb threats made to government representatives.  Individually a word or an insult does nothing.  However, when stress and tensions are high, an accumulation of such language can easily lead to its physical manifestation.  As human beings we are all linked and very susceptible to herd mentality.  Once the herd starts moving it is very hard to stop.  This is what soldiers describe as “the fog of war” or, ordinary people who end up involved in extremely violent acts such as genocide talk about when they say “the voices made me do it.”  For those who don’t believe this is true, perhaps watching the recent PBS documentary Worse than War will change your mind http://www.pbs.org/wnet/worse-than-war/the-film/watch-worse-than-war/24/ We all like to think we are morally superior and could never succumb to such insensibility but the truth is that every one of us is equally capable of good and evil.  This is why our parents always told us to be nice to others and to be kind with our words.

Misinformation: Somewhere along the line, it became acceptable to distribute erroneous information about political opponents.  Other than laments that this should not be done, no effort was made to pass regulations which penalize people for mass distribution of erroneous information.  Granted, Freedom of Speech is a First Amendment right even if the speech is loaded with errors.  An alternate solution would be having the media as watchdogs of the truth and have the media take the stance that they will not publish or broadcast anything that cannot be verified as true.  Instead, the media are the first to circulate campaigns of misinformation, with the appropriate disclaimers of course, but widely circulated nonetheless.  Add to this the freedom to publish enabled by internet blogs such as the one you are reading now, social media, talk shows, satellite radio…. The truth is that there is no longer any way to effectively police the information that is out there.  This, in my opinion is a good thing.  However, it also demands that we each take greater individual responsibility in not only verifying information but also examining the bias which produced the information (even an “unbiased” account is biased because it leaves out something in favor of neutrality).

Racial tension due to the first Black U.S. President: Oppression in any society leaves deep wounds which in turn lead to distrust, anger, and even hatred.  At the root of all the issues is a preference for only accepting or associating with “people who look like me.”  Until we learn to accept and see the humanity in all of us, whether we like someone or not, such tensions will never disappear.  Worse still, is the need to express distrust by hurling insults and threats. If the only way you can feel safe is by threatening or insulting someone else then the problem is not the other person, the problem is you.  As humans we also need to feel validated in our beliefs so we try to convince others that what we believe is correct.  When it comes to racism, there is no concern for whether what we believe about “others” is or is not true.  We just need to spread our beliefs hoping that the more they are spread, the erroneous information magically transforms itself into the truth because if it doesn’t, we have to admit that we are wrong and we can never admit to being wrong about our feelings towards “those people.”  Here are some examples:

Legitimate Anti-(Current) Government Issues: There is an old saying: even a broken clock tells the right time twice a day.  No truer words have ever been spoken and yet the media and pundits and politicians and Washington are priding themselves in dismissing the protesters as “crazy people.”  The truth is people are angry because they are being forced into things and being imposed upon but whenever they try to suggest alternatives, their suggestions are dismissed.  This would make anyone infuriated.  More so when the current President campaigned on the slogan “Change We Can Believe In.”  Many people did believe.  For the first time in US political history, a true grass roots campaign was mounted.  Social media was used and so were town meetings.  People spent inordinate amounts of time explaining problems so that these issues could be taken to Washington.  People were promised that, if elected, this President would continue to use the same communication mechanisms that were used during his political campaign in order to make policy in Washington.  A little over a year after the election, it is not only business as usual, all the mechanisms via which people were contributing during the campaign appear to have been shut off.  Republicans are to blame; Democrats are to blame.  To the average person, political finger pointing is irrelevant; the only thing that matters are results.  Here are examples:

1. Out of Control Spending: we are in the worst economic times since the Great Depression.  People are making heavy individual sacrifices – let’s cut back to one car instead of two even though we really need two cars; let’s go without new clothes; let’s cut back on the amount of food we eat.  Those are the voluntary choices.  There are also numerous involuntary choices such as bankruptcy due to medical debt and/or foreclosure due to lack of income which is in turn due to lack of employment.  Individuals cannot figure out how they are going to pay their personal bills and looming on top of this is a deficit that is so huge it will inevitably lead to higher taxes.  At this point, nobody cares which Administration caused the problem.  The only thing people care about is, which Administration is going to fix it? how? and how soon?  Most importantly, how much is the fix going to cost me?  This is the magic number that is never delivered from Washington.  Report after report after report and I can’t forecast how much I’m going to be paying for this in the future.  Budgets may be conceptual for politicians but they are very real for the tax payers.  Not acknowledging this (and by acknowledgement I am not talking about political lip service full of kind words and estimates but rather hard and solid numbers which can be used to hold people accountable) is disrespectful to tax payers and naturally stirs up anger.  Adding insult to injury are issues like earmark spending.

