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The Debate: Are We Asking the Right Questions?

Posted on October 2nd, 2008 by Will Marre.
Categories: Leadership, Community, ADP Diary.

Our nation is at a key crossroads.  The decisions of the next four years will set a direction that will set the stage for our nation’s revitalization or continued decline.  Nearly everyone agrees it’s time for a fundamental change. But the change we need must be brilliant.  For that we need wise leaders.  Moral leaders. Visionary leaders.  Instead we have questions. This is no time to have these questions.  Our current financial mess is only one of many emergencies we must deal with in the next four years.  We simply need a change that will re-enthrone our common interests over special interests.

We need ideals and ideas that are true to the objectives of the 1st American Revolution. This was the dream to create a society that fostered the greatest opportunity for happiness for all of us.

The greatest thing we can do as citizens right now is to speak our voice frequently…. every day…. to as many as we can.  Get your friends involved.  Get your colleagues involved.  Get your family involved.  We need to be the catalysts for change in this 4th American Revolution!

As we lead up to our November 4th election I am publishing a daily column in the Politics section of our new and improved ThoughtRocket blog, based on my book The 4th American Revolution, that puts forth practical ideas about how we might invest in our new future.  You may not like all these ideas.  That’s okay.  I am trying to push beyond our current limitations.  I am trying to stimulate a citizen debate to embolden our future President to bring about something so much more than the current empty debate seems to be taking us.

On behalf of all of you who are frequent readers and contributors to the American Dream Project blog, we will send every Congressman, and Senator, as well as the candidates for President and VP the daily “Revolution” blog with YOUR comments as you make them until election day, November 4th.

To receive the “Daily Revolution” by email you may Click Here to subscribe.  We won’t blast you emails if you don’t request them.  But if you do, we ask that you comment freely and frequently.  You can also visit the Politics section of the new ThoughtRocket.com/blog site daily for each column.

Now is our time.  Now is the time to raise our voices!

2 comments.

Financial bailout? We Don’t Need the Crooks to Save Us

Posted on September 25th, 2008 by Will Marre.
Categories: Leadership, Community, ADP Diary.

The people that got us into this financial mess are telling us the only way to get out of it is to bail out the same crooks who caused it.  But is that really the only alternative?  Is that really the best we can do?

What if we let the institutions that took big risk just fail?  Poof.  Supposedly it would constipate the credit markets and none of us could get car loans or credit cards and the economy would stop…Hmmm.  I wonder.  I’ve been thinking of other ways to use $700 billion.

  1. What if we reward regional and community banks and credit unions who didn’t play in the high risk mortgage market with a large pool of low rate money they could loan to credit worthy businesses and customers?  And what if we published the list of those banks and credit unions so we would all know where to get the capital we need to make our economy grow and our lives work?  Maybe we really don’t need the big banks that seem to psychologically headquartered in Las Vegas.
  2. What if instead of expanding unemployment benefits we spend a few $100 billion on rebuilding our public infrastructure like repair bridges, roads, and water and sewage systems and put all those people who recently lost construction jobs back to work building our future?
  3. We must let the real estate market find its true floor.  Its values were outrageously inflated.  If we don’t allow for a true price correction in real estate values will remain flat for 10 years or more.  So what if we start a national Real Estate Trust that buys foreclosed homes at their real value instead of some pre-negotiated-good o’ boy-bail-out value allowing the banks that made the inflated loans to eat their losses or fail.  Then suppose we put the homes in a huge rent-to-own pool where people who can pay a market rent for 2 years or more earn the right to buy the home they’re renting.  The supply of homes for sale would reduce and prices would stabilize.  The trust would make money, Americans could live in the homes we built and people would take pride in the homes they are earning the right to buy.

The point is if we’re really interested in building our future based on principles that reward good judgment and maintain the honest value of free enterprise there are a lot of things we can do besides bail out the hand-wringing corrupt financiers of our Congress and administration.

New York Times columnist Gretchen Morgenson said taxpayers deserve better than what we are getting.  They need to earn back some trust and provide us with information about the financial bailout.

Gretchen Morgenson talks about the financial bailout stating, “Such is our lot today: They break it. We own it.Taxpayers deserve better than this, of course. But we have no lobbyists, so we get skinned. If federal regulators and political leaders want to earn back some trust, they could do two things. First, they could provide us with some transparency about whom precisely we are backing in the recent bailouts.”

