Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Work Lessons From Big Brother

It’s been two weeks since the election. We’ve had a school strafed by a fighter jet, a major assault on Falujah, and a mass exodus of six Bush cabinet members. Colin Powell is out. Condoleezza Rice will replace him. What can we learn from all this?

I’ll admit, I’m sorry to see Powell go. In 2000 Bush surrounded himself with strong advisors because he was lauded for his inexperience. The stars included Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Rice, and Powell. Powell brought over thirty years of experience as a soldier and public servant, plus a moderate approach to diplomacy which the rest of the came to see as their only representation in the Bush administration. Unfortunately that moderate approach went against hard-liners like Cheney and Rumsfeld. Powell, rightly frustrated, noticed his diplomatic efforts were largely an after-thought.

Now he is gone. Regardless, Bush no longer needs the star-power to give him political clout. Bush is now a super-star in his own right and the world knows what his presidency is capable of. He does not need to hear any dissenting opinions and since re-election he has a mandate from the people to continue doing what he has been doing. So who would you pick to replace Powell? The President is going with his old friend Condoleezza Rice.
Lesson one: it’s who you know.

Rice’s ties to the Bush family go back to 1989 when she was Director of Soviet and East European Affairs in the National Security Council to Bush sr. In 2000 she took a leave of absence from Stanford to become Bush jr’s foreign policy advisor. And upon his election was chosen to be National Security Advisor. Rice also served on Chevron’s board from 1991 until 2001 and even had an oil tanker named after her. How’s that for a perk?

Of course we all know the only reason why Bush is where he is today is because of his family connections and money. There’s no way he would have been able to start his first company without his left-over trust college trust funds. This sequentially led to being part owner of the Texas Rangers, governor of Texas, and now President.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with getting a job because you have connections. However, you should be able to produce once you’re in the position. In the private sector if you don’t you're simply fired or dead-ended to where you can’t do any harm. Apparently in the Bush administration this gets you re-elected or promoted.

Bush is definitely a president of extremes. For the first nine months of his first term he did a lot of nothing. Then after 9/11 he hasn’t been able to stop doing things. This can be represented by a phenomenon displayed by managers who have the power to lead by virtue of their position, but not necessarily the leadership ability to go with it. Those people often make a lot of decisions and appear decisive. They have no time to listen to alternative points of view. The trick is to appear as confident and as pro-active as possible and people will think you are leading.
Lesson two: look busy.

Unfortunately this has nothing to do with making good decisions or leading in the right direction. Anyone can make decisions, but it takes leadership to make the right ones. The head of a company can create mission statements, lay down policy, hold meetings, and institute directives all day long, but if the company consistently loses money he will be fired. In American politics he gets re-elected.

Bush and Rice have been busy motivating the American people to take Saddam out, mainly by trying to scare people. We’ve heard everything from Saddam’s lies and secret WMD stockpiles, to his desire to acquire WMDs, to his ties to terrorists, to his just being a really mean person. Rice even took the time to write a column for the New York Times in January 2003 titled “Why We Know Iraq is Lying”. Rather than working off of presuppositions she should have been reviewing the intelligence more closely?

Rice has been a centerpiece in the administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq. She specifically advised the President to go to war when asked, and has used Saddam’s WMD capability as her reasoning. Of course this has all proven to be false. Since then she has been involved in many missteps regarding Iraq intelligence. As the Washington Post reported (July 27, 2003), “Either she missed of overlooked numerous warnings from intelligence agencies seeking to put caveats on claims about Iraq’s nuclear weapon’s program, or she made public claims she knew to be false.”

Rice and Bush both buck the Peter Principle by continuing to rise past their level of incompetence. Both give the appearance of doing a lot of good things, but as has been proven, that does not necessarily mean good things are happening.

At first I was discouraged about Rice being in effect given a promotion from National Security Advisor to Secretary of State. However it might be perfect for her. The department’s mandate is “to create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community.” This is usually attempted through diplomatic means first; something Bush and his neocrons are not very fond of. So Rice, like Powell, can be pigeonholed into this position, while the real work of imperialism can go on. She gets a promotion and the State Department falls in line with the administration’s global policies. Only this time Bush won’t have to deal with the even handed logic of someone like Powell.
Lesson three: the boss is always right.