Earmark Spending: A recent CBS news report (click CBS news report for link) said that earmark spending is down in 2010.  Down???  Why is it happening at all???  If politicians want to show their good faith, the least they could do is stop spending on pet projects.  To put earmark spending in the common parlance, it is no different from when a parent gives a child a credit card.  Politicians fail to realize that, WE the TAXPAYERS are the ones with parental control over their spending habits (not the other way around).  If I gave my children credit cards and told them, you can use this to pay for your gas (utilities), your school fees (administrative expenses), and basic food and clothing (infrastructure), that’s it.  Anything else like entertainment (trips), non-essential expenses you need to find money that is not mine to pay for.  Off my children go and all of a sudden I get a bill for a Mercedes Benz in Omaha but my child is studying in Boston.  Huh????  What is this about?  Well Mom, Harry needed a Benz.  Who the hell is Harry??? None of your siblings are named Harry and I only gave birth to 3 children!  But, it is now on my credit card and I have to pay for it.  Haven’t finished recovering from that one and I get another bill for jet skis in Alaska.  None of my kids are in Alaska.  Call the credit card company, oh yes, that charge was authorized by your second child.  Now I’m on a war path!  Why are you charging jet skis in Alaska when you are in Florida???  Don’t they have jet skis in Florida???  Yes Mom but I was doing Lisa a favor.  What???? You see she helped me with my math homework so I bought her jet skis and she lives in Alaska.  At this point I’m seriously wondering if the death penalty applies to parents who justifiably murder their own children.  Surely I can find a Johnnie Cochran to defend me.  I start paying that bill as well when all of a sudden a third bill comes in.  This one is for a $10,000 trip to the Hague.  I know only one child could be stupid enough to make such an expense given what I’ve said to the other two so I call my third child.  What is this about???  Duh, Mom, it’s a $10,000 trip to the Hague.  I can see that, but who went on that trip???  I don’t know.  What do you mean you don’t know??? You made the charge!  Yes, but it was an anonymous trip.  A what???? An anonymous trip.  How can you have an anonymous trip, someone went on that trip, that someone exists and has a name, who is that person?????  Mom, just cool your jets….  No, I will not cool my jets!!!!!  With this example, it is perfectly clear why a parent would be infuriated to the point of rage and yet the commentary from media, pundits and politicians is that people have misdirected anger and are bitter.  Yes we are bitter but the anger is far from misdirected, it is very specifically and justifiably targeted.  Is murder or personal assault or destruction of property an option?  NO (even the Johnnie Cochran fantasy is not an option with one’s children)!  Unfortunately, unlike our children, we cannot revoke the credit cards so the only option left is to have public demonstrations.

2. Lack of Public Input and Transparency: The combination of computer and internet age is a fabulous thing.  We can share massive amounts of data from any location on the planet that has internet access (not just this country).  Computer programs can filter and sort the information instantaneously.  Some can even analyze it regardless of how complex – these programs can sift through text at light speed and pick up recurring themes and aggregate counts so that you know what issues are most relevant (this is one of the ways we monitor terrorist activity).   And yet, despite the fact that this technology is available AND used by our government, they do not use it to enable us to provide input.  How hard would it be to invite public commentary on each piece of legislation and have the same software that analyzes terrorist activity scan through for issues that are of greatest concern to people when it comes to health care????  Heck, there is enough evidence that our internet chatter is being monitored anyway so why not apply those same monitors to extract things that are related to public policy decisions???  Would that be too much like right?  Ok, so we want to maintain the appearance of formal participation.

