Friday, September 9, 2011

The Future Is Now

People in many countries are depressed about the current economic situation and worried about the future. In the United States the two priorities are more jobs and less debt. Last night President Obama unveiled a new program to generate large numbers of jobs. There is also a high-level congressional bipartisan committee seeking new programs and program modifications to reduce the debt. The problem is that programs are not the answer. What we all need is information that builds our confidence in the future. When the two political parties each say that the other party has the wrong kinds of programs that will lead to a failing economy in the future, they are guaranteeing that failure by diminishing the confidence of the people. We need cheerleaders more than program architects. There are plenty of private companies with enough cash reserves to hire new employees. There are plenty of people looking for jobs. The companies won't hire people until they believe that hiring will lead to sales increases in the near future. Consumers won't spend until they are reasonably sure that their jobs are safe. If the government (including both parties in Congress) and the media would emphasize positive factors and developments instead of negative possibilities, the economy would respond with positive trends. There is no need to snipe at each other for the sake of an election. Positive thinking is contagious. Try it some time. We can assure a healthy future for our economies right now by implementing a positive outlook. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Abuse of Power

Power can be defined as the ability to exert one's will over another. Power is addictive, and those who have it seek to maintain it or keep it for as long as possible, regardless of the personal or material cost. One of the problems of the possession of power throughout history has been the "might makes right" syndrome. People who have the power to control others believe that they are right because they have the power to control others. Hence the old adage: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Anyone who thinks he or she is wielding power for the sake of good rather than evil needs to be willing to accept a check and balance system that allows others to alert the person in power of a deviation from the path toward societally approved goals. Is power assumed for the sake of efficiency justified? Sometimes, but only in pursuit of very limited and well-defined goals. The problem often lies in determining what goals are worthy of granting power to a leader, and whether that leader feels that the end justifies the means. One who assumes power should take a sunset pledge to agree in advance to yield that power when the approved limited goal has been achieved or when a designated date has been reached. The addiction of power causes a leader to feel unique and irreplaceable, a situation that causes other viable leaders to protest and rebel.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Stop Sending Your Money to China

I frequently advocate that people in the USA should Buy American products and services. It's time for outsourcing to end, and everyone in the United States, citizen or not, has a vote in this process. We vote with our purchasing decisions. Whether you are buying a tube of toothpaste, a household product, or a new car, buy something that is made in USA or has the maximum amount of US content. We have to break the cycle of sending our money overseas to China and others so that they can lend our money back to us at high interest rates. Every time you buy a US product you keep money in circulation within the USA; you increase demand at US companies which creates jobs for US workers; and you give incentives for those companies to invest in new equipment and learn how to make better and more competitive products. The economy started downhill when American companies started having products made overseas to enhance short term profits. It's time to think long term and rebuild American manufacturing capabilities. The one and only solution is your looking for the Made in USA label. The government in Washington can't fix the situation, but you can, one purchase of US goods and services at a time. Each US purchase is a vote for prosperity. Read those country of origin labels...Vote early and often.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Evaluate the US Debt Limit Negotiations

Here are my Seven Principles of Negotiation from my book, DECISION TIME! Better Decisions for a Better Life. After all the smoke clears in Washington, decide for yourself whether each side did a good job of handling the process, regardless of what it looked like to outsiders.

The first principle of negotiation is that you must be sensitive to the needs of others when you set priorities for what you hope to accomplish. If all parties have the same list of priorities, then it is unlikely that the negotiations will be successful. However, it is usually the case that there will be differences in the priority lists for the two or more parties to the negotiations. This will allow a final outcome where more than one party comes away from the process having satisfied his top priority goal. By being sensitive to the desires of others, you can set your priorities into a structure that makes negotiation success more likely.