This said, no wonder he likes Rice so much! When this administration needed an advisor who knew what was going on in the hotspots of the world, Bush enjoyed the luxury of Rice who would tell him what he wanted to hear. History has largely proven Powell right, and Bush and the rest of his advisors wrong. Yet Powell found himself on the outside looking in. His doctrine of using decisive force only when US interests are at stake, only after all other options have been exhausted, was ignored. His warning to the President that if you break Iraq you own it was disregarded. All of this was forged by his experience in Vietnam which the president and those in his inner circle chose to ignore because Powell did not sing along loud enough.

The real lesson is it's not how right you are. It doesn't matter even if history proves you right. Powell served for 30 years, from Vietnam through the Cold War into Gulf Storm. But what good did all that experience do when the one in charge didn't want to hear it? Take no solice in the fact that you do your job better than anyone else in the office. When was the last time you played golf with the boss?

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Lecturing People of Faith

I was watching Dr. James Dobson being interviewed by George Stephanopoulos on “This Week.” It’s no secret that Dobson is a conservative Christian who has set himself up as an icon for evangelicals. His organization “Focus on the Family” gives advice to millions of Christians and his books have been read by millions more.

On the show Dobson was questioned about his comments regarding Patrick Leahy. Dobson was quoted as saying, “Patrick Leahy is a ‘God’s people’ hater. I don’t know if he hates God, but he hates God’s people.” I found this rhetoric a little strong from a man who is supposed to be representing Christ and Christian values. Apparently I wasn’t the only one a little confused because Stephanopoulos asked “Isn’t that sort of an anti-Christian thing to say?” Dobson, who could have explained for the benefit of non-Christian viewers why he felt so strongly, replied coldly, “George, do you really want to lecture me on Christianity?”

Apparently since the sweeping Republican victory on Nov 2, credited largely to the mass voting of evangelical Christians, people like Dobson are now riding higher than ever. Consequentially in the course of the interview I detected no trace of Christ’s humility, no trace of Christ’s compassion on “lost” people, and no trace of Christ’s view of faith as an individual decision—not mandated by organizational controls. The audacity of someone like Stephanopoulos, a man who as far as I can tell makes no money off other people’s faith, to question someone like Dobson who has dedicated his life to telling Christians what to do. If I believed I had just helped turn the tide of the election I wouldn’t want to be lectured by anyone either. The proof is in the pudding—but that goes both ways.

Dobson is obviously a Gnostic, someone privy to secret knowledge the rest of us have no access to. Most of us simply have not been blessed, or—as they probably want us to think—do not love God enough to have Him speak to us. If I had such omniscience I don’t think I would like to be bothered with petty questions about my thought process either. My replies would probably be along the lines of, “I’d explain it to you but you just wouldn’t understand anyway.”
And that was what he was telling Stephanopoulos, and the rest of us, wasn’t it? Yes, once again we were given “The Christian Finger” by an evangelical who claims to have the answers but doesn’t really like to be criticized. This is why they should be questioned all the more. They put themselves up as answer men and all they’ve done is produced indolence, ignorance, and irrelevance in the church.

Dobson seems to know who ‘God’s people’ are. And just who are they? The Christians who dutifully attend church? The ones who buy his books? The ones who subscribe to his newsletter? The arrogance involved in judging anyone as in one camp or another when Jesus’ own disciples couldn’t tell is arrogant enough. I have had many Christians come up to me and simply assume I am an atheist because I don’t attend church regularly. How nice to be stereotyped before the conversation even starts. Did Jesus act this way? I don’t see it anywhere in the Bible.