  • First step, no more 2,000 page pieces of legislation which even the politicians involved in drafting say they do not read in entirety.  No piece of legislation (including supplements, addendum, annex, etc.) should be longer than 60 pages.  If complex national security briefs can be reduced to 1 page, the public has a right to have the legislation which it is affected by be reduced to 60 pages per legislation.  Language should be CLEAR. If a third grader cannot understand what is being said, it is not clear. This has nothing to do with literacy levels and everything to do with putting an end to the deliberate practice of making the simple complicated in order to confuse people.
  • Second, connections between lobbyists, government officials, corporations and vested interests must be disclosed.  Who they have worked for, how much they make, how much they are getting for representing XYZ, etc.  This way we know the bias of those involved in any given piece of legislation.
  • Third, each piece of legislation should go through public referendum.  If a matter is urgent, the time for public vote can be limited to 2 weeks (14days). For non-urgent matters, the appropriate time can be determined according to need.  We have enough modern technology and internet access that a 60 page piece of legislation can be read and voted upon by every citizen in this country within a 14 day period.  The job of legislators will be to craft the legislation and put it forward but it will be the responsibility of the citizenry to make the votes. This would also force legislators to slow down AND base legislation on public input. The counter argument is that on issues such as the TARP (aka Wall Street bailout) and healthcare, people do not understand the urgency of the issues.  People understood the urgency and complexity just fine.  Legislators were not listening to what people were saying – there are other ways of achieving the same goals which are very different from the solutions you are ramming down our throats.

3. Using Political Parties as an Excuse to Defer Responsibility: This is the one thing that has everyone fed up the most.  Democrats blame Republicans, Republicans blame Democrats.  In the interim what gets done?  Are there substantive debates on how we should solve problems? No. There is just a lot of heckling and finger pointing and “not my faulting.” As an example, with TARP, I will go out on a huge limb and say a significant number of Americans would have been ok with the amount of the TARP spending IIIIFFFF it had included a mandate that any institution accepting TARP funds would have to break itself apart so that it was no longer “too big to fail.”  What size is that?  According to one set of studies, $100 Billion (Bill Moyer’s Journal April 16, 2010 see transcript for comments by Simon Johnson) Any entity over $100 Billion needs to break itself apart.   Was this ever discussed before the TARP legislation was passed?  While I wasn’t privy to Congressional discussions, it has never been mentioned by any politician I’ve heard and yet such proposals abounded while this piece of legislation was being debated.  Same thing with healthcare reform.  The public was pretty much in unanimous agreement: the denial of health insurance coverage for pre-existing conditions is something that must be stopped; same thing with exorbitant costs for medical procedures. Yes we want the best healthcare in the world but does an ultrasound really have to cost $2,000 when you can get the same type of scan in a developing country for the cost of $40?  Why do we pay so much for medicines? How do we preserve freedom of choice while keeping a system that is affordable and that allows all equal access????  These are not a Republican or Democrat issues.  These are not debates  about Socialism versus Capitalism.  These are debates about alternative SOLUTIONS!!!  Using political rhetoric to avoid having a serious public discussion on what each solution actually entails is something that must come to an immediate end.

Am I going to join a public rally or march with picket signs and yell at the top of my voice to get myself heard?  No. While those methods are perfectly legitimate, they are not my personal style. I type on this blog and that is about as activist as I’m going to get. Hopefully somebody will listen during my lifetime. If not, the Library of Congress is now archiving Twitter messages. I’ll post a link to this blog on my Twitter account and perhaps in the future some one will read this and other voices of the time and put the comments into historical context.

In the interim, here are some interesting data:

PBS Newshour Map: Patchwork Nation

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/patchworknation/#/archive/?category=elections&map=tea-party-members-10k-residents

NBC/WSJ  Poll on government satisfaction

PeW survey April 18, 2010.  The report is titled Distrust, Discontent, Anger and Partisan Rancor: The People and Their Government

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May 1, 2010 Update

Last night was the last episode of Bill Moyer’s Journal.  I have to admit it will be hard not being able to watch one of my favorite Friday night shows.  At the same time, change is a part of human life we must all adjust to.

In typical Bill Moyer’s fashion, his final show not only highlighted issues but also highlighted solutions.  I was extremely heartened to see examples of coherent, respective and inclusive populist activity.

http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/04302010/watch.html

Since it would be better to showcase what people have said in their own words, here are my favorite quotes from this segment:

BARBARA KALBACH: We the people! You have to try to explain to people why certain things are an injustice to the population as a whole because if no one speaks out, nothing’s going to change.