With financial markets in flux and a massive government rescue package in the works, financial reporter and New York Times columnist Gretchen Morgenson looks into what’s involved in the nearly $700 billion deal. In an interview, she calls the financial bailout a conflict of interest.

What’s the best thing we can do?  Email your Congressmen and Senator today (Write Your Representative, Congress.org, or Contact Your Senator), forward this email if you want to. Tell your friends to as well.  Make some noise, America.  We went to war because we were lied to about the immediate danger of WMD’s.  Doesn’t it seem like we’re being whipped into the same kind of frenzy?  Let’s not fall for it!

To visit American Dream Project’s home page, click here.

19 comments.

It’s Time to Move Your Money

Posted on September 23rd, 2008 by Will Marre.
Categories: Leadership, Community, ADP Diary.

It’s time to take our money away from big faceless banks and put it where it belongs.  In our own communities.  I’m not paranoid or anti business.  To the contrary, I’m pro honest business.  But I’m also realistic.  For many years I worked with clients involved in mergers and acquisitions.  I’ve spent time in rooms with investment bankers, financial analysts and accountants who were busy changing financial assumptions, inflating valuations and reassessing risk to make a deal “work.”  These are smart guys (and gals) just making it up.  I was present when some of our biggest financial institutions were training their sales forces to sell sub prime debt while they explained it would slice and dice parts of risk-drenched loans into a variety of investment portfolios until the risk of any single loan disappeared.

Someone said mixing high-risk debt with low risk debt is like putting a little arsenic in a Jamba juice.  Blend it up and pretty soon the poison disappears.  Guess what?  It doesn’t. 

Although that may not make common sense, it made great sense to a commission driven sales force ready to descend on people who had never borrowed money.  No, not all these people are evil or even extraordinarily greedy.  What they are is extraordinarily tempted.  And one of our society’s primary restraints against great temptation is legal regulation.

But with great sadness I see once again our deeply compromised government saying one thing while intending its exact opposite.  Like the Clean Air Act, which allowed for greater air pollution, this newly proposed regulatory reform of our financial institutions is simply a word trick.  Double speak.  Hogwash.  Here’s a few tidbits:

First regulations don’t work if the regulators are corrupt. Wall Street firms have averaged paying fines of $1 million a day or $400 million a year for the past 6 years for violating current regulations.  This, you see, is just a cost of doing business.  It’s cheaper to break the law, pay the fine, and make a fortune.

Now Henry Paulson and the old Wall St. boys want to merge high-risk investment banks like Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs into a huge consumer bank like Bank of America and Wells Fargo.  It’s the arsenic in the blender again.  This works because tens of millions of us put our deposits into commercial banks that give the risky, greed soaked investment banks a platform for more casino games.  The reason it’s so tempting is that big bank deposits are insured by you and me, the taxpayer, through the FDIC.  Our insured deposits give them a new capital base.

Sure, they claim the Federal Reserve will keep a tight lid on over-the-line risk, but what regulators do you trust today?  So…now all of us, the taxpayers, are going to guarantee the continuing risks of investment banks.  And what do we get?  Zilch.

Not only that, all these new arrangements will do is strengthen the unrestrained power of big banks at the expense of local banks and credit unions.  The result could be higher consumer costs, less competition, and more shenanigans.

Our real problem began decades ago when our economy switched from a manufacturing, real value producing economy to a financial one.  Real wealth is the result of serious invention and innovation, science and engineering meeting genuine human needs.

We lost our mojo of invention and high quality production into converting all our assets (like our homes) into debt instruments to be leveraged and traded.  Today financial services are two times bigger than our entire manufacturing sector.  In the late ‘90’s we removed nearly all regulation of banks, insurance companies and real estate debt.  That’s why we have 27% interest rates on our credit cards and million dollar home loans to unemployed people.  But when finance exceeds its legitimate role to just moving numbers on a spreadsheet and inventing global casino games simply to place bets with borrowed money hoping to make a financial killing, the decline of our economy is inevitable.

So, what’s the greatest thing you can do?  First, deposit money in a credit union.  A credit union is the bank you can own.  Credit unions are owned by their own depositors. 

Credit unions operate on a human scale by people like you and me.  They began 150 years ago to help farmers be free from big city banks who didn’t understand real life.  They have all the same services of a huge consumer bank and they loan money at low rates to their own depositors.  They have an international ATM network and have more sophisticated on-line banking that lots of big banks saddled with legacy IT systems.  All their accounts are FDIC insured.  There is simply no reason why every American should not be a member of a local credit union.