And what exactly is a ‘hater of God’s people’ anyway? Someone who feels people should have equal rights regardless of how closely those people follow the Bible, or how often they attend church? I wish God spoke to me in such clear and concise ways. But he doesn’t. And so I guess I’ll have to use the example of Jesus and some common sense on how to treat others. It’s much easier to label people as ‘haters’, that type of tough talk always attracts a nice crowd of followers. But I guess I’m just not able to judge who to vote for by virtue of which congressman loves God’s people more, and which one is worthy of heaven or hell. But thank God we have tuned-in Christians like Dobson who will show us the way with books, newsletters, and interviews. Because, Lord knows, people like me need it.

Jesus loved to “lecture” those who claimed to have inside knowledge about what God wanted and who loved God the most. They were called Pharisees and they stood on the street corners, adorned with religious symbolism, faces ashen from fasting, to show everyone how much they loved God, and to give all the more credibility when they told ‘God’s people’ what to do. But Jesus saw through all of this and lectured the Pharisees because they had set themselves up between man and God and therefore Jesus wanted to shed some light on them. They were hypocrites playing a role. In fact the Pharisees loved the attention, they loved the respect, and they loved being questioned, but not lectured or challenged. They weren’t helping anyone get closer to God with their hollow rituals. Jesus lectured them and they crucified him.

And today we have Pharisees among us. They claim to know better than the next person what God wants. They have 101 ways to show that they love God more than the next person—from stuffing their Bible covers with church pamphlets, to the silver fish symbol on the back of their car. And they know who ‘God’s people’ are. They are the ones who are just like them. They are cloister of people who come together every Sunday morning to do exactly what they did last Sunday. They know who is going to heaven, and who is going to hell, and exactly what to do on the road along the way. And they can label people as ‘haters’ and they can be indignant when questioned about it because they love God more than you or me.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Conviction, Courage and Other Things That Don't Matter

We're told time and again by himself, his staff, his talking heads, by conservatives, and by “people of faith” that the President is a man of conviction. A man of courage. Just this morning I heard Bill Kristol refer to the president this way in his decision to stay in Iraq .
The problem is these are inconsequential things when out of that framework bad decisions are made. I can list more than a few leaders who, to their people, also had courage and conviction.



Osama Bin Ladden.

Saddaam Hussein.

I am not associating the president to these people in deed, but am trying to show that “courage” and “conviction” mean nothing if they produce bad judgment. In fact, they can be dangerous. How does someone with 100% certainty in their beliefs and abilities ever change direction? Yes, it is infectious to be around someone so passionate. The average person, myself included, is easily swayed by someone who appears to know, without a doubt, what they are doing.
The problem is that no one knows 100% what they are doing. This includes the president, it includes your minister, and it includes your parents. We make the best decisions we can and we hopefully learn from the results and do not commit any irrevocable errors along the way. Isn't that life?

We live in scary, uncertain times. From terrorist's attacks, to the very definition of marriage being questioned, the average person is faced with a world where our buildings come down and our traditions are questioned. People come at us from both sides, one in favor of stem cell research, and the other against it. One side in favor of a woman's right to chose and the other against aborting a baby. Faced with such enormous chaos the average person looks to President Bush for leadership. Unfortunately, they are not as concerned with being lead in the right direction as they are with just feeling like they are being led somewhere, anywhere. History has shown us that's good enough for most.

I'm sure the people of Germany felt the same way in 1930. The country was gripped in harsh sanctions after World War One and was caught in the middle of the Great Depression. People were lost, angry. Hitler was a strong and decisive leader. He pointed the finger at scapegoats and told the German people they were a special group, entitled to what was coming to them. This rhetoric was passionately delivered at rallies, devoid of any logic. But people like to be lead, especially people who are scared or confused.

True leaders make the hard decisions before they have to, and therefore many people may never know who the best leaders are. What would have been best in 1930? Probably stopping Hitler before he could get too powerful. What would have been best for our country would have been to identify the terrorist threat and to stop it BEFORE it led to hijacked planes and flown into our buildings. The best leaders are not reactive. They lead before those being led see any reason for leadership. And a rule of thumb is if a good leader has to tell you he is, he probably isn't as good as you want to think he is. How would we react at work if our bosses told us in memos “I'm doing a good job.” We would probably view him, rightly, with some suspicion because if he's doing a good job, we'd know it.

