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Noticing & Taking Steps, Based on...?

Happy New Year! For all the talk about winter or Christmas depression, paradoxically it is also a great time of year, isn’t it? Most of the world’s religions have their major holy days in December and before that the Winter Solstice was a major time of community celebration. Then on the heels of hearing “Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward Men” we enter a new year with hope—for a good or better year.

There’s still a lot going on in the world that can pull us down. There’s war and terrorism. The world held a conference on the environment that didn’t really accomplish a lot in the eyes of those most concerned with global warming, alternative energy and pollution. Domestically we have a Senate Health Insurance Plan that some considered coal in their Christmas stocking and the winners describe as a shinning example of compromise.

Yes good news, bad news. Which thoughts do we entertain and play with? Personally I find most of it entertaining and certainly educational. Isn’t the truth about events and the world really just what we know so far? It’s always unfolding.

Even when it’s “bad news,” there’s often a good side to it. Don’t you appreciate it when someone points out there’s something unattractive hanging from your nose? Hate it when that happens—but I’d rather be aware of it and have the chance to change it. Dwelling on the negative isn’t pointing out there is a correction to be made, although some think so. The sidewalk is dirty, so you sweep it. You wipe your nose. It’s not negative; it’s part of life.Hope come from what we do next.

The first action step is just being aware there is something to be addressed. I think all of us have also probably noticed that once we do move forward, the task, the big thing that needs to be done, seems smaller compared to our preconception of it. The small steps we take accomplish more that we think they will, and often help arrives once we begin.

It’s easier, of course, to address just what concerns us. Getting cooperation from others we have to have some common agreements about what we want. We have to look at what principles we have in common.

In a lot of ways it seems as if the last decade has been about noticing the difference in our assumptions about who we are and noticing we don’t always operate consistently with our stated principles. Many in this country felt the doctrine of preemptive strikes was a major shift for us, for instance.

This past year we’ve had similar shifts back, in support of technology, validating science and medical research. We’ve taken a look at greed and how few people it takes to upset the world economy when their focus is on only what they can take for themselves.

Discovering how we operate is not always pleasant, but so much of what we are now getting to look at is how connected we are and how we are a community.

In our country the governing principles are in the Constitution. Yet we often forget that the founders had it much easier then. They, after all, were looking for a place to agree and once they did, go home. They wanted to create a government with checks and balances that would be self-correcting if a watchful press and participatory populace were involved. They wanted a form of government that could evolve and one that placed the power with people, not a privileged ruling class. Now? Well it’s a little hard to figure sometimes.

Seems like there are a lot of places to look these days—opportunities to look at not only common principles but also what we can control and what we can’t.

Look at what just happened in Mexico. The family—mother, brother, sister and aunt—of the Mexican Marine who was killed when a group of Mexican Marine special forces killed a Mexican drug lord, were all killed the evening of the Marine’s funeral by the drug cartel. Really chilling. Do we need more reasons to find a better way than continuing the ineffective 40-year-old war on drugs? Or do we let the fear that is in Mexico expand to the streets of San Diego and Los Angeles? How much can we control? Let’s find another way before we invite terrorism to our cities.

Before we can do that it looks like we have to go back to how we make our decisions and the cost of corruption, since drugs are a good example of a business without ethics and solely based on money.

Transparency International (TI) is an organization that studies corruption in governments around the world. They define corruption
as the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. They distinguish between different types of bribes paid to receive preferential treatment, the cost, and point out examples around the world. Transparency allows us to see how decisions are made.

Why it’s a problem: “The cost of corruption is four-fold: political, economic, social, and environmental. On the political front, corruption constitutes a major obstacle to democracy and the rule of law. In a democratic system, offices and institutions lose their legitimacy when they are misused for private advantage,” reports TI. Economically it depletes the national wealth and resources.

“The effect of corruption on the social fabric of society is the most damaging of all. It undermines people’s trust in the political system, in its institutions and its leadership. Frustration and general apathy among a disillusioned public result in a weak civil society. That in turn clears the way for despots as well as democratically elected yet unscrupulous leaders to turn national assets into personal wealth.”

Unfortunately, it sounds familiar.

Our Congress supports anti-corruption campaigns around the world and many recently called for removing corrupt officials in Pakistan.

TI seems to look mainly at what we call the executives or administrators and judicial branches of government around the world.

They must, because recent events raise the question, what happened here?

Look at how our legislative branch made decisions on “health care.” Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid made a deal with Sen. Ben Nelson (Dem., Neb.). Nelson voted for health insurance and decided he could “compromise” his moral stand against abortion. The State of Nebraska, in return, does not have to pay the state’s Medicare expansion cost—all other states/people will do that in addition to their own costs—and insurance companies in Nebraska, such as Mutual of Omaha will get tax and fee breaks.

If I were under scrutiny by the TI it would be time to call in the SPCA+J (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Administrators and Judges). They should argue that “bribery” is really just a languaging problem. If bribes and gifts were reframed as campaign contributions it wouldn’t be a problem, right? Why single out administrators? So what if appointed officials don’t run for office; they’re public figures and have an image to uphold.

OK, so we’ve removed corruption today. Simple enough.

Sen. Reid’s comment was: “That is what legislation is all about. It is the art of compromise. There are a hundred senators here, and I don’t know if there is a senator who doesn’t have something in this bill that is important to them, and if they don’t have something in it important to them, than that doesn’t speak well of them.”

You see, it’s obviously transparent. No problem.

Of the 435 elected members in the House of Representatives, 53 are from California. If they were doing their job, as recently defined by Sen. Reid, California should be getting more. Whether the next bill that comes along is about Head Start and aid for children, or providing PR funding for the Society for Making Dirty Coal Look Clean—no matter what it is—why not attach a rider that reduces Federal Income Taxes for all Californians by 50%? If that doesn’t work, team up with FL or NY to get their votes with us.

Better yet, why not just throw all of these representatives out? It’s a short step: they’re already out to lunch.

When did Sen. Nelson take an oath to “bring home the bacon” to Nebraska and to hell with everyone else? Congress, all of the branches of government, swear to uphold the Constitution and “promote the General Welfare.” No wonder swearing has gotten a bad rap.

According to TI’s definitions, they appear both corrupt and transparent. The bigger problem, of course, is not that we’d miss them. To do it differently we’d also have to deny ourselves the benefits, such as a tax reduction. We’d have to give up our own greed to make it work.

If we knew how interconnected we are, that might not be as big a problem as it probably appears. Right now we don’t seem to know. Maybe we start there. We also don’t seem to remember the agreements in the Constitution that hold us together.

Passing this bill will bring us back to the Constitution, however. Never before has the government required that citizens buy a service or product—health insurance—in order to be citizens in good standing. Is that Constitutional? Or corporate coup?

Once again, it’s a time for redefining ourselves. First we should keep our noses clean.

Have a great month,