LARRY GINTER: The preamble of the constitution says promote the general welfare. Well, does that sound like a government that’s hands off? That isn’t involved into the overall well-being of everybody in this country? So this idea of get government out of my life- I don’t know how that works. Because we’re supposed to be a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. So how do I just take government out of my life? I am government!

LARRY GINTER: …As a Catholic, there’s one thing that I’ve always felt about the bible that was, to me, was the ultimate truth. And that is loving your neighbor. Did you find out any more about that rally we were going to have? If you truly love your neighbor, you’re going to make sure that that neighbor’s treated fairly. Because if that neighbor is taken care of and he knows that you care or she knows that you care about them, maybe just maybe they’re going to care about Larry Ginter. And that’s going to catch on.

JOHN BLASINGAME: You can fight. In fact, you’ve got a duty to fight. There’s some words to a song that get right to the heart of this.

(SINGING) You law abiding citizens, listen to this song. Laws were made by people and people can be wrong. Once unions were against the law, but slavery was fine. Women were denied the vote and children worked the mines. The more you study history, the less you can deny it. A rotten law stays on the books ’til folks with guts defy it.

These are definitely viewpoints I can stand behind any day!

Most importantly they remind us of our civic duty to keep government honest by first keeping ourselves honest (caring about everyone, not just ourselves) and second by speaking the truth out loud.

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This 18min video is a must see TED talk!

http://www.internationalpeaceandconflict.org/video/ted-talk-kevin-bales-how-to

Highlights

Bad News:

  • 27 million people (in 2010) facing same conditions as during height of the slave trade (i.e. forced to work under constant violence/threat of violence and with no pay).
  • This is double the number of slaves that came out of Africa during the entire transatlantic slave trade.
  • Problem is found everywhere except for Greenland and Iceland.
  • People are not usually kidnapped but rather living in very poor conditions and recruited with the promise of a paying job.
  • Locations with high concentrations of slaves are also locations with extreme environmental destruction.

Good News:

  • This only occurs in places where the rule of law is absent.
  • Slavery is illegal in every country and has been pushed to the edges of our global society.
  • 27 million people = smallest fraction of the global population to ever be in slavery.
  • The $40 billion that they generate into the global economy every year also equals the smallest proportion of the total global economy (smallest proportion also in historical terms).
  • We have the resource capability to completely eradicate slavery from human history within our lifetime.
    • Cost = $400/slave = total of $10.8 billion = what people in the US spend in 1 year on blue jeans or tech gadgets or what a City like Seattle will spend on its light rail system or Intel’s 4th quarter earnings
  • This money would not be spent to buy people out of slavery because this would reward the enslavers.  Money would be spent on the process and technical assistance providers who help slaves achieve liberation and rebuild their lives.  The process usually takes between 2 to 5 years.
  • ROI (Return on Investment)
    • Those who are liberated become empowered over their economic futures and local economies begin to flourish because they are now working for their own benefit.
    • Moral rectitude and peace of mind/human dignity.
    • (Not mentioned in the Talk but, arguably, if the worst environmental degradation is being accomplished through slave labor then by ending slavery we are also ending the environmental degradation).

Lots more interesting facts and issues raised in the video….

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There is a lot of talk about global warming, environmental sustainability, climate change, etc.  It can get confusing and hard to understand.  As always, a picture tells 1,000 words:

Ecological Debt http://maps.grida.no/go/graphic/a-planet-in-ecological-debt

Who gets the trash? http://maps.grida.no/go/graphic/who-gets-the-trash

50 million climate refugees by 2010 http://maps.grida.no/go/graphic/fifty-million-climate-refugees-by-2010

Graph of national savings adjusted for environmental depletion (selected countries) http://maps.grida.no/go/graphic/net-national-savings-in-2001-adjusted-for-investments-in-human-capital-natural-resource-depletion-an

Be sure to check out PDF posters in lower left corner

Hazardous waste 2001 http://www.worldmapper.org/display.php?selected=305

Greenhouse gases 2000 http://www.worldmapper.org/display.php?selected=299

Carbon Emissions Increases 1980 – 2000 http://www.worldmapper.org/display.php?selected=297

Biocapacity 2002 http://www.worldmapper.org/display.php?selected=321

Ecological Footprint 2002 http://www.worldmapper.org/display.php?selected=322

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