And what we don't want to admit is that we don't know President Bush is doing a good job do we? But we're happy to let him fill in those blanks and tell us what we want to hear so badly.
What hurts us to accept is that President Bush is reactive. In the wake of 9/11 he decided it was time to reshape the world? Suddenly it was clear that Saddam Hussein was a major threat to this country, so much a threat that we had to go take him out, immediately? Bush was convinced and when the evidence didn't back it up, he worked around that and told us in no uncertain terms that Saddam was an immanent threat. After all, Bush is such a good leader, he knows better than the factual evidence. He knows better than every other sensible leader in the world who chose not to invade Iraq because there was simply no reason to invade.

But that is all hindsight, isn't it? My question is, why didn't such a strong and convicted leader like President Bush recognize any of these obvious threats before 9/11? President Bush's actions have not come from any strong convictions leading him to act given no outside stimulus. No. It took a terrible disaster for him to start acting.

Now, we are reacting. We have almost 150,000 men and women trying to hold Iraq together. The country has fallen into a state of martial law. 100,000 Iraqi civilians have already been killed, not to mention how many more have been wounded. Only the most militant of us agrees that invading Iraq was a good idea, or that the invasion/occupation is going well today. No, what many of people who voted for Bush seem to selectively forget is that the best course of action would have been to stay out of Iraq all together and let the UN sanctions keep Saddam pinned as he was.

But now it's broken—because of a faulty reasoning process by the President. And rather than letting hindsight guide us and vote out the man who has proven to be a reactive/dangerous leader, costing America her integrity and her young men and women, we put him back in power for four more years because we believe what he tells us. We want to believe it so badly, because most of us are lost. He IS decisive. He IS convinced. He IS a good leader. I have no doubt that in a different life you could invite him to your house and he would bring chips and watch the football game with you, or play paintball with you. He would argue things passionately, and cling to his beliefs and everyone would respect him for that. Unfortunately, having conviction and having courage means nothing if it leads to destruction.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Historians study the Hitler and try to answer the question: how did he do it? How did he motivate his country to attack, conquer, occupy, and plunder other countries without provocation? How did he convince his people to round up Jews, throw them in ghettos and later into ovens? His tools were fear, paranoia, insecurity, and lies. What does it say about our country when the man we have re-elected as president uses those same tactics to stay in power?

I’m afraid historians will view us in the same light as the ignorant Nazi populace who participated while their government broke treaties, disregarded international law, amassed a huge military, tried to destroy the Jews and take over Europe, and push their world-view, Fascism, on anyone within bombing range. All of this perpetuated, not based not on facts, but on fear and suspicion.

In the early 30s the German people were angry. They were blamed for World War One and hard sanctions were forced on their country. Hitler channeled that anger and found a few scapegoats to collect in concentration camps, and countries to dive bomb into submission, invade with shock troops and control without provocation.

The Americans were angry after 9/11. George W. Bush channeled that anger and found a few scapegoats in the Iraqi people. He played on the fears of the American people, the fictional “smoking gun in the form of a mushroom cloud”, to throw suspects into prison without cause where they were tortured, to break international law, invade and control countries without provocation.

Hitler saw enemies from all sides. The Jews were the enemy and so was the rest of Europe. The communist neighbors to the East were godless and evil. Nothing short of total victory was required, no matter what the cost, to form a Third Reich. Of course there are no facts to back up such outrageous claims, but that never stopped the KKK from lynching a few African Americans either. It never stopped the church from burning heretics at the stake. It did not stop the US from invading Iraq.

Where are the WMDs now? Where was the immanent threat? In the form of garbage truck shocks that could potentially be used as rocket launchers? In the form of mythical ties between secularist Saddam and fanatical Al Quida? Worse, does anyone seem to care at the lack of evidence for war? Apparently not. To this day, almost 50% of Americans still think Iraq had ties to Al Quida, or WMDs. Shame on the US. Who is worse? The ignorant German people who had no independent panels to tell them their leaders were inept and misleading? Or us who refuse to listen when told?

