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Posts Tagged ‘politics’

A Pope Versus a Budget

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

What’s the matter with the US Congress? And the US President? In less than two full days, the globally diverse Catholic church has risen to the task before them and chosen a new pope.  That pope will be around for a fairly long time. He will set policy and be the boss for every Catholic on earth. He’s not to everyone’s liking–no one is.  Still, the Cardinals chose and got the job done.

I’m not a practicing Catholic and am not even inclined to tout them as particularly blessed in terms of skill at building a consensus.  But it does give you pause, doesn’t it?  The US Congress–and the current Administration– have yet to come up with a budget for this country.  Not just for this year.  Not ever.  For some reason, all of the people who are responsible for getting it done think the childhood strategy of pointing the finger at someone else is enough to explain their own failure to get this crucial task accomplished.

Who said they could quit because it was hard work?  Who gave them the okay to go home and relax when what they need to do most is still in the starting blocks?

Why is it acceptable to fail at this? To ignore this? To act like it’s not them that have to get it done?  It’s heartbreaking to witness the cowardice of what’s going on.  Instead of rising to the task–like congressmen and women have done since this country began–they’re paralyzed with fear about the reactions that might come from the constituencies they represent.  Instead of assuming the leadership role they were elected to, they take rigid stands like stubborn three-year olds and refuse to get on with finding the solution.

Yes, it’s a lot harder to get the job done in the Senate and the House than in the Sistine Chapel–you have the media blowing everything out of proportion and sensationalizing every little nuance day after day.  But there is no constitutional waiver for not doing the job because it’s hard work.

Yes, the work involves hard choices and will dissatisfy some who voted for you.  Do you think every single person was on board with any of the hard things that this country has had to decide over the decades and centuries?  This is not about who voted for you.  This is about coming up with a workable plan for how this huge and successful country is going to make and spend its government dollars–so we can stay successful.

It took the Catholic Cardinals–who are part of an organization that’s struggling with scandles and major differences of opinion just as we are–two days to get their job done.  That is not because it was easy.  It was because they accepted it was theirs to do and did it.

Take a lesson, Congress.  Take a lesson, Mr. President.  Get this job done!  Come up with a budget.


George Ain’t Gonna Do It

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

When I was a kid, there was a phrase “Let George do it.” The comment was usually offered when something needed to be done but the speaker didn’t want to be the one to do it. The message was “I shouldn’t have to take care of this.”

I haven’t heard that phrase in a long time, but it’s not gone. The idea that somebody else should handle whatever distasteful task needs to be done is a frustratingly robust part of our cultural mindset.  But now it’s assumed at such a basic level that nobody bothers to even mutter the words.

So let’s get this straight. George is not going to do it.  George will not balance the budget–at any level. George is not going to reduce the federal deficit by taking responsible action to both curb spending and increase revenues. George is not going to keep our grandkids from having to pay down debt we incurred by waiting for him to do it. And, most tragically, George is not going to keep our loved ones safe from unbalanced people with guns and a total disregard for human life.  George isn’t even going to shovel that 2 feet of snow off your sidewalk before someone falls on the resulting ice after the melt-and-freeze-again routine begins.

We have to stop waiting for George to do it. We’re making things so much harder so many ways by shirking our collective responsibility to do the hard things now.

Congress can’t just sit there waiting for “the other side” to blink.  Parents with difficult children can’t assume that they’re the only ones who will ever be affected by the child’s troubles.  Municipalities can’t keep assuming “the economic recovery” will rescue them from incredibly inefficient spending patterns.  Gun lovers can’t assume that no one else will ever get hold of their weapons.  All of us need to stop assuming that because we want–or even truly need–it, the government should provide it.

We all need to stop assuming that it’s other people who should feel the pain to get it all back on track.

This is not popular stuff.  We are mired in the absurdity of recognizing at the rational level that we, personally and culturally, need to choose a very different course while remaining emotionally intractable about accepting the bitter but unavoidable medicine we all need to take.