Second, if you’ve ever considered writing or emailing your congressperson, now is the time.  We don’t want investment banks and consumer banks united.  It’s time to stop this nonsense, create a real economy and re-enthrone ethics.  And yes to create financial institutions we can trust.  We need fair, effective and enforced regulation.  All of us are better off when we have to answer for our choices.  It’s common sense for the common good.

To visit American Dream Project’s homepage, click here.

18 comments.

What’s the Greatest Thing You Could Ever Do?

Posted on September 17th, 2008 by Will Marre.
Categories: CSR, Leadership, Community, ADP Diary.

Printer-Friendly:  Greatest Thing You Can Do - Will Marre

“So what’s up with you?”  That’s the little vocal bullet Aaron shot at me over breakfast at the 101 Diner.  I was meeting with him and John about the message of my new corporate responsibility website.  Aaron is a marital arts expert with like a 150-degree black belt in some form of Asian violent-tranquility loosely translated as “Green Willow.”  Well Green Willow man started pelting me with jabs about the tone of my recent political blogs.  “Dude, your anger is showing.”  Aaron continued, “Are you sure this is what you want to be known for?  Being Mr. Angry Man?”

“Well,” I shot back, “I am not thinking of what my brand is. I am frustrated about what’s going on with our political debate, so I am just being authentic.”

Then John, the other Green Willow warrior and an expert in consumer opinion research said, “If you had a one sentence message, what would it be?”

Without hesitation I pulled out a stack of notes from a file I had.  I just finished reading a book called Inside Steve’s Mind about Steve Jobs’ amazing turnaround of Apple.  I turned to my last note that captured Jobs’ mantra.  It read, “Imagine the greatest thing you could ever do and do it!”  I said, “That’s it for me.  That’s what I want to encourage everyone to do.”

So John responded, “So make that your signature.  No matter how frustrated or inspired you might be at what’s happening, end your blog or speech or whatever with a suggestion from that greatest thing viewpoint.”  I’ve thought a lot about the advice from the Green Willow brothers in the past 24 hours, and I say I must agree.

A few days ago I was in Phoenix facilitating a strategy meeting for 75 leaders and board members of a non-profit called Fresh Start (wehelpwomen.com).  For nearly a decade they’ve been helping women who find themselves desperate, often battered, and stuck.  Through education, mentoring and some focused social service they literally help women who have the gumption to try to climb up to self-reliance and growth.  Now they are ready to take what they’ve learned to a new level by expanding in several directions.  The people in that room were fiercely dedicated, very bright ordinary citizens doing the best thing they can imagine doing.  And it’s working.  Big time.  That’s what’s best about America.  About all of us.

Well I am all jacked up about the goodness of my fellow citizens when I get clobbered with reality.

One of the ladies I met at lunch is a psychologist in her late 50’s, a grandmother who until a year ago made her living lecturing all over the country.  She told us her job had to change, however, because somehow her name got on the terrorist watch list.  It used to take her an additional four hours at the airport to be invasively screened.  Now she said the airlines tell her to not even bother trying to fly!   This woman is as close to being a terrorist as the Easter Bunny.  But one million Americans are on the list.  She told me she has tried every way possible to be thoroughly investigated so she could get off the list.  Being from Arizona, she tried Senator McCain, her congressman, and even directly appealed to President Bush.  Nothing.  There was no trial, no review, no recourse.  Her basic civil liberties to travel were ripped away from her and she has no recourse.  So here I am in this very inspiring setting with these very inspiring people and I am angry, again.  Damn.  So let me just say my peace and then mention something positive.

Your response to my recent posts have inspired me.  If most Americans are being as thoughtful as you are in choosing who to vote for we have a lot to be encouraged about.  Thank you for your comments and ideas and the reasonableness of your arguments.  It seems to me that whom we elect does matter.

It matters because of the things that happened to my new psychologist friend.  Our leaders do create an agenda of our society that either makes it more fair and opportunity driven or more unfair and fear driven.

At the same time what matters most is how we live our individual lives.  These volunteer leaders will continue to help elevate the lives of women no matter who’s elected.  Likewise, our lives matter when we make them matter.  So I agree with the Green Willow men.

No matter what, in all and every circumstance, imagine the greatest thing you could ever do and do it.  That’s how the world will change.

