Monday, January 18, 2010

Martin Luther King's Greatest Legacy is Doing not Dreaming

“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve.”
--Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. King's words from a sermon he delivered a few months before his tragic death in 1968 highlights a principal that we should all aspire to embrace: better management of our personal resources—better stewards of what we’ve been blessed with—will result in all of us being better prepared to serve when called upon.

The Bible tells us that from whom much is given much will be expected (Luke 12:48). America is still the most-blessed nation on the planet—and those blessings come with a responsibility to apply our abilities to help others. After all, that’s why we’re put on earth: To help one another.

There is an interesting life formula which postulates that when ability meets opportunity there is a responsibility. Our ability to answer those opportunities is directly proportionate to our success at being good stewards of the blessings we’ve received.

Life need not be a competition to see who can out-do the next guy; our own greatest reward should come in knowing that as we help others we honor the greatest commandment that was ever uttered: "Do to others as you would others do to you." (Matthew 7:12)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti: The Stuff of Life

There is nothing like a newborn baby to renew your spirit - and to buttress your resolve to make the world a better place.
--Virginia Kelley

Viewing the images of the earthquake aftermath in Haiti stirs a sense of priority and discerning of what is really important in life.

It seems so superficial to be spending our time spinning our wheels over such insignificant points as whether or not the word "Negro" is on a census form when you view the faces of the Haitians all caked in the same pale ash color regardless of their race; it seems so shallow to be waggling our fingers over the use of "biodegradable trash bags," and worrying about receiving a fine for not using them when you see these impoverished people collecting what's left of all that they own in any kind of bag they can find; we come off just a little pretentious to be arguing over whether or not to accept federal education funds that might be accompanied with curiculum rules, when last night many of the quake survivors spent the night on the floor of an outdoor school basketball court because there was no place safe to sleep.

Maybe its my inherent optimism, perhaps tinged with just a bit of vain, American naivete, that allowed me to view the Haitian Earthquake through a slightly different lens: A tragedy, yes, but also an opportunity.

Here is a nation that has been notorious for its poverty, now standing on the threshold of a chance to rebuild stronger and better than before. The world seems to be coming to its doorstep with plenty of aid, materials, and manpower to do that.

As we pray for the comfort of a shattered city of Port Au Prince, let us also pray for compassion in administering the aid and wisdom for guiding the leaders who must now rebuild their houses, replace their infrastructure, and getting the Haitian capitol back on line with the rest of the world. It's an opportunity of a lifetime for us to help our neighbors...and help replace what was with something that's vastly better.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

More Taxes to Bank On

It's a little entertaining--and highly instructional--to observe how the Obamian Administration is bending over backwards to penalize the very industry it bent over backwards to prop-up with last year's bail outs.
The Wall Street Journal notes, with unemployment at 10%, Washington is now scrambling to show its independence from Wall Street and recoup taxpayers' losses accrued through the bank bailout by proposing a new tax on banks--especially those that have repaid their bailout funds.

This still-fuzzy notion might levy a fee on banks' profits or their liabilities "to compensate for losses in other areas, such as loans to Detroit's automakers and funds used to prop up American International Group Inc.," according to the report.

I am not sure which is more troubling: the “nebulous” nature of this un-plan—which consists at this point of little more than the idea (hey, let’s tax the banks)…or the more general bias of this Administration to shoot first and ask questions later (let’s give em some money; how we going to get it back? I dunno…)

This is a somewhat volatile position to take…but I am one who does not agree the banks should necessarily be the whipping boys to take the fall for a failed set of policies in Washington.

Remember, it was Congress that decided it would be a great idea for EVERYONE to own a piece of The American Dream, home-ownership, and set the stage for mortgage companies and banks to bend the rules of the universe to enable people who really shouldn’t be home owners to do so.

Then, when human greed supplanted common sense in the underwriting department, the smarter guys in the room decided to self-insure against crummy loans going bad with those credit default swaps. Sounded intricate and subtly sexy, but in the final analysis, it was little more than burying their collective heads in the sand in denial of the unavoidable collapse of a lending system devoid of any thresholds.

So the smartest guys in the Wall Street boardrooms were rewarded for the financial prowess by getting jobs in Washington, and decided it would be a good idea to just bail out the banks with your tax dollars. When public opinion against the banks became to large to ignore, like the sterling characters they are, these pirhana’s turned on their own, and now want to impose a punitive tax on the banks for their own engineered-survival.

While there is a side to all of us that is smugly satisfied that the mean old banks are might get slapped with fees that will make their own insidious fee structures pale in comparison, we should not lose sight of a more sinister side of this story: The government giveth, and the government most certainly taketh away…and if the banks are the targets now, which other industry is next? Another way of looking at this is the equation, “too big to fail = not too big to tax, tax, tax.”

We need to be a little circumspect in our rejoicing of the big banks being slapped with fees, because the next target, if we’re too successful, could be you and me.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Air Safety: If It Walks Like a Duck...

The attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day shocked Americans back into the reality that there are still people in other places of the world who do not like us very much, and will stop at nothing to do us harm. This was particularly poignant to me, as I prepare for a trans-Pacific flight within the next several weeks.

I used to love to fly.
I still love the exhilaration as the aircraft shrugs free of earth’s embrace, and the turbulence vibration smoothes to a slick-skinned whine as the landing gear retracts into their wells. I like looking up the aisle at the cabin, tilted sharply as the silver bird climbs and banks towards an unseen coordinate on the globe, over the horizon—or on my next journey, to a corner of the world I’ve never visited before.
That’s sexy.

Getting on that aircraft next month is going to be brutal.
Weathering an 8-hour flight will be grueling for my Bride and I, both recovering from major surgeries—her’s more recent—that make being confined in a small space for a long period of time more than just uncomfortable.

I chortle when I hear politicians spouting off about making air travel safe(er) for Americans. Most of them haven’t a clue. Just this past weekend, one of the more visible members of Congress, Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee from Houston’s 18th District, provided The Houston Chronicle with a rambling, self-congratulatory chest-thumper editorial that made me want to grab for a barf-bag.

The Congresswoman correctly stated, two-paragraphs in, that the federal government’s responsibility is to protect Americans, and urged President Obama to make a recess appointment for a leader at the Transportation Safety Administration.
Good for her.

She could have stopped there, but went on for several more column-inches, promising to study and assess the situation, draft new legislation, and basically introduce a bunch of new laws and rules to better address terrorism.

We’ve already got laws on the books; we’ve already got procedures—some of which, frankly, are just a little moronic, and some of which, it has now been disclosed, would NOT have detected nor deterred Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in his diabolical plan on Christmas Day.
Wake up, Ms. Jackson-Lee.

Only when the politicians stop politicizing the problems can we start really fighting our common enemies. I love it that the Transportation Security Administration (the guys Jackson-Lee is concerned has no leader) drafted new rules that take affect Sunday at midnight.

Here’s what we’re going to do:
Every passenger from countries on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list and “countries of interest,” including Nigeria, Pakistan, and Yemen, will be patted down and have their belongings searched. All travelers entering the U.S. from a foreign country will be subject to tightened random screening.
These are rules that were already in place, just not being enforced.

The TSA says a much higher percentage of travelers will be screening, including advanced explosives detection and, where it’s available, advanced imaging technology will also be used. Smile and spread ‘em.

In other words, if it walks like a duck, acts like a duck, and comes from Duckville, there is a high probability it is a duck. About freaking time we started looking harder at the people who want to do us harm, including where they come from, what commonalities they share in language, appearance, and demeanor.

There is no excuse for not enforcing rules already in place to protect the American people; and, why write new one's if the old one's aren't going to be observed?