Pointing to millionaires and assuming that just having them pay more taxes will solve our gargantuan federal budget problems is like expecting the garden plot in your back yard to produce enough potatoes to save Somalia from famine.   Assuming that stricter gun laws will keep our children–and everyone–safe from lunatics is as naive as believing that the only threat from a hurricane is the wind.

Nothing is going to happen until we all accept that, personally, this is going to hurt.  AARP and other senior lobbies yell about not changing Medicare and Social Security.  Don’t be ridiculous.  Not seeing the need to change–by cleaning up the massive amount of fraud, reducing the options for those who can afford to take care of themselves, changing the enrollment age, etc. are reasonable things to do to get both programs on stable ground.

Same deal with gun control.  The National Rifle Association and its “pry it from my cold dead hands” mentality needs to start thinking in terms of “how can we own guns responsibly and safely” instead of “everyone should have as many as they want.”

We have become a nation of sound bites and spin.  We need to go back to looking for real solutions instead of worrying about how things are going to play with the talking heads.

And the talking heads?  To be sure, the media need to make a course correction as well.  Striving to provide responsible news coverage instead of opinions dressed up like facts would be a good start.  Advocating for collaboration and mutual problem solving instead of braying from one or the other political extreme when editorials are warranted would also help a lot.

But let’s get back to you and me.  We need to ignore the pundits’ opinions–liberal and conservative.  We need to look for information, not validation in what we absorb of the news.  We need to balance our own budgets. We need to take action when someone we love appears to be in emotional jeapardy.  We need to stop assuming someone else is responsible for all the violence youth absorb in so many forms these days and take whatever action we can to stop the flow of that toxic mind food.  We need to insist that our bureaucrats and legistlators spend our tax money–and other revenue–well.

We cannot wait for George to do it anymore.  We have to do it–by accepting that we can’t have everything we’d like to have from the government, by helping our neighbors in need instead of assuming the government will handle it, by taking action to deal with the dangers emotionally troubled people pose to themselves and others, by insisting that video game designers and movie moguls come up with something more enticing than violence as their special of the day.

We are all George.  We need to do it.


The Value of Surrender

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Surrender is not the disaster we’ve been taught it is. Yes, sometimes surrender means you are giving up on an important dream.  But more often, it means you are giving up on a specific strategy. And almost as often, you are giving up on a massive amount of work that wasn’t getting you anywhere close to what you really needed.

This time of year is ripe for reasons to surrender.  In a couple weeks for those of us in the United States, the polls will close, the votes will be counted, and we will know who’s going to lead what for the next term at various levels of government.  Perhaps your candidate or cause will prevail.  Perhaps not.  Either way, there’s a form of surrender involved.

For those active in trying to make something political happen, the case is closed–at least for the time being.  Both winners and losers need to switch gears–either from proving that you’re “better than the other” to making what you have in mind work within the reality of a diverse population or to accepting that what you wanted was not what the majority wanted.

But it’s not just politics that requires surrender at this time of year.  Unless you live somewhere warm, sunny, and pretty consistent with its weather patterns, this is probably the time to surrender to the negatives of what’s coming with the change of seasons.  If you’re north of the Equator, that may mean surrendering to your inner hibernating bear.  If you are somewhere that’s moving toward a hotter time of year, it may be your lethargic lizard self that needs to be accepted.

Surrender is an important skill for mental health.  As humans, we like to believe that we can control whatever we decide needs to be controlled.  When that doesn’t happen on something you personally value, it’s tempting to assume that you just need to try harder–kind of like talking louder to someone who doesn’t speak the language you prefer to speak.  Sometimes trying harder really is the answer.

But sometimes, letting go of what you were trying to make happen is the wiser route.  It may be a temporary withdrawal, while you let new ideas come into your consciousness.  It may be reliquishing that outcome permanently.  When you first decide to let go, you won’t know.  What you do need to know is that what you’ve been doing isn’t working and that doing more of the same will net the same result.

This might be a hard pill to swallow if your ego is wound up in what you want to have happen.  (Helpful hint: tell you ego to go take a nap before you make the decision.)