So that’s what I am going to try to do.  I’ll tell you more about it next week.  In the meantime, what do you think about all this?  Am I too angry?  Is doing our best thing all we can really do?  What are the best things you’re doing or want to do?

13 comments.

“RepubIcants” and “DemoCraps”

Posted on September 8th, 2008 by Will Marre.
Categories: Leadership, Community, ADP Diary.

First off I want to thank everyone who commented on my most recent post, “Who Will You Vote For?”  Your comments were extremely thoughtful.  I am amazed that so many of us seem to feel so similarly.  It would be very encouraging if we were all going to run things for a while.  But I must admit after sitting through two weeks of political conventions I am thrilled that football season is starting.  I need a diversion to regain my sanity.  As a perennial optimist I find myself struggling to keep emotionally afloat amidst the raging seas of political hijinx.  Here are some thoughts.

  1.  I really try to keep an open mind.  I come from a ranching, take-responsibility-for-yourself Republican family.  However, when I was 18 my very independent father vowed to take me to Canada rather than have me fight in a “politicians’ war waged for the military-industrial complex.”  Dad was more of an Eisenhower Republican.  George Bush would have caused my dad’s head to explode.
  2. Two years ago I talked to a former senior staffer for Joe Lieberman.  She resigned because she said that lobbyists run Washington.  Literally.  Lobbyists write a law then they find a congressman to “buy” to sponsor it.  They push their bills and agenda relentlessly.  Day after day.  Year after year.  They’ve taken over running the FDA, the EPA and every other regulating body of our government.  By the way, she resigned to teach yoga and open a day spa.  She said the corruption was so rampant and revolting it made her physically sick.
  3. The Democrats are just as corrupt as the Republicans.  They are just as delighted to accept lobbyist money.  In two years running the Congress they have done nothing to improve our national train wreck or even slow down the conductor.
  4. I don’t understand why the religious right thinks the Republican leaders care anything about their hot-bottom issues.  The Republicans controlled both houses, and Bush acted like an emperor making any law he wanted for his first six years.  They didn’t do anything at all to create prohibitions on abortions.  And their half-hearted attempts to limit partial-birth abortions were political stunts rather than sincere attempts to pursue their fiery pro-life rhetoric.  Books have now been written about how Karl Rove and his cronies look at Christian conservatives as mental hillbillies they can manipulate.  Isn’t it time to wake up?
  5. Democrats have no viable plan to end wasteful programs or pay for their ideas.  For instance, if we don’t stop the escalation of health care costs we can never individually or collectively pay for it all.  Hello.
  6. Republicans constantly talk about helping businesses by cutting regulations and lowering taxes.  But they equate businesses not with the 95% of businesses that employ less than 500 people but the tiny few that control Wall Street.  The financial establishment in New York racks up over $1 million a day in fines for breaking laws ($400 million per year), but it’s just the cost of doing business and big business complains the U.S. has the highest tax rates on business in the world.  But guess what?  Nearly no large business pays on the published rate because their lobbyists over years have come up with so many loopholes and accounting rules that on average 1/3 of the profitable companies of the Fortune 500 pay no taxes at all.  Nearly everyone pays a small fraction of their rate.  Yet small businesses that operate without lobbyists pay the full freight.  Neither Wall Street nor the Republican leadership is a friend of real American Business; they just manipulate the hell out of us.
  7. I just do not understand how John McCain can act like he and his lobbyist advisors and his establishment friends are going to change anything except for the worst.  Our country is broken and the same guys want to loot it.
  8. I enjoy Obama’s passion and inspiration, but seriously, where is a record of accomplishment that coincides with his years in state and national office?  He seems extraordinarily competent at raising money and getting elected, but aren’t his seemingly meager actual achievements a little thin?
  9. No one, and I mean no one, can make the case that Sarah Palin is the most qualified Republican to stand behind a 72 year-old McCain.  Nominating her was a political stunt to turn this campaign into a personality and beauty contest.  It is an insult to all of us that McCain would gamble our country’s future to try to get elected.  If Palin turns out to be any kind of heavyweight leader it was sheer luck.  We deserve more than luck.  (And yes, the difference of Obama’s candidacy is that he’s campaigned for 2 years and 18 million Democrats chose him.  One man chose Palin.)

