The Power of Two

If you deposit a penny in the bank and make a deal where they will double your account every day for a month (31 days), you will earn more than $10,700,000.

So let’s suppose for a moment that one black and one white person agree to send each other one letter or email a month on the topic of racism.  Each month they also agree to recruit just one person each, who begin their own conversation about race.  And they, in turn, recruit two more people each month to begin a dialog.

The first month there will just be two people.  At the end of the second month, there will be four.  In 6 months, there will be 64.  At the end of the first year, there will be 4,096 people, all engaged in correspondence about race.

Assuming no one backs out, at the end of the second year – just 24 months into the effort – there could be close to 17 million people writing their counterparts.  Two months later virtually every African-American man, woman and child could be engaged in the conversation.  In 28 months, the total reaches over 268 million, more than the entire adult population of the U. S..  If everyone keeps up the effort, the number reaches 8 billion people in just 33 months – less than three years – exceeding the entire population of the planet, and the dialogs could be far-reaching.  Racism, women’s issues, homosexuality, geopolitics, the environment…the results could be transformative.

Just two people are needed to begin this revolution.  Will you be one of them?

Recovering From The Legacy Of Slavery

150 years after the supposed end of slavery, we find that it still shapes the way most African Americans and Caucasian Americans think about, and act around, each other.  We – at least those of us that believe in evolution – tend to forget that our ancestors were all Africans, and slaves and their descendents are our relatives, albeit many times removed.  Belief in social justice and the application of good manners have gotten us all this far, but we are now essentially stuck, whites not knowing how to get beyond slavery and blacks not knowing how to heal from it.  Whites try as hard as they can not to offend blacks, and blacks see much of their lives through a lens of racism.   Both are on tenterhooks.

So here we are, stuck in the middle of the seven stages of grief:

1. SHOCK & DENIAL

When Africans were put on slave ships, they must have experienced the first stage of grief.  Sold, in some cases by their African friends or enemies, they likely suffered from some form of PTSD; shock at what was being done to them and denial that anyone could do such a thing.                                                                                           

2. PAIN & FRUSTRATION

As the shock of slavery wore off, it was replaced by unimaginable pain and suffering.  While I would in no way condone the institution of slavery, the roots of American culture were sown in the pain and grief of slaves and former slaves.  African and African American contributions to American art, music, literature, science, medicine, law, the humanities, and architecture have made us what we are today.  I find it ironic that peoples brought here against their will ended up defining our lives and our culture.

3. ANGER & BARGAINING

Frustration gave way to anger, especially when Emancipation turned out to be a sham.  For decades after the Civil War, African American anger burned, held barely in check by the forces of violence and economics.  These forces served to enslave peoples just as effectively as shackles forged of iron and steel.

When anger didn’t produce the desired results, African Americans and their advocates began to bargain for freedom and equality.  No one embodies the conflicting eddies of the transition from anger to bargaining more notably than Malcolm X, and no one reflects the bargaining position more clearly than Dr. Martin Luther King.  But thousands of others also deserve the credit – and tributes – that have been heaped upon these two iconic men.

4. DEPRESSION, REFLECTION, LONELINESS

 And so here we are, stuck between stage three and stage four.  Whites think African Americans should be getting on with their lives.  African Americans need closure and can not find a way to get it.  No amount of dialog can help the children of former slaves “get over it,” and no amount of reparations are sufficient to make up for past and ongoing repression.  We are poised to finally come to grips with the true magnitude of the loss and suffering, but no one can clearly articulate a path along which we can all move forward.

The conversation needs to be about where we are and what it means, and there is no work being done to determine and implement solutions.  The reason: we are trying to find global relief to individual pain.  Only through a one on one dialog between individual black and white people will we begin to understand and accept each other.   Until every white person truly understands what it’s like to be black in America, and until every African American believes that whites do “get it,” we’ll be stuck right here.

5. THE UPWARD TURN

In truth, a large part of the answer lies with education.  Only through education can we build mutual respect, achieve economic equality, understand and appreciate the history and plights of others, and find the common ground that will enable all of us to come together.