The second principle of negotiation is that you must make it very clear to your opponent which are your top priorities and how determined you are to achieve them. It is a fact of human nature that if you are able to reach a decision that gains your top priority objective too easily, you will feel that you could have negotiated an even better outcome. This is true whether you are setting the price for the purchase of a used car or if you are involved in a complex labor contract negotiation. For this reason, most negotiations will and should start out with a firm statement of your goals. These goals should be reiterated and should seem to be inflexible for as long as possible. There is acting involved in such posturing, but the objective is to find out which party most desires a positive outcome to the negotiations. That party will usually show the first sign of flexibility. If no such flexibility is seen on either side, progress may have to be made as the result of setting a deadline or introducing a third party to mediate the process. A final alternative to inflexibility is to walk away from the negotiation process. If and only if your opponent believes that you are truly willing to stop the process, moving to end the negotiations may actually introduce flexibility from your adversary and stimulate the process toward success.

The third principle of negotiation is that although you frequently will have to resolve conflicts by giving in to someone else’s viewpoint, you should always try to get something back in return for your willingness to see things their way. This is usually an acceptable and expected trade procedure. Even when there may not be an item on the table that your opponent is willing to give up in exchange for your flexibility, you may be able to gain something by proposing that he or she commit to a future benefit for you. This is why so many sports team trade negotiations end up including “a player to be named later” or a future draft choice. It is easier to reach agreement in this way because neither party knows the true value of a future benefit.

The fourth principle of negotiation is that decisions proceed from the bottom to the top. For this reason, it may be useful to have some low priority points on which you are willing to give in to your opponent’s viewpoint. They may mean little to you, but after you have relinquished something, it is reasonable for you to expect your adversary to offer you something in return. Not only are smaller points agreed before larger points, but also in formal team negotiations there is a “pecking order” for personnel on the two sides. [Lower level people decide lower level matters. Highest level people come in only when trying to come to the final agreement.]

The fifth principle of negotiation is that when you are not sure what to decide on a particular point, the best tactic is to add something to the discussion which “puts the ball in the other party’s court” and gives your opponent responsibility for the next decision. This approach gives you more time to reach the decision that was facing you, and it may also give you new and valuable information from your opponent’s response on the new matter.

The sixth principle of negotiation is that you can’t please or accommodate everyone. You will definitely have to say No in many situations, and you will have to be firm about it. The word No has great value in that it can be used to reverse or slow down the momentum of a negotiation. You may be willing to concede additional points to your adversary, but judicious use of the word No will help you to gain return concessions and will help you to minimize those items on which you have to yield. It also helps to create an image of you as a tough negotiator, and in negotiations image is very important.

The seventh principle of negotiation is that the party with the greatest detailed knowledge of the matters being discussed has a great advantage. If you have all the details immediately available while your adversary has to repeatedly call for assistance from others or request a break in the process to obtain more information, you are negotiating from strength while the other party is negotiating from weakness. It is very important that you have done your homework before the meetings even start.

Friday, July 29, 2011

How to Handle the U.S. Debt Deadline

Enough, already!
The USA has to get the two houses of Congress and the President to agree on measures to avoid a debt default next week. Don't look now, but the NFL Football owners and players managed to solve their lockout fiasco and save the football season. I suggest that the politicians, who obviously don't know how to do the jobs for which they were sent to Washington, should act more like athletes, albeit flabby ones. Let's just get this all over with a tug-of-war between the Fat Cats on one side and the Pompous Pigheads on the other. At this point all we need is a mechanism to get them to stop talking and do something. Just line them all up and let either side drag the other across the line that wins the tug-of-war. The country will survive whatever is decided; just demonstrate the ability to make a decision. I know that the voters will know how to decide that we need two entirely new tug-of-war teams when the next election comes. That's an easy decision.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Authors without Borders