So, after the last two weeks I am still unresolved on whom to vote for.  The blatant and excessive corruption of the past 8 years and watching 15,000 Rush Limbaugh clones lust after Sarah Palin makes supporting the McCain ticket unthinkable.  But what evidence is there that Obama is what he claims to be?  I don’t know…maybe my Washington friend was right.  I should try yoga.

Your thoughts?

35 comments.

Who Will You Vote For?

Posted on August 28th, 2008 by Will Marre.
Categories: America's New Agenda, Leadership, Community, ADP Diary.
 ”If you think I am off base, tell me why Obama ideas are not just old liberal solutions or why McCain isn’t McBush.  I am more than willing to listen.”

Barack ObamaJohn McACainWe are so conditioned by the public media to put everyone in a neat little box so we can dismiss them as another one of “those” people.  After my last blog about Exxon I received some emails accusing me of being some closet left-winger communist.  Sorry.  It’s just not true.  I am a true blue American looking for leaders who have truly new ideas to lead us to be more than what we have become.

America’s promise has always been that we can determine the quality of our own life. Where we start in life does not determine where we finish.

We strive to be a society that promotes the key conditions to help us optimize our quality of life no matter what our circumstances.  Doing that isn’t easy.  It requires constantly balancing four distinct priorities: freedom and responsibility, opportunity and equality.  If any one of these values are lost or even de-emphasized, our system is thrown out of balance.  People lose confidence and our national mood sours.  Today, lots of us are in a sour mood.

Maybe we’re nauseated because we’ve lost our balance.  When leaders govern from the center, they do it from a balance point that gives all of us the best chance for life, liberty and happiness.  That’s why, most of the time, leaders who advocate policies that respect all four values simultaneously make the most sense to the most of us.

But recently we have been out of whack.  Way out.  Politicians say the right things, but they don’t do them.  More and more, it’s the people on the fringe who determine the debate and push the agenda because they either deliver the cash or the votes.

These days, the loudest voices shout from the lower Right or the lower Left.  On the lower Right, the Right wing of the Republican Party, all we hear are the values of opportunity and freedom.  Our ideals are reduced to the single notion that everyone should press their self-interest and leverage their advantages to the max.  That’s America!

Their mantra insists only on low taxes and few regulations.  Their ideal nation would have no capital gains taxes, would have open borders and would keep us neck-deep in maids, nannies and day laborers.  Their prophetess is economic philosopher, Ayn Rand, who actually wrote a book entitled, The Virtue of Selfishness.  Their high priest is Milton Friedman, who claimed, “The social responsibility of business is to make a profit. (Collins, David.  (2004).  Tylenol Revisited: Friedman and the current CSR debate.  In David Collins (Ed.), Corporate integrity and accountability (p.20).  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.) In their perfect world, economic and social Darwinism creates the best society.  The strong, the smart, and the clever win.  The lazy and stupid suffer through their own lack of effort.  That’s the natural laws of cosmically ordained economics working.  The market rules.  The market is perfect.  If you aren’t rich, well educated, healthy and well-connected, you are to blame.  Period.  If you want it to be different—get off your butt.

Lower Right thinking is how the wealthy justify their neglect of everyone else.

The lower Right also manipulates the millions of Americans with traditional religious values even as they privately ridicule them as intellectual hillbillies.  These corrupt politicians, many with sordid personal lives and vulgar private opinions, tout their “religiously correct” views to radicalize their followers and pick their pockets with no intention of changing anything.

On the lower Left, we hear the weak voices of recycled liberalism.  This whiny crowd focuses on protecting the weak instead of educating, empowering, and holding them responsible.  It promotes freedom as the excuse to choose continuing irresponsibility as a viable way of life.  Higher taxes, cumbersome regulations and more bureaucracy always seem to result from the ideas of the lower Left.

Lower Left thinking leads to everyone waiting in line, sharing equally in scarcity.

Today, the real American Dream has been hijacked.  Not by terrorists, but by superficial ideals, the small ideas of powerful people, and the incompetence of our institutions. In the past we’ve tried to promote the American Dream by raising taxes and writing checks.  But the “Great Society” wasn’t so great.  More recently we decided to unleash business and challenge people to be on their own.  As a result we’ve bankrupted the country, worn out our military, and strangled our middle class.  Meanwhile, the Democrats have had a majority in congress for two years, and yet all they do is complain and wag their fingers.  So the Democrats seem like sissies and the Republicans act like bullies.