Hitler used the idea of perpetual war to keep his people paranoid. Anyone questioning the need for so much aggression was labeled a traitor. Herman Goering once said, “All you have to do is tell the people they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.” I can’t help but draw the parallels. Perhaps the greatest feat of the campaign was turning John F. Kerry, a decorated war veteran, into someone “unfit for command” because he questioned Vietnam and the need for senseless wars.
George W. Bush has fashioned a perpetual war on terror. Right now we have troops in over 50 countries, we have terror alerts, and watch lists, and scare tactics. When people question the need for all of it, Bush replies “they don’t understand the war on terror.” The message is clear: without our aggression, you are less safe. When anyone questions the need for force and aggression, for the Patriot Act, for bunker busters, sidewinders, and tomahawks, they are labeled as unpatriotic.

I have done the same thing. I questioned a friend’s patriotism as he spoke out during the first days of the Iraq war. It was a shameful thing for me to do, and it turns out he was right, and I was wrong. I believed the hype. We were going to go in and secure Iraq and keep America safe. Is this how the Germans felt about invading Poland or Russia? What’s the difference between fabricating Poland’s invasion of Germany to justify invasion, and the US fabricating WMDs in Iraq to justify invasion?

It’s bad enough when it happens once. But it is shameful to ever let it ever happen again. So, shame on us. Shame on us for allowing it to happen, and worse, for showing the world we approve of it. At least the German people were ruled forcefully by Nazi storm troopers. The only thing keeping George W. Bush in power is fear, verbiage, and the vote of the ignorant. So, shame on us for being scared and allowing ourselves to be pushed around by the likes of Bush and Cheney.

I am not a Kerry fan. I do not hate Bush. I believe leaders will use as much leverage as they are granted to forward their goals. The blame goes to those who allow it, and give license to it and in a democracy that blame goes to the people. The world looks to us to elect a sensible leader because it does matter to them. We have given Bush the big stick he swings around, and the freedom to walk loudly and terrorize. Shame on us. And the world looks as us and doesn’t understand. And neither do I. And neither will historians. There is a greater shame on the US for not learning from history, for being fooled again, for being a weak and emotional people.
Now the most powerful country in the world is in the hands of people who don’t know which way to aim the gun. No wonder the world views us with suspicion, and countries race to acquire nuclear weapons to keep themselves safe. And the message we send to the world is this: fear and terror work. It wins elections.

The Real Message

Let’s recap the election at this point: Bush looks like he is going to be re-elected. And all 11 states voted to ban gay marriage. So, someone please help me here. Apparently the real message is: it’s OK to go to war with a country based on zero evidence--and allow thousands of young men and women to die—but it’s not OK for two homosexuals to get married and quietly live out their lives?

Someone please help me. What has Bush done in the last four years to warrant a second term? He stood on a pile of rubble on what was once the World Trade Centers, days after terrorists caught his administration with its pants down, and brought 220 stories of concrete and steel down on 3,000 innocent civilians. In that moment Bush talked tough and later unleashed hell on two Islamic countries. He fabricated tales of WMDs in the desert, of smoking guns in the form of mushroom clouds, he gave us code oranges (does anyone know what to do during a code orange?), and epic struggles of good vs. evil. He did everything he could think of to divert the failure of his own presidency into an act of vengeance against any country he saw fit to punish. And the people bought it. The real message: Fear sells. I’m sure the terrorists are enjoying this one.

Perhaps you’ve seen the movie “American Beauty”. Perhaps you remember the character Col. Frank Fitts, USMC retired. The fag hating, crew cutted father who, after all the tough talk, in the end was simply too scared to face the changing world around him. He was a little man, trying desperately to hold onto the world the way he liked it. That is our country. Behind all the smart bombs, the money, the power, the opulence, the vacations in Florida, we are a scared country clinging desperately to a narrow, close fisted view of America. The real message: We’re afraid of change.

