Wednesday, January 29, 2014

It's About Leadership

I was watching the news last Monday, and perhaps I was just a little groggy from a medical procedure, so I didn’t switch the channel right away as I was enlightened by the in-depth analysis of the MSNBC talking heads who said President Obama has used executive orders (EO) far less than previous Presidents.  I assume this was in anticipation to the State of Union Address where he and his staff had let it be known that he will act unilaterally if the Congress fails to bend to his will.  It got me to wondering was that true?  It turns out it is, kind of.
While the press is making a big deal out of the EO thing, it should be understood that they are generally focused on the running of the administration, guidance on how policy is to be formulated and execution of treaty obligations.  The EO, as a tool of the President, really came into its own with the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  In his 12 years as President FDR issued over 3,500 orders ranging everywhere from the appointment of Indian agents (EO 6360) to the creation of the Electric Home and Farm Authority (EO 6514), a subset of the Tennessee Valley Authority.  I assume he did so because it was so much easier than working with a contrarian Congress, or because the issue was so mundane as to not need Congressional consent.
So back to our current and recent Presidents, compared to both previous Democrat and Republican Presidents, going back to George Bush, President Obama has issued only 147 EO in his first term, compared to 200 for President Clinton and around 170 each for both the Bush’s. So far in his second term he has issued 21, but what does that really mean?  I doubt it means a darn thing. 
The influence and impact of EO’s can be huge, but on the average -- issues are trivial, or agenda influenced, and their true economic impacts will ultimately be small since they don’t carry the weight of law to enforce them, except within the Executive Branch.  For example, President Obama’s EO 13652, establishes a Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience that will supposedly "coordinate government policy across all the local, state, and federal agencies to identify and remove barriers that discourage investments or other actions…reform policies that may, perhaps unintentionally, increase vulnerability…identify areas to support and encourage smarter, more climate-resilient investments by States, local communities…(and) report their progress."  Does anyone really believe we will see a real change in the nation's approach to energy and the environment from this new body?

So what does the threat of creating Executive Orders really accomplish?  It does little more than continue the confrontational, “it must be my way” approach to leading this nation we have seen in the first six years of the Presidency.  I believe at the end of the day they will have a negligible impact on the nation’s long-term economic prosperity and security, or even successfully address the issues the President wants to address.  They will be metered out to support the political agenda without debate and compromise, and they will last only so long as the next President wishes them to.  Most will remain symbolic, and although there is a rare chance something brilliant could be accomplished, I am not optimistic; for if that were a potential surely we would have seen this leadership team roll that brilliant idea out by now.  What we can be sure of is they will add bureaucracy to an already bureaucratic executive, reduce transparency on an already opaque administration, and increase the cost of government without accountability.

Saturday, January 25, 2014


In the mundane I think there are times in the day when we must escape the present to maintain our equilibrium.  I suspect, without any proof whatsoever, that most of us have the ability to close our eyes, and use our imagination to transport us to a more serene place.  I would also think, again without proof, that those who are incapable of doing this find the world a very stressful and unrelenting place.
This epiphany came to me just the other day as I lost an hour and a half of my life listing to a company explain how good they were at what they did.  One of their claims was they were able to pick out small details and correlate them to the surrounding environment to determine a potential catastrophic event.  These words all sounded good, but then I looked at their first slide, the one that described the company.  It showed what degrees the employees had, what security clearances where held, and how many total employees were in the company.  It said the company was made up of 200 employees, but they have 208 individuals with various degrees and an impressive 238 hold various clearances.  I’m sorry, but if you can’t get your company slide right then how good are you at picking out small details?  Really!

There are other times when we have made yet another 120 degree turn in some different direction that I have to take a deep breath and just close my eyes for a moment and see a cloud street rising to the heavens as I roll and bank through those halls of space.  Thank you John Gillespie Magee Jr.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

I Wonder What He'd Think?

As we remember Dr. King this Monday, I wonder what he would think of us as a Nation, as we approach the 46th anniversary of his assassination in Memphis?  He struggled against the real apartheid that existed in America, and labored to achieve equality of treatment for people of color.  These conditions were obvious in the South, but existed with subtlety throughout the nation.
There are a few words from his speech, given on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, in 1963 that will be celebrated and remembered by all.  We will all remember the phrase “I have a dream…” where he shares his vision for a South where intolerance and injustice are long forgotten memories, and where our nation will truly live up to its creed that “all men are created equal.”
But his 1963 speech was much deeper than just the inspiration from those words.  As a minister he spoke to his audience, composed mostly of the blacks that had come to voice their dissent with the status quo, to fight for change and the rights of full citizenship.  I would like to take other, lessor remembered, paragraphs from this speech and ask you to think about them for a brief time.
But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
We cannot walk alone.”
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.
We cannot turn back.
There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: “For Whites Only.” We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”
In these past 46 years the nation has continued to transform, sometimes for the better and other times not.  The 1960’s were a decade of change and transformation with the rise of the civil rights movement to national prominence, and the beginnings of an anti-war movement that would ultimately lead to the messy end of US involvement in the Vietnam conflict.  It was a time where my generation was coming of age, and the veterans of WWII were becoming the leaders of industry and the nation.
So here we are in 2014, as a new generation comes of age, and my generation is now being replaced as the leaders of industry and the nation.  Have we, his audience on that hot August day, helped him achieve his dream or have we like our fathers continued on the path of a nation divided?  It is easy to blame others; we do it all the time.  That worthless so-and-so in Congress, those darn Democrats, that arrogant President, the pig-headed Republicans, illegal aliens, welfare, the 1%, etc., the list is endless.  We have so many others we can blame we stop looking in the mirror at our choices and ourselves. 