But education is too often used as a tool to keep us from repairing the rifts between people.  Basing education funding on local taxes, and the act of educating on teachers willing to work in the community, we ensure that poor schools stay poor, that disadvantaged students stay disadvantaged, and disenfranchised communities stay disenfranchised.

The myth of equal school funding as a panacea is just that: a myth.  What equal funding does is maintain the status quo, keeping good schools good and bad schools bad.  We need reparative funding: resources allocated to the poorest schools that will lift their students out of poverty, give them hope and fulfill their dreams.  While some descry this as socialism, they do so only to deny the have-nots access to the American Dream.  They who protest have a vested interest in perpetuating what amounts to an American caste system.

The second key is to teach whites true black history.  Not just a module or two during Black History Month, or mentions of George Washington Carver and Booker T Washington in history books, but a fully integrated curriculum.  And that includes Native Americans,  Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans.

Whites have been educating black people for a long time…it’s time for black people to educate whites.

6. RECONSTRUCTION & WORKING THROUGH

 Equal education (as opposed to equal schools) is the foundation on which we can finally abolish our caste system.  Equal primary and secondary education that treats all contributions by all races, genders and ethnicities as equals will level the playing field when applying to college and for jobs.  It will form the basis for a dialog among and between us, mutual respect, and create equal opportunities for economic growth.

Only then can we aspire to engage each other in working through our issues and reconstructing the country around the words and values espoused in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution:

  • that all men (and women) are created equal,
  • that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights,
  • that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and
  • that together we can form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.

7. ACCEPTANCE & HOPE

During this, the last of the seven stages we learn to accept what has happened to us as a country and agree to move forward together.  But accepting reality doesn’t mean that we all find joy and happiness overnight.  Given all that we have been through, it will take time.

Which is where hope comes into the picture.  Lin Yutang once said:”Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.”

Federal Budget Deficit Reduction: A 12 Step Program

Like the rest of you, I’m tired of all the Washington posturing and political wrangling.  It’s time our elected officials put country before party or their own interests.  To that end, I offer the following 12 step program as a starting point for dealing with the bloated federal budget:

  1. Means test federal subsidy recipients, especially companies and industries, including farms; maintain subsidies to low income and vital industry recipients that need it.  Limit farm subsidies to small, family farms.
  2. Means test Social Security and Medicare recipients; maintain payments to people with below mean U.S. income, sliding scale the rest.  High income retirees and those with significant assets do not get Social Security and must pay for Medicare coverage.
  3. Mandate that all Internet purchases include the payment of state and local sales taxes; make credit card companies responsible for setting up and administering the system.  This channels more money to the states who will rely less on the federal government for revenue.
  4. Channel civil court punitive damage awards to state and federal governments, not to the plaintiff.  These penalties are levied on behalf of the people and should benefit the people.
  5. Increase taxes on consumables – especially on premium grades of gasoline, tobacco, gambling, coal and oil energy production, alcohol, and luxury items like diamond jewelry and yachts
  6. Refinance the national debt by encouraging all Americans to hold national debt obligations like savings bonds, and reduce as much as possible our foreign debt holders.  We used to encourage people to buy savings bonds as part of a payroll deduction plan and we need to go back to that effort.
  7. Eliminate the futures markets and prohibit the speculative trading of future commodity contracts.
  8. Get market prices for all federal assets, from mining on public lands to broadcasting airwaves.  Market developable property owned by the government and not otherwise needed or preserved, especially beachfront/waterfront and downtown locations.  Finally, convert the Interstate system to toll roads.
  9. Expand the federal pharmaceutical R&D program and earn royalties in perpetuity for each discovery paid for all or in part with federal funds.
  10. Convert the military industrial complex into the world’s largest science based R&D and production/manufacturing engine for everything from energy and transportation to food production and greenhouse gas reduction.
  11. Hasten the transition to a cashless economy.  This will generate billions in currently uncollected taxes (and from the huge underground economy), and it potentially eliminates the U.S. Mint and the costs of minting currency.  Also place a one cent tax on every electronic transaction (paid for by banks and ISO/Gateways, not merchants or consumers).  Critics will cry Big Brother, but we need to be able to control our currency better.
  12. Mandate that when people (or their spouses if they are married) die, the first thing their estate does is pay off their per capita share(s) of the national debt.