Surrender is a bit like declaring emotional bankruptcy on a single dimension.  You accept you don’t have what it takes to make that thing happen.  “What it takes” may have always been well beyond what you could muster up yourself.  But whether it is or isn’t, you need to just say “I can’t make this happen.”

With that, the emotional slate for that aspect of your life is wiped clean.  That effort no longer consumes the energy you have asvailable to put toward all your hopes and dreams.  You get to start over and focus on more promising things without that burden draining your emotional bank account.

Surrender can mean any number of things–accepting a personal relationship is not going to be what you want it to be.  Or making peace with the idea that that the candidate you worked so hard to get elected is not going to gain office.  It can mean letting go of your frantic cry of “No, I want summer to last forever.”

Surrender, simply put, is accepting that you don’t have the control you thought you did.  That you can’t create the world that’s perfect for you simply by working as hard as you can.

That sounds awful, doesn’t it?!  But the beauty of surrender lies in what comes after you accept that you can’t make what you wanted happen.  That acceptance sets the stage for other possibilities.  And those quite often hold far more beneficial outcomes than the one you were hellbent on making happen.

There’s a whole lot more good stuff out there than what we can envision–especially if we are focused on having it be one certain thing.  Surrender gives that stuff room to come into your life.


Yeah! A Nice Political Discussion!

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Miracles do happen. A recently released book confirms it. But let me lay some groundwork before I get to that:

I am a political agnostic, choosing to steer clear of any and all dialogue about “what this country needs” because so much of what’s said these days is full of vitriol, diatribe, and arrogance.

It seems there is no “we” in our political conversations.  It’s an all-out ideological war. I–and, according to the book, many others–have lost faith in those who claim to be working toward the common good. What we see of them makes them look like a bunch of liars, cheats, and oversized egos.

So when my brother recommended a book written by an outspoken Democrat and a loyal Republican, my first reaction was “Ewww…” But he kept telling me how much he was enjoying the book, so finally I gave in and took a look.

America, You Sexy Bitch has the subtitle “A Love Letter to Freedom.” The authors? As described on the book flap, they are “a married, forty-year-old, gun-fearing, atheist, Democrat comedian, the son of a lesbian Social Security employee” and “a single, twentysomething, gun-loving, Christian, Republican writer and blogger and daughter of a Senator and 2008 Republican presidential nominee. Thus began my journey with Michael Ian Black and Megan McCain.

And literally, it was a journey. The book is about a trip they took together across America. Barely knowing each other, they agreed to do a month-long, cross-country tour…much of it in an old RV…to find out what everyday Americans think of “the state of the Union.”

In addition to talking to everyone from cowboys to strippers to anarchists and touring everything from Graceland to the Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas, they end up talking to each other. A lot.

And that is what is so priceless about this book. It is an honest dialogue between two very different people about what they believe and why they believe it that ends with them being honest-to-god friends.

The great thing about reading it as a book is the perfect balance between the two sets of ideas. Megan writes an entry. Then Michael writes an entry. Some of them have to do with what they are doing or seeing at the point in the trip. Some of them are about what each feels and thinks about a particular issue. Some of them are about tiffs between them or problems on the road. But none of them are a rant about the wrongness of the other or the stupidity of a given point of view.

I’m not sure which I treasured most–their honesty, the two different styles of humor, or the respect they gave each other in the book they created. What an incredible breath of fresh air.

The two of them have gotten me thinking about my own stubbornness regarding politics, too. I shut down when someone starts to push their political agenda whether it’s a meeting with casual acquaintances or hiking with dear friends. I want to believe that common courtesy requires far less of this kind of discourse than we have.

But maybe that’s not as good a solution as I thought. When I step back and tune out, I lose the opportunity to hear what someone else is thinking about some issue. I lose the chance to expand my own grasp of what’s going on by adding that person’s perspective to what I already know.

I’d like to believe that every politician just needs to read this book and they will be healed of the “we/they” toxicity that’s so pervasive right now. That’s not likely. But at least I know now that two outspoken members of the opposing parties can have a real conversation.