The Borders superscale bookstore chain is being liquidated because of a lack of potential bidders willing to participate in a bankruptcy auction for the company. This will eliminate a major distribution mechanism for highly promoted books from major publishers. It will have little effect on the offerings of small presses and POD publishers, because Borders paid scant attention to them. I once did an experiment where I looked up my books successfully on Borders' online bookstore, and then I went into one of their stores and tried to find my books through an in-store terminal. I was very surprised when I couldn't find them. The two systems must have had separate management. Borders drove a lot of local independent bookstores out of business. They also presented the public with their concept of a bookstore as being more like a cross between a department store and a library, with a cafeteria thrown in for good measure. Gone were the crowded bookshelves and tables where you might stumble across a treasure. Added were music departments and toys and accessories that had little to do with books. The most enthusiastic book buyers I have ever seen patronized the old annual Brandeis Used Book Sales, when that university's alums wisely supported their school in that manner. Used print books are treasures, and they also stimulate the reading habits of those who find old friends and new discoveries among the dense arrays of well-thumbed volumes. Independent bookstores offering unusual books from independent publishers and authors may find more patrons now that one of the giant marketers is gone.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Friends and Enemies

Which of these do you believe?
  • The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
  • The enemy of my friend is my enemy.
  • The friend of my enemy is my enemy unless he/she belongs to my political party.
  • The friend of my friend is my friend unless his/her political party is different from mine.
  • What's good for the country is more important than what's good for my political party.
  • What's good for my political party is by definition good for the country.
  • What's good for me is by definition good for my party and country.
  • Who cares about anyone else? Do what will get me reelected.
  • I love everyone until after the votes have been counted.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Most Obsolete Word in the English Language

It appears that the most terrible thing that a politician anywhere in the world can do is to use the word compromise. Politicians have become more doctrinaire than ever, with discussions described as stand-offs and any comment from a member of a different party described as belligerent, uninformed, and adversarial. A certain amount of defense of your position is good posturing as part of the negotiation process (See my book: DECISION TIME! Better Decisions for a Better Life.), but frequently politicians aren't negotiating at all, but merely trying to score points and develop issues for the next election. Compromise should be the lubricant that makes governments work. Bombast only succeeds in minimizing the public's respect for their elected and appointed officials. In many conversations I hear citizen members of both parties agree that solutions to national problems aren't that difficult if the people in power would only use the second most obsolete term in the English language, common sense. In the field of law, the yardstick for evaluating an action is frequently: What would a reasonable person do? Why can't politicians and government leaders (most of whom are lawyers) ask themselves that same question, and act upon their answers to it?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Recovery in Japan - Where Is the Media?

How well is the recovery effort in Japan going? During the days and weeks immediately following the earthquake, tsunami, and resulting nuclear power station problems, newspapers and television networks around the world informed the public with a constant stream of status reports. As time passed, these reports disappeared, to be replaced by new hot stories. The news media think the public requires novelty in the news. Ongoing situations do not receive the attention they deserve. Instead, we focus on the disaster, military action, or political scandal of the current day or week. That's also why good news is seldom reported. Good news tends to be ongoing and background information rather than a spectacular event (except for the occasional royal wedding). The other peculiar habit of the news media is that they highlight one to five major events on any particular day, when there are many more newsworthy events happening in the world. Perhaps this will be one of the nails in the coffins of newspapers and television news. They are limited by column space or scheduled time. Internet news is expandable without confines. A web page can either scroll indefinitely or reference links to cover every worthwhile story that is happening anywhere. Now if they paid appropriate royalties to all their copied sources, they'd have a truly superior news presentation system.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Half Full, NOT Half Empty

What the U.S., and for that matter the world, needs to realize going into the future is that the proverbial glass is half full. For all the complaints about slower-than-expected employment growth and too much indebtedness, we have all accomplished a lot on our way back from the economy's burst bubble due to unrealistic home ownership policies and other problems. Whether you are talking about personal career development, governmental projects, or international development, a pessimistic future outlook is dwarfed by an inventory taken to show what we have accomplished in the past. The strength of democracies and market-oriented businesses is that each manages to do one or two good things every day. When you look backward to see how far you have come, you will generally be amazed. The incremental things we do each day appear small because we like to talk about achievement of goals rather than maintenance of progress. Make a little progress every day, week, month, and year. As you continue making that progress, you will be able to look back and see that goals have, indeed, been achieved. The glass is at least half full.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Communication Stifled by Suspicion