“I’m just afraid,” one friend confided in me, “that if Kerry is elected we’ll be cozying up to the French. We’ll all be speaking French!” The real message: I’m scared.
Standing in line waiting to vote a woman behind me reasoned, “Well, we’re in Iraq now, we need to see it through.” The real message: Make a mess and we’ll give you four more years.
Someone help me. Maybe I’m not thinking clearly. I’m obviously the crazy one, because me and my kind, are going to lose this election. But I read between the lines. The real message: Bush may not really know how to protect you, but he’ll make life hell for anyone who might hurt you. He’ll create the fear and save you from it. And apparently for most, that is good enough.
People in this country are lost, scared, unsure, and they are tired of accepting change and dealing with the stress of change. We look to ministers, to talk show hosts, to AM radio, to celebrities, to presidents to show us the “way”. Never mind that they do not know any better than we do. But they do know how to bind us up with fear. The real message: Tell me what to believe and I will.

We can’t take the 10 Commandments off the walls of schools, or remove lines from the pledge, not because these things add up to anything in the minds of kids, but because we are afraid. If we take the 10 Commandments off the walls what’s next? Our kids might become pagans! Along the same lines we can’t allow homosexuals to marry each other. Allow that, and all hell might break lose! The real message: I want everyone to think and act like me.

Why two consenting homosexuals are not allowed to get married and have the same rights as me, I just don’t understand. But all eleven states have voted to ban such a thing. How that arrangement affects the “sanctity” of marriage is beyond me. As if Christians, who have had a lock on marriage in western society for the last 2000 years, have done such a good job keeping it holy. The real message: This country hates fags.

And why someone would re-elect Bush, on the argument that we’re stuck in Iraq and now we have to stay the course, I’ll never understand. The best course would have been to leave Saddam alone, to not perpetrate on the public that WMDs existed when the intelligence could not back it up. Cops do not go around breaking into homes based on lack of evidence, do they? They don’t then burn the house down and kill the family based on fear, do they? We would never stand for that, would we? Yet we re-elect the man who does this to other countries? The real message: We’ll do whatever we want, but if you do what you want we’ll crush you.
And unfortunately, fear sells. Dick Cheney goes around predicting terrorist attacks, should he and Bush not be re-elected, and soccer moms get nervous. John Ashcroft raises the terror alert and NASCAR dads get protective. California tries to marry homosexuals and people turn to the God loving George W. Bush, because they know he hates gays too, doesn’t he? And he won’t let them have a piece of their America, will he? No, not on his watch.

It is easy to organize and rally people based on fear. The Nazis knew this. Unfortunately it is much harder to unify people on optimism and peace. Perhaps this is why God has wired into all of our lives so much pain. Without it we might never consider him, or pray to him. With it, we are drawn to him like good little children who need protection and safety. We are all like sheep, gone astray. And in George we trust to keep us safe at night. But when you act out of fear, facts are ignored, innocent people get hurt, rights are denied and helpless countries get bombed. The real message: We’re no better than the Nazis.

You can learn a lot from a country based on who they elect as president. And more-so, what they elect that person based on. This is probably why the world watches us so closely this time around. Will we re-elect the man who is running the company into the ground, based on fear? Or elect the alternative, any alternative, because we do not want to operate out of fear anymore? The real message: We want to be pushed around.

So what have I learned during this election? Our country will not allow homosexuals to get married. The real message: we’re scared of gays. It will oppose stem cell research. The real message: it’s ok as long as it affects someone else. This country seems to love a good war, even a meaningless one. The real message: we love to take it out on the other guy, and we love the illusion that that makes us seem strong and secure. This country seems to place no value on the judgment of a man who served, was wounded, and decorated in a previous meaningless war. This country seems to have no problems watching that vet get defamed. The real message: we do not honor our troops or their opinions. They should fight and die, but not form opinions, or learn from mistakes. The real message is this: This country would rather operate on fear rather than facts. And as long as that superstitious mindset remains, this country is in the Deep South , looking over its shoulder, waiting to lynch the next ideal or lifestyle or foreign country that threatens it.