Monday, July 25, 2011

Wanted: Integrity!

When was the last time you said, “She has integrity” or “He is a man of integrity,” and meant it?

Are you a person of integrity?  Does it matter to you whether or not you are?

Here’s a casual definition of the word: integrity = honesty, moral rectitude and/or soundness.

When applied to a person it refers to a person’s soundness of character.  If a person has integrity, he is a ‘man of his word,’ for example, or she is ‘sound and trustworthy.’  A person of integrity is true, transparent and dependable in his/her relationships with others, for example, neither a backbiter, nor a betrayer, nor a liar or a cheater.

A person of integrity is sound not only with respect to his/her relationship with others, but is sound with respect to his/her beliefs and convictions and seeks to live in a manner that is consistent with his/her principles and values.

In short, a person of integrity is…

  • Is true to his word (say what you mean, mean what you say).
  • Is reliable, consistent, dependable, and trustworthy.
  • Is moderate, reasonable, balanced; is teachable and correctable.
  • Is neither stubborn nor close-minded, neither proud nor arrogant, neither recalcitrant nor intractable; is humble.
  • Is non-secretive or deceptive but open, transparent, and rightly accountable.
  • Is respectful and considerate of others beyond his/her own circle of friends and connections.
  • Is fair and just toward all, especially the powerless, disenfranchised, oppressed, and abused.
  • Is as concerned for right processes as for right ends (the ends do not justify the means).
  • Is purposeful, doing what is good, right, and beneficial, adding value and building community rather than undermining and destroying it.

Integrity matters.  If a thing is sound and whole, is dependable, and true to its purpose, it has integrity.  It works as it is meant to work and does what it’s meant to do.  It is good.

If a nation is to be sound and strong it too must have integrity.  But a nation’s integrity is no better than its people.  It matters whether or not you and I are persons of integrity—at home, in school, at work, or in our judicial and political chambers.  How we conduct personal and public business, how we make decisions—as to motive, purpose, and desired outcomes, matters.  We should always ask ourselves, “Does this have integrity?”

How much integrity do we have in the present politics of our economic decision making process that’s going on right now?  What are the true motives behind the stalemate?  Are our politicians really concerned for what’s best for this nation or are the desired outcomes purely political?  Are the ends justifying the means?

In politics, integrity does not necessarily mean that one does not make compromises or refuses to negotiate and accommodate.  It does mean that one does not sacrifice the public good for personal and political gain.  In this present economic climate, it seems that the best thing for both political parties to do is to make an agreement that is fair, just, and balanced for the nation as a whole, and to stop catering to the hard right or far left and to stop pandering to any other special interest group.  But no, it seems that both parties are rather more worried about election 2012 than they are about the economic strength of this nation—and that myopic concern lacks political integrity.

Monday, July 18, 2011

What to do with 1 Billion Dollars that no one wants?

Did you know that the government has over 1 billion dollars that no one wants?  It’s true!

Okay, I heard about it on National Public Radio, NPR (June 28, 2011).  Our government apparently has been minting one dollar coins in honor of our presidents since 2007.  It’s supposed to be cheaper for the government since coins last longer than paper bills (30 years for coins compared to less than 4 years for paper).

But here’s the thing.  We Americans apparently don’t want dollar coins.  We don’t like them and won’t use them.  We prefer paper.  Three times, not once, not twice, but three times our government has tried to mint a dollar coin version of our greenbacks so as to reduce costs.  And still we refuse them.

But guess what?  Because of a 2005 law, the government cannot simply stop minting these coins.  They continue to be minted—until, I believe, all the presidents have been duly honored with their own coin, which will be completed somewhere around 2016.  So now we have over a billion dollars in dollar-coins wasting away in a government vault at a Federal Reserve Bank.  A billion dollars’ worth of coins that no one wants!  And, by the time all the presidents have been served with this honor, we may end up with 2 billion worth of these gold coins (yes, these coins are gold in color) wasting away in our vaults. 

So, assuming that it IS better to circulate these dollar gold coins and that it is not a government scheme to make more money at the taxpayer’s expense while avoiding accountability, here is my humble suggestion for a solution to this billion dollar waste of solid money:

First, Congress needs to do the simple and practical thing and modify the 2005 law or pass a new law that stops the ongoing required making of these unwanted coins.  That’s simple enough, isn’t it?