Staying Positive When Leaders Stumble

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

The choice to let someone else’s behavior ruin your good day is yours alone, whether it’s the nasty kid in front of the library or the latest congressman (or woman) to admit to mind-numbingly inappropriate behavior while in office. When you let those kinds of things make you unhappy, you’ve basically handed over something the bandits didn’t even ask for. That’s a bit like telling the thief who just broke into your house where the family silver is hidden when they weren’t even looking for it.

Letting anyone else take away your joy is victim behavior. All it will get you is more of the same. Don’t surrender your happiness to some bozo in a headline.

There are two things to remember about all the awful behavior by people in high power that we see these days. First, much of what we hear about is amplified by the media outlets’ need for “news.” We hear a lot more about a lot more than we did decades ago because there are so many more news outlets trying to get our attention. Some would argue that it makes us better informed. But that’s true only if the information we are being bombarded with is relevant. Most of the time, that’s not so.

This kind of “news” is not in anyone’s best interest. But it gets wide distribution because they need to report something. And for ratings, it’s best if that something is information that most of the other outlets don’t have. Muck-raking can give you an edge. (At least until the whole house of cards collapses around you as it seems to be doing for Rupert Murdoch and company at the moment.) So don’t put a lot of faith in what you’re hearing in the first place.

The second thing to remember is that these people are just people unless we give them that high power. When they don’t carry the mantle well, we need to be better about shunning them rather than listening to every inane thing they say and do thereafter. And as soon as we have the chance, we need to demote them. Instead, we accept repeated, steady doses of garbage that wasn’t worth hearing about in the first place. If we stop tuning in, the media will stop churning it out. If we stop tolerating it and force these people out of the high profile positions they hold whenever we can, those who come behind may make more prudent choices.

We need to “vote” however we can to get these people off the stage of our reality. Turn off the TV. Don’t read the juicy details of what’s written about the sordid behavior. Show up for the next election with a well-informed opinion about who would do a better job. Get involved in getting that person elected.

Right now, the NFL owners and players are still arguing about how to divvy up ridiculous amounts of money derived exclusively from the loyalty of fans. We would all do well to tell them to go to hell when they decide to get on with the season. Same with the NBA. Greed isn’t pretty in any uniform.

Keeping your own good humor means taking action to disassociate yourself from the bad behavior. Write your senator if you don’t like how he or she is handling things. Do what you can to take a stand against whatever you see that’s wrong. Then let it go and get on with your life.

This junk is not worth your ongoing focus. Pull that dead skunk off the road for the safety of other drivers and then get the hell out of there rather than eulogizing it at a funeral. Handing over your happiness to the fat cats and bad actors is not what you need.


Freedom — To THINK, To Act on Principle

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

Our right to freedom in the US is broader than carrying guns and assemblying to protest or support something.    We also have freedom of information and freedom to pursue what we believe in.  What do we do with all that?

It’s too easy as Americans to equate our beautiful right to the freedoms we enjoy as citizens with a “don’t fence me in” attitude.  I can be what I want and do what I want (as long as I do no harm) and that’s it.   The “I can be me” of it is just the start though.  How good a “me” can you be?  In the US, we have a lot of protection for taking ourselves to the top.

But to the top of what?  Too often lately, it’s been to the top story of greed or petty bickering, to the top of who makes the most as a CEO or sports figure, to the top of what a nun I had in 7th grade aptly termed “a manure pile.”  None of that stuff is worth the effort to get it in the long run.

Here in the US, we can do more than that.  As a nation, we’re languishing because we’re not.  If we want to truly be Americans, then it’s time to accept that sometimes life is hard and that blaming someone else instead of dealing with it is cowardly.  We need to get off this bickering kick in the halls of decision-making and get serious about finding solutions.  “My” way only works when you’re the only one involved in the situation.  “Our” way is always the product of negotiation, good will, and respect–and a desire to get on with what needs to be done.

Nothing in our Constitution holds holy our right to be right.  That document–and everything this country is built on–comes instead from our right to do right.

The next time you decide someone else is wrong, remember this.  Find a solution not a fight over who’s gonna win the right to be right.