I listened with interest to a telephone interview between National Public Radio and a Syrian woman. They were discussing the status of opposition to the Syrian government and its massive aggressive retaliation. The most interesting point in the interview for me came when the woman was asked about socialization in small gatherings during the course of this situation. Her response made me realize how uncomfortable one becomes when one is not sure of the political and doctrinal standing of the person with whom one is conversing. The conversation continues, but the content is watered down to inconsequential blather. Suspicion breeds lack of true communication and self-censorship. There is no true communication without the exchange of ideas and opinions. When one is afraid to declare one's position on any topic, the suppressive goal of the state or other controlling organization has already been achieved. Those of us who are removed from such a situation and enjoy the ability to speak freely with peers and at least cautiously evaluated strangers should realize how fortunate we are.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Secret Key to Weight Loss

Everyone knows that the information in the vast library targeting principles of weight reduction boils down to a few kernels: Eat less. Exercise more. Drink plenty of water. Get sufficient sleep. With regard to the eat less portion of this formula, I suggest that insofar as possible, you eat only foods that you don't like but that are good for you. If you are eating foods that you don't like, you automatically won't eat as much of them. If President George H. W. Bush had to eat broccoli all the time, he would be very likely to lose weight. If you are one of those unfortunates who likes all foods, select a nutritious daily menu, and eat it all the time so that you get bored with it. You'll have to become committed to these approaches. The more you continue to eat the same foods over and over again, especially if they are foods you don't like, the less interesting they will appear to you, and you will tend to eat smaller quantities of them. Follow these steps, and replace between-meals snacks with water to keep yourself from wanting to eat all the time. One caution: You won't succeed if you develop a passion for finding ways to prepare the foods you hate so that they taste better to you. The worse they taste, the more weight you will lose.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Secret Key to Bank Account Savings

If you want to accumulate long term savings in a bank account, follow this strategy. Every time you get paid or receive any miscellaneous income, deposit all of it into your savings or money market account at your bank. Then transfer only what you immediately need into your checking account. This has two benefits: (1) Because you are transferring from an account with an ongoing balance into your checking account, you get immediate access to your checking account balance. (If you had deposited your pay into checking, you would have had to wait for your deposit check to clear.) (2) By funneling your current pay through your savings account and transferring out only what you need, you will tend to leave some behind in savings for the future. There will be weeks when you need to transfer all of it back out, or perhaps even draw down your residual savings, but over time you will find that some money tends to accumulate in your savings account through this routine. It is much more likely to accumulate long term savings for you than depositing your pay into checking and transferring to savings only what is left after your cumulative spending for the period.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Reducing Gasoline Prices

There are three components to the price of gasoline at the pump. The first is the price of oil. This is influenced by market speculators, and especially when oil is in short supply or when world events suggest that it might soon be in short supply, the speculators smell profits and bid up oil prices. The second ingredient is the refining cost/capacity, and barring shutdowns of refineries, this is fairly constant. The third factor is the relationship between supply of gasoline and the demand for it. Of these three ingredients to pricing, consumers can only affect the supply vs. demand relationship. If you want lower gasoline prices, there are two things you can do: (1) Drive fewer miles, and try to use the vehicle that gets the best mileage if you have a choice between two. (2) Don't fill up your tank all the way. As of 2007, there were 254.4 million cars in the United States. If each of those cars were filled to a point six gallons less than full, and half the available cars were "filled" at any given time, the country would require about 762 million fewer gallons of gasoline at any given time. Since gasoline weighs about 6 pounds per U.S. gallon, stopping the pump six gallons below full would mean that you wouldn't have to pay for fuel to carry the extra 36 pounds of gasoline around. On the government and marketplace level, anything that could be done to discourage speculators from bidding up prices unrealistically would help also.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Peace Between Palestinians and Israelis - Maybe?