The result is what we have.  It’s not working.  At least not for enough of us.  Our problems aren’t caused by either lack of public welfare or a lack of personal responsibility. We don’t seem to have leaders who have any truly new ideas.  The democrats want to make us cry and republicans want us to be afraid.  We need to stand for something more.

By now I am sure I have offended everyone, but that’s how I see things.

If you think I am off base, tell me why Obama ideas are not just old liberal solutions or why McCain isn’t McBush.  I am more than willing to listen.

26 comments.

Exxon - Exxoff

Posted on August 21st, 2008 by Will Marre.
Categories: CSR, Leadership, Education, Community.

I guess I am a little ticked off tonight. Here I am watching the Olympics and I am bombarded with Exxon ads featuring high-minded employees touting Exxon’s $750,000 contribution to fight malaria with mosquito nets.

Then I go to my computer and I get a feed on a Corporate Social Responsibility website called Responsible China (!) praising Exxon humanitarian work. Okay. I know Exxon actually does contribute to humanitarian causes in all kinds of oil-rich off-the-beaten-path countries. It is good and at the same time it is pathetic. Honestly, Exxon spends millions more on advertising costs telling us how good they are rather than on being good! More importantly, Corporate Responsibility and clear-eyed ethics do not pursue a core business that is wildly destructive to the environment, is a primary engine of climate change, and exploits consumers in an economy-wrecking policy of manipulated oil markets all the while refusing to adequately compensate for or even clean up their infamous Alaska oil spill. Now they expect us to feel warm and fuzzy because they throw pennies to poor people. Exxon made $40.6 billion in profit in 2007. They are the world’s most profitable company.

If ExxonMobil really understood Corporate Social Responsibility, they would be the biggest investor in clean renewable energy. Instead their CEO disputes the scientific basis of climate change and publicly reminds us that they are an “oil company, not an energy company.” So their investments are going into lobbying for more oil leases to drill for American oil they can sell to the highest Asian bidder. And to find better ways to extract oil that, after all, nature created.

How does that sound to you? To me it sounds like a very weak justification to pursue toxic self-interest. It has a name. It’s called “negative innovation,” which are improvements in products that destroy the planet, exploit people and eat our future. Let’s see…is there a connection? Global warming, world wide inflation, growing extreme wealth of middle eastern tyrants and Russia and the oil industry. And I’m supposed to feel good about Exxon’s Corporate Responsibility? Isn’t it ironic that rising temperatures are actually causing a rise of mosquito-born tropical diseases even as Exxon buys mosquito nets? (It’s like tobacco companies selling breath inhalers.)

This is all a tragedy. A failure of ethical vision. What’s crazy is that there is big money to be made by creating clean renewable energy (Just ask T. Boone Pickens, PickensPlan.com). And for Exxon to only dabble in it while they increase shareholder dividends is strategically stupid. If Exxon wanted me to feel better about taking a day’s work worth of income from my daughter every time she fills her tank, it would come from knowing they are using her money to create a healthy, sustainable, non fossil-fuel energy future. But they don’t care. Not really.

So here’s what I tell business leaders. Any time we justify the suffering of others as necessary or inevitable, we become the cause of that suffering.

Our worldwide oil economy will likely cause immense suffering in forms of wars, poverty, pollution, climate caused natural disaster, and other unanticipated tragedies. For those who are presently prospering from oil not to take the lead in solving the catastrophic problems caused by it is…well you know what it is.

So, Exxon don’t try to make it something different through public relations. Indeed, it is what it is.

Day-pay in a tank.

14 comments.

Our McFuture

Posted on August 13th, 2008 by Will Marre.
Categories: Leadership, ADP Diary.

The China Olympics are thrilling to watch.  Our whole family gathers nightly around the sacred tube and cheer our brains out.  It’s a lot of fun.  Viewing China in all its new material glory is also interesting even as Russia invades independent democracies in an apparent attempt to bring back Soviet Union 2.0.  What makes this more remarkable to me is how quickly we as a nation have squandered our power and influence, so today we can do little more than contrast our declining real estate values, growing underemployment and exhausted military with the newly muscular Russia and the wildly successful Chinese.  What irritates me is not so much the rise of others as the ridiculously bad leadership we’ve had for decades that have pushed policies that have led us to a time where for the first time in our history, most Americans don’t believe their children will have as high quality of life as they do.  Yuk.