Second, how about using these coins as a means of paying off some foreign debt that we may have?  Ship them off as payment.  Hey, we’re talking about a billion dollars here, sitting around doing nothing.  They’re still good currency, are they not?  A dollar is a dollar, is it not?  Use them.

Third, we, the American taxpayer, need to put our money where our mouth is and use what we’ve got.  We claim that we want a leaner cheaper more economical government.  Well, if it’s cheaper to use dollar-coins than paper dollar-bills, let’s use them ourselves!  Go to your local bank and ask for dollar coins.  That’s a simple solution too, isn’t it?

Fourth, focus on the next generation and give them to our kids.  Make it cool for our kids to use them.  If kids grow up enjoying the handling, trading, changing and exchanging and swapping of dollar coins, they will grow into adults who will do the same.  Perhaps the government should hire the Disney Company to launch a super-ad campaign geared to children, selling the idea that’s it cool to save, spend, and circulate dollar coins.  That shouldn’t be too difficult to accomplish either, should it?

My point is that our government (Congress!) sometimes passes these ridiculous laws that end up wasting taxpayer’s money.  And, when congress realizes that it’s made an error (if it ever does admit it), it so often does little to modify or correct the mistake after the fact.  As if to say, “It’s too complicated; we have no idea even where to begin to resolve this problem that we’ve created.”   And so, bad, wasteful, and uneconomical laws stay on the books, continuing to waste taxpayer money.  In reality, it’s usually about politics, the one side trying to make the other side either fail and/or look bad.  But what do we Americans want?  Solutions!  That’s all we want, honest-to-goodness solutions.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Why are we playing Chicken with our national debt ceiling?

Our politicians are playing chicken with regard to our national debt limit.  It’s not their fault.  It’s us.  We voters are the problem.  We put these guys in office—far right and far left!

What we need to do is to vote in Good Sense, non-extreme people who will come at this with a good sense approach.  Why are we not doing this?

First let’s ask, “What does a good sense approach look like?”

A good sense approach is balanced, appropriately increasing taxes AND cutting expenditures in the best measured way possible.

A good sense approach will not relieve the wealthy of tax burdens at the expense of the middle class and the poor or needy, but appropriately spreads the burden responsibly, commensurable with income, status, and ability.

A good sense approach is therefore fair and just and hurts as few people as possible, especially the weak and vulnerable, appropriately taking into account citizens with special needs.  That is, a good sense approach considers the economic health and welfare of all its citizens and provides for special needs within reasonable and considerate limits.

A good sense approach makes practical realistic decisions based on solid financial facts and figures and refuses to be chained to political idealism and party extremism or misled by ideological sound-bites.  A good sense approach therefore avoids extreme left and right politics and is anchored by truth, logic, reason, and, well, Good Sense, producing reasonable, balanced, practical, and effective results.

Yet politicians know that this kind of good sense approach does not “sell.”  It doesn’t get them elected.  They know that we voters seem to only listen to extreme self-pleasing, hard-hitting, self-ingratiating politics rather than rational, reasonable, balanced politics.  And so, they’re giving the voters what they asked for and that’s why we’re in trouble.

We voters have voted in these reactionary, tit-for-tat, extremist representatives.  So we can also stop them.  At least I’d like to think we can.  I know we should.  But I think we’re too spoiled and we have lost sight of the bigger picture.  “My way or the highway” is our new personal and political motto and our elected representatives have embraced this.  And that’s our problem.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Critiquing America is not a Bad Thing & Admitting Mistakes is Good

“This is America.  Love it or Leave it!”  Ever hear that before? 

When these words are spoken, it is supposedly a way of honoring America, a way of saying, “America is the best, give her 100% of your support.”  In actuality, these words are often used to shut down all contrary opinions or to close out negative critique respecting hotly contested issues in American politics. That is to say, “If you disagree with us or have a problem with this, your love for America is questionable and we doubt that you’re a true patriot, so leave—we don’t want the likes of you.”