The Obsolescence of Military Power

At some point in the future, we will no longer need a military.

Too often our thoughts about the future are formed in the context of the past, and this can serve to limit our thinking. For examples we need only look back at how skeptical our forefathers and mothers were about the horse and buggy being replaced by the automobile, radio by television, the calculator and typewriter by the computer, or printed newspapers by the Internet.

As a people, we are so accustomed to having – and needing – a military that our discussions surrounding our offensive capabilities, a strong defense and waging war always take our need for a military as a given.

And so the question is: how will we know when it’s no longer necessary to have a force?

Therein lies the rub. In almost every way, the military is self-perpetuating, as Joseph Heller brilliantly portrayed in Catch-22, and President Eisenhower warned us in the 1950s. After all, if China has a large military, then so must we. And by having a large military, we make sure that China keeps their army big, remaining a threat to us, and thus justifying our own build up.

What if the only reason that we all have a military is because our neighbors have one? If the only true justification for each of us to have a military is defensive, then the original rationale for having one in the first place – to defend ourselves from aggression – is gone. How will we know when that point has been reached?

In contemplating the answer, we can see how we will likely have a military long after the actual need has passed. After all, aggression, conflict and war have been part of humanity since the beginning.

But the balance of power is shifting. At the dawn of humanity, power and survival were dependent on drinking, eating, and sleeping in safety. As we evolved, power and survival were based on which individual was stronger, then which group was stronger. But in the 18th and 19th centuries a subtle change began to occur with the Industrial Revolution, and its impact on the engine of commerce.

What dictates power and survival today? We are close to the end of a shift from military strength to economic strength. People and groups with money are thriving. Companies have gone multinational. The old triumvirate of government – the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches – is becoming less powerful. The emerging triumvirate that will run the world are Government, Business, and, thanks in part to media and the Internet, the Citizenry. We can already see the checks and balances in this new system beginning to work themselves out in society, where it appears that the Citizenry may be at least equal in power. Witness events like the Orange Revolution, the rise of the peasant classes in Latin America, the Arab Spring, and our own Tea Party movement.

Our power in the world, then, stems not from our B-2 bombers and Humvees, but from our ability to produce and consume. Under this world view, since production and consumption are typically coming from different source countries, we are becoming intertwined in ways that no military action could have produced. China will not attack us since it would mean economic ruin. We will not attack China because Americans won’t be able to buy Coach bags and Target clothing.

How can we know when that time has arrived? What if that time has already passed?

The force that is making war and the military obsolete – economics – is also the force that will replace it. As countries, especially neighboring ones, become interdependent economically, their differences will become less territorial and more market based. Countries and their markets will form coalitions and partnerships, resulting in a spider web of interconnectedness that will make war unthinkable.

Already, we have found that the military is expensive, and I would argue that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are unaffordable, in both financial and human terms. We are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit international partners to help us fund military activities, and to recruit soldiers into our armed forces. In fact, our military “partners” are cutting their military funding, putting more of the burden on our shoulders.

The Swiss have known this for years. If the powerful have their treasure in Swiss banks, this will protect the neutrality of Switzerland. World War II proved the validity of their premise.

From nuclear deterrent to market deterrent. From Shock and Awe to Cash and Carry.

We can’t have a situation where everyone else disarms first – the hardcore states will never go for it if they are not last. And those that are secure enough to do so on their own will do so and spend those dollars on other programs, as much of Europe is doing.

The only possible solution is that we must all do it at the same time. Which leaves us with designing a process that will effect a mutually agreed upon result: total disarmament. A process that begins with a non aggression pact and a period during which military assets are essentially frozen, followed by a gradual and proportionate reduction to zero.

In concert with this must be a corresponding increase in commerce between neighboring and regional states, and with economic superpowers: North America, Europe, and northern and eastern Asia including India. We must build a strong, world-wide middle class; it is the key to political stability in this new world order.