President Obama in his speech this week said that peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis should be based on pre-1967 borders. Such a stand is completely unacceptable to the Israelis, but it serves a very important purpose as a negotiating ploy. There has been no progress toward peace because there has been little incentive for the Israelis to move in that direction. They know that they will have to give up some valuable and sentimentally priceless things such as some portion of Jerusalem and feelings of having control over the situation. Obama's talking about pre-1967 borders may just be the straw that breaks the camel's back and makes Israel realize that eternal delays may lead to a less satisfactory outcome in the negotiations. (See my book, DECISION TIME! Better Decisions for a Better Life for negotiation techniques and stages
Perhaps Israel will respond to the threat of a less-desirable border outcome by moving toward earlier resolution of the negotiation stalemate on the condition that current or compromise borders are the end result. President Obama is not a party to the negotiations, but his words automatically influence the negotiation stances of both sides.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Into the Ebook World #1

I've finally started my journey into the ebook world with the publication of Lead Us Not into Temptation, Volume I of the Lord's Prayer Mystery Series as a paperless book. All formats of ebook are available at the links shown below:
Richard Davidson's Smashwords Author Profile:
Book page to sample or purchase Lead Us Not into Temptation:
I've also just skimmed this book in both the widely distributed epub and mobi (Kindle) versions, and I found the ebook reading experience reasonably satisfying (although I still feel nothing can match the printed book experience). I will soon have my other books available as ebooks also.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Angels & Warriors - Letter from the Front: A Private's Story

They Call Us Angels

This is the account of a young soldier.
I am coming up on the half time mark of a four month deployment.  I have flown 53 missions in and out of the AOR or Area of Responsibility thus far.  I am a part of the 817th EAS, which stands for Expeditionary Airlift Squadron.  I am limited on what I can disclose about our mission but it is primarily the supply and transfer of soldiers to and from the war. I have seen and experienced many things thus far that have made my heart beat as fast as it ever has but this is not my account.

A few days ago our mission was to bring the 3rd Battalion / 5th Marines (3/5) Unit, known as the “Dark Horse”, out of the Sangin District of Helmand Province, Afghanistan and back home.  The 3/5 is a battalion-level infantry unit composed of infantry Marines and support personnel. Infantry battalions are the basic tactical units that the regiment uses to accomplish its mission of locating, closing with and destroying the enemy by fire and close combat. The 3/5 is comprised of H&S Co, India Co, Kilo Co, Lima Co, and Weapons Co. The Sangin District is know as one of the most dangerous places in the warfight.  The 3/5 has suffered the most casualties of any unit thus far in the 10 years of Afghan war.

We had a full load of troops planned going out and then got word that there would be an additional two Marines being sent with us on emergency status.  This meant that all seats would be taken plus the two in the cockpit behind the pilots seats.  Often times, as pilots we like to bring troops up for the flights.  Their eyes light up and their gratitude is beyond measure.  Many of them say it is the coolest thing they have ever seen- often times to be in the cockpit is like being in what I imagine Heaven to be like- amongst the clouds and the sun rays, looking down upon snow covered mountains and green grassy valleys.  Sometimes it takes another’s eyes and awe for me to realize how amazing it really is to be flying.  That being said, it is upon us to pick and choose who gets to experience the grand event.  How do we do this?  We ask the entire group a question such as “who thinks they are handy with tools.”  Many hands shoot to the sky.  “Who is good at fixing things?”  A few hands may drop. “Who thinks they can fix a plumbing problem?”  More go down.  “Because we have a problem with our lavatory up here and need a brave soul to help us out or we will be unable to take off.”  Inevitably, the hands that are raised start transitioning from the vertical to the horizontal pointing to the lowest man on the totem pole, usually a private or corporal.  “You’re our man- you get to sit up front with us.”  Everyone laughs for they now realize that dimeing out the private secured their fate to sit down below in the cargo compartment with nothing more than two windows the size of a basketball.