Our decline simply is due to many insanely bad choices, some of which are intentional.  Our trade policies with China allowed them to keep their currency low making their labor and their imports unrealistically cheaper than anyone can compete with.  We also allowed them to pirate, rip-off, and steal decades of technology and research we paid for to automate their factories for free.  Meanwhile we refused to seriously reeducate our manufacturing workforce in the engineering and technical skills they needed to operate 21st century factories.  We could have chosen a different path.  Germany has lost only 2% of its manufacturing jobs in the past 20 years.  They are the largest exporter of advanced technology products in the world.  And they have the world’s best paid manufacturing workforce.  It’s pretty simple.  Businesses can afford to pay employees well if those employees are producing high economic value.  This takes education and a culture committed to excellence.  A few American companies still have that.  When labor is educated and united with high technology it becomes extremely productive.  Nucor Steel comes to mind.

Perhaps our core problem is that our leaders value money more than people.  Ever since the 1960’s when inflation was blamed on high, unproductive labor costs the drive to find the cheapest labor in the world has been relentless.  In fact, real labor rates in the U.S. have not increased in the U.S. since 1979.  Yet nearly all inflation since 1980 has been due to financial manipulations flooding our economy with cheap credit that makes prices rise or our “benefit the big boys” energy policy.

My point is that China’s rocket-like growth and our continuing stagnation was not inevitable.  It was all a choice based on a worldview that there is money to be made from strip mining the core strength of our nation’s future by creating a consumer economy instead of a productive one.

So what now?  First, we have to quit looking at labor as the source of cost and view it as a source of value creation.  Second, we have to create a much more efficient educational infrastructure of life-long learning emphasizing the skills of science, technology, engineering and math.  This doesn’t require full college degrees; it requires hand-on applied skills of these four emerging sources of value creation.  Third, we must stop countries from stealing our secrets.  Fourth, we need leaders who have a vision of re-enthroning a productive economy based on invention, innovation and excellence rather than a future economy based on Wal-Mart and McDonald’s employees selling junk to each other.  None of this will happen on its own.  It’s all a choice.  It’s all a choice we should demand.

To visit American Dream Project’s homepage, click here.

10 comments.

Responsibility For All

Posted on July 31st, 2008 by Will Marre.
Categories: Leadership, Community, ADP Diary.

Thank you all for your outpouring of support as well as kind and thoughtful comments about my daughter’s horrible experience with a sexual assault.  When reading your comments or receiving emails about the issues of the day I am constantly encouraged by your deep, reflective thinking focused only on making our world a better place.  The overwhelming message is that we are not alone.  There are millions of us that are asking the question, “Is this the best we can do?  Is this the best society we can create?”  The first step in moving forward always begins with questioning where we are.

Well my daughter went to court a few days ago to testify at a pretrial hearing against her attacker.  She told me it was the second worst experience of her life.  She had to relive and recount every detail of the assault.  She had to look square in the eye at Mr. Pin-Cushion face who tried to force himself on her.  She had to endure the hissing and insults from his troubled girlfriend who held his baby.  Another young woman also testified that this same disturbed man had lewdly chased her in the same parking lot.  Now it goes to a plea bargain conference. (He has a prior conviction.)  One strong impression my daughter had of the courtroom that day was the smothering presence of dark energy.  I know first hand what she means.

Two and a half decades ago I spent two years of Sundays and Thursday nights visiting and teaching inmates at a maximum security prison.  I was a volunteer for my church who was trying to bring hope to the hopeless.  The first inmate I personally met was Tex Watson, the main killer in Charles Manson’s band of murderers.  It was literally chilling.  Every time I went inside the prison and had those iron bars close behind me I felt a cold dark energy.  Inside several of the people I counseled were sex offenders.  Child molesters.  They were always the best educated, most articulate and most pleasant inmates.  Many had been sentenced to long stretches because they were repeat offenders.  I also taught and counseled drug dealers, a mass murderer and scores of chronic criminals.  When some of the more mild criminals were released it always hit me in two ways.  I was glad to see hope in a man’s eyes, but my practical sense told me how unprepared they were to succeed at every day life in a free society.  I nearly always assumed they would be back.