We are America, a nation of individuals each with his or her own mind.  Society reflects who we are, and what we tolerate or do not tolerate.  Some would have us believe the problems we see come from big business, big government, the media, the rich, the poor, the religious right, the liberal left, the uneducated, the over-educated, the elite, the masses, or some other outside influence.   It seems to me, if we each have our own mind then it is up to us as individuals to decide the America we want. Do we continue to accept those who take polarizing positions to tear apart this nation or do we as individuals make a personal choice to stop the polarization?  Do we continue to encourage violence or do we advocate for humanity?  To we accuse those with whom we disagree to be racists or some other term, or do we consider their rights and opinions to be as important as our own?  Finally, do we make a simple choice as Dr. King asked of his audience to help make America free or do we continue to blame others?

Friday, January 17, 2014


I like mornings.  Perhaps it is because I’ve become a creature of habit, or my energy level is higher.  Maybe it is the solitude, or the quite time for reflection.  I don’t know, but on most days I like to get out of bed, go through my morning routine, and prepare for the day. 
Take today for example, I’ve started early enough to sit and spend a few minutes considering my blessings, gazing at the night sky before the sun begins to paint it into day, and sip a cup of coffee.  The world is quite and I can close my eyes and see the faces of friends and family both near and far, recent and past.

I like mornings.

Monday, January 13, 2014

What is Freedom?

In 1776 English citizens in the colonies united in revolt of the government of King George and the burdens placed on them.  This was not a universally popular choice, and many in the colonies would have preferred the status quo.  But after five and a half years of defeat after defeat, the Continental Army secured the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia.  On April 19, 1782, the Continental Congress ratified the preliminary peace treaty and the thirteen colonies were free to chart their own destiny.

Even in those times there was some of the mind that we should be only loosely confederated with each other and each state should operate with almost complete autonomy, while others advocated for the establishment of a new monarchy.  The society was predominately rural, and I suspect the average farmer wanted little or nothing from the government, other than to be left alone to pursue their future.  There were others who actively resisted the formation of a government and moved to the new frontiers where government did not exist.

Yet there were those who saw the need for a government to further the common good.  They proposed a government that could be controlled by the citizens and not, as it was with King George and Parliament, one that would force them into obedience.  So it came to pass that in 1788 with its ratification by New Hampshire, the U.S. Constitution was adopted.  I believe there was one thing that was understood, even at that time.  Government, and the societal relationships that come from it, must in the natural course restrict the freedom of its citizens to some degree.  Its population must conform to a set of expectations, or face the likelihood anarchy.  For most this was a small price to pay for the benefits that are reaped, therefore they were willing to sacrifice this small degree of individuality.  While true for most, it was not then, nor is it now a universal acceptance.  There are those who believe no government has the right to limit their action.

So we come back to the question, what is freedom?

This would seem to be a simple question, yet at the same time an impossible one, for it does not appear to be definable in a sense that is universally agreeable.  There is a set of common definitions that work for most cases.  “The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint” or “the absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government” or “the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved.”  The list goes on, but I think the important takeaway is freedom is defined more by restrictions to it than by what it is.

Karle Marx and Frederick Engels said “only in the community, therefore, is personal freedom possible.  In the previous substitutes for the community, in the State, etc. personal freedom has existed only for the individuals who developed within the relationships of the ruling class, and only insofar as they were individuals of this class.”  This argues for the universal equality, but interestingly when placed into practice the Soviet Union never achieved the equality Marx and Engels envisioned, and I think it speaks to their (Engle and Marx) lack of understanding of freedom and human nature.

In Ms. Clinton’s 1996 book, It Takes a Village, she focused on how children are influenced by individuals and groups outside the traditional family model.  As shown in the previous paragraph this is classic Marxist theory about the impacts of outside forces and how only through the collective could a child’s needs be met, and I assume through the fulfillment of those needs freedom would be achieved.  I think, just as with Marx and Engel, her vision is shaped by the belief a centralized collective or community is the only way to govern.

So here we are today, the role of Government continues to expand.  It really doesn’t matter if the Democrats are in charge, or the Republicans are running the show.  Since the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the strength and reach of the Federal government has grown by leaps and bounds.  

Even those Conservatives held in high-esteem, like Ronald Reagan, allowed the government to grow and extend its reach into the lives of its citizenry.  We see in our society increasing centralization, political limits placed on speech and action, increasing ad hominem attacks on those with opposing views, or ad hominem appeals to do the "right thing", mandates for population action/control, and a growing sense of reliance on a strong centralized government to solve not only the security and infrastructure issues, but societal shortcomings as well. 

Starting with our founding fathers, every generation establishes their own understanding of freedom.  As the government grows and becomes more pervasive the younger generation is taught that what they have is freedom, most accept that and when a new infringement occurs it seems a minor loss, a simple sacrifice for the greater good, a needed change to improve safety.  In this sense the concepts of individual freedom ebb away, much as daylight fades during a gray and overcast winter afternoon. 

At what point does the question change from what is freedom, to what was freedom?
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