The Private walks up the stairs heavied by his supplies, his backpack, survival vest, armor, and his rifle.  These are the only things that he has. Nothing less and nothing more, mandated by the Marine Corps.  His rifle is his pride and sometimes also his joy.  It’s original clean black shiny finish now long gone leaving what now looks as the soldier does; tired, worn out, beat up, and ready to rest from overuse. White tape- the exact same that I used to use to tape the handles of my hockey sticks and ankles before Friday night high school football games wrap the handle and stock for better grip while firing upon his enemy.  A Marine's gun is his lifeline.  They choose their modifications.  This private had added a M203 grenade launcher to the bottom of the stock, his “go-to round when things got rough”.  His uniform was worn and tattered, the digital camouflage had been completely worn out on the knees and elbows.  Each pocket of his survival vest was stuffed with essentials and 8 magazines of ammo lay across his chest. A strap over his shoulder held about 20 grenade cartridges.  He was a soldier.  He had seen battle.

We got the jet ready for takeoff, strapped them in and upon firewalling the throttles to Max Power heard the joyous roar of the 3/5 over the roaring engines as our wheels left the runway.  In our climb the Private leaned over and told me that “We call you Angels”.  Aircraft that take them away from the Hell that they were in are called Angels.  I was touched but as soon as I felt that good feeling deep inside my chest I felt it rush out as I was quick to realize that the same number of soldiers that we had on our jet and were taking from this Hell, the same number was just delivered by us an hour ago in.  

After leveling off at cruise altitude I took my headset off, turned my head towards the Private and asked what was it like.  I cannot tell you how long the flight is but I can say that it is longer than anyone I know can talk non-stop (well maybe except you pop).  The Private needed to talk.  He needed to release. He needed someone to hear about the horrors of war that was from the outside looking in and our crew was as close as it was going to get at that time.  He told us that their slogan is “Get Some” and get some they did.  They killed thousands of Taliban but it came at a cost—a big cost. As I said above, the 3/5 had suffered the most casualties of any unit thus far in the 10 years of Afghan war.  Along with sending home 27 red ,white and blue draped caskets, the 3/5 also sent home over 180 critically injured warriors, many of them losing arms and legs.  As the Private scrolled through the pictures on his digital camera, each picture was a flip of a coin whether it was going to be a friend that was coming home with us, a friend that had already been sent home maimed by war, or a friend sent home in an American flag blanketed aluminum box.  The pictures were also of their living conditions. A horseshoe of sandbags was their toilet. A cleared piece of ground was their bed. A sealed bag of food that would last until the end of the world if given the chance was their meal. A bottle of water was their shower. A wall made of mud was their protection- and also the place for pictures of home, of wives and little girls, of good things to look forward to if they could just live to see them.  The private said that he found a familiar place before bed to be on his knees thanking the Lord to be alive today and to pray for the same blessing tomorrow, for they lived day by day.

Each day was the same.  They would go out in search of Taliban and IEDs.  “The hardest thing about this war is that they look just the same as the local friendlies; but you can tell it in their eyes.  You can see the evil in their eyes.”  The Private went on to tell me about the IEDs.  “They are smart.  They can make them out of anything.  They are good at it too.  They are so sensitive sometimes all it takes is the weight of fear to set them off.  Many times they scavenge the lost limbs of unfortunate soldiers and use them as triggers.  And finding these things is nearly impossible.  You can probe all day long and still miss them.  We had to resort to what we call fingering.  We literally sift through the sand on our bellies with our fingers to find these things.”  Just the thought of sticking my fingers anywhere close to something that could blow them off made me cringe.  He said that there was just no other way in certain situations.  He had watched one of his buddies clearing for IEDs get blown up, another that had gone to save him get blown up and another that went to save both experience the same fate.  Hearing this made me think about how it would be to be fearful of each step that I take.  The Private told me that he could no longer sleep for the fear was so overwhelming.  The fear for his own life. The fear for his friends. The fear of each step and the fear of never making it home.