Take the political atmosphere back in 2002-03 when it was “being decided” whether or not we should do a preemptive strike against Saddam Hussein and extend the Afghan war into Iraq.  Does anyone remember how the minority side was treated; the side who thought that doing a preemptive strike against Iraq was not only a bad idea but a fundamentally wrong idea?  Do you remember how the “nay-sayers” were depicted by the pro-strike side and its fellow hawks?  They were called un-American and unpatriotic.  They were portrayed as traitors, betraying the American cause and undermining America’s safety and security.  They were mocked as weak minded and empty-headed, as putting their head in the sand.  They were essentially invited to leave America—yes, as in “This is America, love it or leave it!”  Does anyone remember this?

Though this minority voice was ridiculed and laughed at and made to feel small, a few bold ones continued to speak out and tried to be heard.  They said things like, “It is because I love America that I criticize her and speak out when I believe that she is doing wrong,” or like, “My patriotism demands that I stand up against this horrible mistake that I believe America is making.”  They not only had to defend their contrary point of view but their very patriotism, just because they held a contrary opinion on the matter.

It’s too easy to fall into “all or nothing” sides: The one side says, “America is the best country in the world.  She deserves a hundred and ten percent of our support.  We back her no matter what.”   The other side says, “America is bad, has done terrible things and she must pay the penalty for it; let her fall, bring her down, she deserves it.”  Where’s the honesty, the integrity, or the wisdom in either of these two simplistic polarized sentiments?

We are a mixed bag.  All nations are.  As a nation we’ve done pretty well over the years.  But we’ve also made some pretty big mistakes.  We’ve done wrong.  And the more readily we are able to admit this, the more capable we are to correct and improve things, and steer ourselves in the right direction.

Patriotic sentiment is not a weapon.  That is to say that naysayers and malcontents have a right to critique, rebuff, and question America’s policies and its decisions and actions (national or international) without being accused of being unpatriotic or un-American.  Furthermore, a strong people will have the strength to own up to its mistakes and blunders and to take corrective action and make necessary adjustments to make things right.

Remember back in W.W. II how we put our own Japanese-American citizens in concentration camps?  It wasn’t until 1988 that the U.S. Government formally apologized for that 1942 decision and finally provided some compensation to those who were interned.  This would be an example.  The Vietnam War is another.  Decades passed before Robert McNamara, one of its most powerful promoters & defenders, was finally willing to admit that the Vietnam War was a mistake, to acknowledge that he and his administrative associates were wrong.  Said McNamara in an MSNBC interview, “I think my associates and I acted in accordance with what we thought were the traditions, principles and values of this nation, but we were wrong.  And therefore I think that we owe it to future generations to explain why, to try to draw the lessons so we won’t make the same mistakes again.  There were two, three, I should say, basic misconceptions.  The first was I think we misjudged the Soviet threat, the communist threat.  And this is very important.  I hope we’ll have time to refer back to that.  The second was we viewed it as a war of aggression, Communist against South Vietnam.  It was a civil war.  We didn’t understand that.  Thirdly, we used military tactics and strategy that were more appropriate to opposing the Soviet threat in Western Europe than the Gorillas in Southeast Asia.” [See, YouTube.]  McNamara emphasizes that we should learn from our mistakes in the past.  Indeed we should.  But have we?  Do we?  Will we?

America will only be as strong as its integrity, its willingness to do what is right.  We may not always get it right, but we can at least be willing to be corrected and learn to admit our mistakes.  The War in Iraq would be another example, in my opinion.  To this day, the previous president, the one who decided to declare war on Iraq with its infamous preemptive strike, refuses to admit error, has no doubt nor second thoughts on this decision, and so adamantly offers no apology and no regret.  Yet, years later, we continue to count the deaths on both sides.  We still are unable to count its full cost and cannot yet fully measure our ongoing losses in human lives, resources, and money, which mount daily.  This is sad and regretful.

It’s that “All or Nothing!” position that we must be wary of, that we should wonder at and always question.  Now we are seeing it in the area of government finances respecting our National Debt.  No movement as to taxes—even if it should minimally affect a very small and very well to do minority set of Americans.  No willingness to shore-up tax loop-holes, no acceptance of rescinding the Bush tax cuts or any other tax privileges anywhere, in any way or in any form.  All or nothing!  What is the integrity or the wisdom in that?  Are they doing America a favor with such staunchly immovable and intractable attitudes regarding taxes?  Is their position somehow sacrosanct, holier, and purer than the other side?  They certainly act that way.  What a pity.