Today America has more people imprisoned than any country in history.  We have 2.5 million in iron bar hotels, more than all of Europe combined.  Most of these criminals are under-educated with few resources and a poor social support system.  We have another nearly 20 million people reporting to probation officers.  All of this is an expensive waste.  A waste of money and a waste of humanity.  Nearly every person I worked with in prison never learned self-control.  Never learned how to set goals and achieve them.  Never learned personal responsibility.  Some were truly nuts.  All were without self-respect.  Most without real hope.  Nearly everyone I met in prison needed to be locked up because they simply never learned how to function as a responsible human being.  But is this the best we can do?  As our population grows, our families disintegrate, our schools fail.  Is our answer only to build more warehouses for humans?

Maybe the biggest problem we have with prisons is how we currently view them.  Little productivity happens there.  They’re very expensive human storage units with Lord of the Flies cultures.  We actually have examples of different approaches.  We already know that there are subgroups of prisoners who will respond to training, mentoring, education and responsibility.  We know that hard-core felons that are released on probation to places like Delancey House in San Francisco can learn economically valued skills, stay off drugs and build productive lives.  Delancey runs a tight ship.  There are serious consequences for the slightest slip-up.  Everyone is expected to help everyone else in line.  It’s a culture of mutual responsibility.  In other prisons small groups are graduating from high school and even college.  Standards are high.  Bad behaviors get you expelled back to the weight room.  But some respond.  Of course there are many in prison who refuse to face responsibility.  They are committed to being bullies or victims; nevertheless, they should be expected to do productive work.  And for those that earn it, it should be work that contributes to a better world.  Without opportunity to learn, grow, and work, life is hopeless.  Without dignity.  And having millions of people living without learning self-discipline is costing us far more than requiring them to be productive.

Of course there will always be criminals who refuse responsibility.  There are many who cannot live in a free society. But those in prison should be expected to be more than they have become.  As long as we aspire to be a noble society, shouldn’t we explore ways to give the willing a way to contribute no matter where they are?  To require people to be responsible is to give them the gift of personal dignity.

To visit American Dream Project’s homepage, click here.

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Why Do We Suffer? Part 2

Posted on July 25th, 2008 by Will Marre.
Categories: Lifeology, Community, Relationships, Lifestyle, ADP Diary.

Yesterday I left off with

This leads me to a bunch of interesting questions.

There are two major causes of suffering: avoidable and unavoidable. Avoidable suffering is human caused. Murder, theft, torture, selfishness, all the deep human flaws. If we asked God how come we have so much human cruelty he might answer, “Look in the mirror. It’s all on you. I gave you a mind and will to choose your response to any situation, and just look at you. After all, I taught you. The best you can do is assault a young woman. It breaks my heart.” There is no excuse for human-caused suffering. We choose to do it to each other. To willfully cause another to suffer is a monstrous human choice. We’re not God’s puppets. We own the society we’ve created.

Unavoidable suffering occurs as the result of the natural world and our own biology. There are earthquakes, floods and fires, and cancer and fatal accidents. Stuff happens. But what if life doesn’t matter in the way we think it does? What if the length of our life doesn’t matter at all, and what if unavoidable suffering happens to some to give the rest of us a chance to be compassionate? Compassionate service, especially to strangers, is one of the most noble of human acts. So the world and our bodies are frail so we can become agents of kindness and mercy to each other. Ridiculous? I wonder.

Of course I don’t know why the world is a dangerous and sometimes evil and unjust place. I do know that if we all got what we deserved, we would be “trained” like Sea World dolphins to be good because there’s a reward for it. If we got everything we prayed for, we all would be praying. If the only reason we chose to act nobly were a practical payoff, we’d have no authentic nobility. And yet, maybe that’s the real purpose of life. To act from our highest self when there is no payoff because it is pure oxygen for our deepest, enduring identity: to love and learn, give and grow—surely those are what give our life meaning.

Everyone must come to his or her own conclusion about life’s hard questions. For me there are things that over the years have become self-evident. First, life has genuine meaning. (To conclude that life is meaningless because we can’t figure it out may be the ultimate act of egotism.) Second, that love is real. (It is more than emotion or brain chemicals or DNA.) Third, our greatest growth as human beings comes through our chosen reactions to our own suffering and the suffering of others. Fourth, what’s really important is not what we think it is. (It’s not power, recognition, stuff, or the length of our lives.) Fifth, our human form is temporary. Our consciousness is not. (So be careful to choose your thoughts, feelings, and motives.) Sixth, perhaps our biggest fear is not that life doesn’t matter, but rather, that it does and that we are responsible.

I don’t expect you to agree with everything I have come to believe. I just appreciate you taking the time to listen.

Will Marre
American Dream Project

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