When they get home, those that do, must go and see the doctor for PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder.  “We call him the wizard.” He said. “I will tell him what I have seen.  I will tell him that I cannot sleep.  I will tell him that I have nightmares and that I will never be the same.”  I will tell him that one moment we are giving out skittles to the local children and the next we are in a fire fight for our lives calling in close air support to light up our enemies 50 yards from the local town.  I will tell him how screwed up I now am.”  He quickly jumped to a different subject.  What he was looking forward to.  “I haven’t had a shower in over 7 months and I am really going to enjoy a good hot meal.  He video taped the entire approach and landing, told me it was one of the coolest things he ever saw, that if I was ever in Fort Campbell he would let me shoot his 203, and to take care of ourselves and to keep bringing 'em home.
Guest post by:
Captain Joseph G. Dombrow

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Proper Way to Balance the United States Budget

The Republicans and Democrats are competing to see who can do the best job of improving the fiscal status of the United States. They are both going about it the wrong way (as is the Tea Party also). It takes a lot more work, but if you really want to get the country's economy in good shape, you don't reduce the budget. The proper technique is to wipe out the budget altogether. Take it to zero, and then, item by item, decide what should go back into it. If our government had the commitment and stamina to set up a group to completely rebuild the budget from scratch, we would end up operating the country at a much lower financial level. The problem is that our politicians would never approve the process. They would have to justify each and every item in the budget, which would be a colossal job, but more important, it would expose the flimsy justification for many of the components of the existing budget. There are many parts of the federal budget that are there just because they pay for doing things the way we have done them for a long time in the past. As Shakespeare said, "The past is prologue." The only way they will find most (but not all) of the unjustified spending is to throw everything out, and start over. The nature of politics is that some waste will find its way back into the new budget because of the need to compromise and horsetrade between opposing views, but a huge amount of what we now spend will not be justifiable to either side. Assign three of the best minds from each party plus a couple of economics professors to a special committee, and the job will become doable, even if extremely difficult.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Walking Tightropes

In the Middle East, the fictional country of Ibrimia is on the edge of a revolution. Thirty-seven friends have managed to get the populace of the second largest city upset at the ruling regime. They have convinced the people that they could achieve many of their dreams if their country was a democracy. In this action they are copying the pattern of successful government changes elsewhere. The existing regime considers itself to be generous to a fault in providing free college education and healthcare, and in distributing significant oil revenues to all citizens.
If the activists force out the regime, the stability of oil income might end. While the majority of the population is in favor of democracy and new leadership, there is no agreement as to what alternate group should rule and with what agenda.
While the existing regime does not want to use military might against its own population, it feels that it offers the safest and most secure future for everyone.
What is the best course for each side to take in walking the conflict tightrope toward an improved future?
  • Should the regime announce increased benefits and salary structures?
  • Should the activists hold meetings to elect a "government-in-waiting" that will formulate and announce the people's goals following the ouster of the current regime?
  • Should the regime offer big increases in employment on government-funded public works projects?
  • Should the activists meet openly with government representatives to discuss possible power sharing and reforms of constitutional provisions?
  • Should the regime offer term limits for itself and future governments?
  • Should the activists attempt to split the country and gain international recognition for the part they control?
  • Should the regime risk international condemnation by cutting off financial support and utilities to the part of the country it no longer controls?
  • Should the activists invite outsiders to support their cause?
  • Should the regime cancel the citizenship of the activists and offer citizenship to loyal immigrant workers instead?
  • Should the activists seek an alliance of their part of the country with the neighboring large and stable country?
  • Should the regime threaten the neighboring country with attack if it interferes in Ibrimia's internal affairs?
  • Should representatives of both sides meet secretly to negotiate a mutually acceptable outcome?
  • Should the regime ignore the uprising but ship its wealth overseas just in case the outcome isn't favorable?
If you were leading one side or the other, what would you do or recommend?

Monday, February 28, 2011

Middle East Solidarity and Fragmentation

The winds of change that are sweeping middle eastern countries may be just the beginning of turbulence with unknown consequences. It is relatively easy to get a population fired up against the status quo and an unpopular, authoritarian leader. During the process of such an attempted or successful overthrow of a government, the populace is essentially united because everyone wants the current situation to change. As soon as such a movement becomes successful, however, it becomes dangerous to all concerned, because unity will disappear as different segments of society push for their own agendas. This is the point at which power grabs and civil wars develop. The initial jubilation at overthrowing an authoritarian regime may be replaced by a lengthy period of groups jockeying for position and attempting to manipulate each other. External governments would be wise to be nonspecific in their gestures and declarations of support because they will not know nor be able to influence the final configuration of power centers for a long time to come. Enthusiastically backing a losing group may be at least as unwise as taking no public stance on the political upheaval process.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hurrah for the Little Guy!

Borders Bookstores have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. This is not something to celebrate, but it shows that the swinging pendulum of the business cycle is never stationary. When Borders began building their super-colossal stores, they forced a lot of small independent bookstores out of business. Many family-run operations with long histories found they could not compete with the giant. Now, the giant is learning that its business model has become obsolete, as book buyers have turned to online vendors and the remaining small independent bookstores. People seldom crowd bookstores anymore to browse through the shelves, and the lack of foot traffic has draped the albatross of outrageous overhead around the necks of megastore management. Small business flexibility in planning and ability to react to the marketplace are going to be the watchwords of the economy for the near and middle term future. Only a small business can redefine itself within a short period if necessary. The independent bookstores that are continuing to thrive do things like specializing in a few subject areas, offer products other than books that relate to key titles, sponsor community activities, and celebrate local author events. The huge bookstore chains have had to develop their online presence to survive. Borders didn't even do a good job of that, letting Amazon run the online business for them. Sooner or later, huge bookstores and other businesses with overhead structures that are not in proportion to their revenues will have to change or close. Just remember, in business there are two ways to generate profits: Bring in more sales; and reduce your costs for the same sales.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Super Bowl

News Items:
The Chicago Bears will play the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship football game.
President Obama begs for more civil discourse among politicians and others who disagree.

I have been a Chicago Bears fan ever since I moved to the Chicago area many years ago. I have accepted and enjoyed the traditional rivalry and buildups before battles between the Bears and the Packers, two teams that consider each other hereditary enemies. Nevertheless, I have to admit that I respect the Packers and their traditions. Over the years, a significant number of Bears players have moved on to the Packers, and the reverse is true also. On occasion, I even root for the Packers when they are playing someone other than the Bears.
In political, religious, and economic matters, why can't we respect the opposition even though we disagree with them? One of the differences and problems is that in football both sides play by the same rules. If one side tries to gain an advantage over the other, it has to work within the framework of those rules. In politics and economics there are too many opportunities for people to go outside the very minimal framework of rules to gain advantages by making false and misleading statements, inciting an emotional population, and branding someone as an enemy. Maybe we need more referees and fact-checkers in our national discourse and our media as well as in our sports. There are many reasons to stick to the facts when debating our future. Too many times we have trouble even sticking to the facts when we discuss our past.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Making Mistakes

In life as in writing mistakes are not necessarily bad things. In most decision situations, you should not be afraid of making a mistake. Mistakes generate experiences from which we learn. The same is true in writing, whether fiction or nonfiction. When you make a mistake in the way you try to communicate a lesson or a story, you have to use creativity to overcome and explain the situation in which you have found yourself. Most mistakes are reversible, and there are many paths to get from here to there. Midcourse corrections are not only acceptable but desirable, because they add precision to your final outcome or destination. In writing, the analog of midcourse corrections is the revision process. It is virtually impossible to author a significant book without going back and making revisions to the manuscript. In life we also have to compensate for our misstatements and misdeeds in order to achieve our goals (which may also require modification) or to get along with other people. Just remember to trust your inner moral compass and make your own mistakes rather than allow yourself to be misled by others. There are always people with little or no stake in your well-being who will try to move you off your intended course.