Are You Ready for the Future?
Edited by John L. Petersen [email protected]
PUNCTUATIONS by John L. Petersen I've been thinking about our president lately and his efforts to get his administration back on the track. My assessment of Barack Obama is fundamentally colored by having read his book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream back during the election campaign. In one of my earlier incarnations I spent a significant amount of time around some presidential candidates and I have a sense about how some of them look at the world and how the inside of the American political system works. This experience and then reading Obama's book convinced me that at his core, this is a good man who is very bright and had some deep, fundamental ideas about what needed to be done set this country off in a desirable, new direction. He was different from most politicians. Not since Gary Hart had there been as thoughtful a candidate in the race. Regardless of the criticisms of the brevity of his campaign mantra pitching "just" change, a majority of the American electorate saw in Obama these very basic, good qualities and even if they hadn't read the book, sensed that he perceived himself, the country, and the world in quite a different way than his predecessor. There really was a chance for a new world this time. That's what gave many of us hope. That's what radically changed the perspective of the U.S. around the world. Most Americans don't understand how poorly we were thought of outside of our borders during the previous administration - how that what we were doing in the war on terror, etc., was seen as fundamentally at odds with what everyone had come to believe we really stood for. They were quite
saddened by the torture and other stuff. The turn to the dark side sent shivers around the world, raising ominous questions in the minds of our friends about the future for our country and by extension, the world. It's no wonder why the Nobel Foundation gave him the Peace Prize. His campaign and victory radically changed feelings about America and the future of the world across the planet. It's not nationalistic to suggest that in the big picture, the U.S., unlike any other country provides extraordinary hope for the future of humanity. Look around the world. Certainly there are many other wonderful, perhaps even more enlightened nations, but none has the size and ingenuity coupled with a basic sense of goodness that America has. At least, that's what I am told when I travel out of the country by many thoughtful folks who hail from all over the globe. Obama very clearly connected with that sense of goodness that many of us have. He gave us hope. But, delivering on that hope has been quite a different issue. The problem is our government. James Fallows, in a very provocative piece in the latest issue of The Atlantic asks, "Is America going to hell?" In the end, he argues that the pieces for getting back on track are there . . . except for our government (the senate, in particular). He doesn't see a way out without changing an integral piece of our form of government. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations cannot be limited in their ability to influence our elective process with contributions, the issues with legislators has been exacerbated. In ways like they were unable to do before, senators can now say that representing the interests of corporations is equivalent to (and important as) representing individual citizens. I'll be quick to say that I don't have any ideas about what to do about that. But, there's another piece that is also a problem - especially for Obama. Our government is extraordinary complex and arcane. Lots of moving parts and many places where someone inside of the system can effectively hijack it for their own interests if one doesn't
know what is going on. You need people in senior places who have experience in being in government or they won't know how to manage this complexity, or so the argument goes. The result is managers, not visionaries, in places of high responsibility and influence. Their objective is not to change the world or the country, their job is to manage their parts of the government. Because they were in government before, these senior people have often earlier been associated with producing the structures, processes - and problems - that now exist. One could reasonably suggest that it would be hard for a person to come up with the motivation to dramatically change an organization that he or she had helped to build. Vision, and the significant change that necessarily accompanies it, is not part of that equation. Obama, on the other hand, was elected to be a visionary. The people wanted change, and it would be hard to read his book and not believe that this man had a vision to produce that change. (This all presumes he wrote the book, of course.) Here's the rub: in a sense, the president doesn't know much. He hasn't been the president before. It's the biggest job in the world. He's responsible for more dynamic pieces than any global corporation that exists and thousands of highly paid lobbyists are working every angle possible to see that they get a chunk of the proceeds. He has to make decisions about things in which he clearly doesn't have a background (and perhaps an interest). In this case, he's operating in significantly uncharted financial, energy, and climate territory. So, he is very highly dependent upon his staff and advisors. My experience is that most advisors and managers that come out of the government are risk-adverse. They're much better at telling you why something could fail and what you can't do (legally, politically, because of the stock market, geopolitically, etc.), than trying to be creative in defining the world in new ways. The natural inclination of the system is not to push too hard; there will always be more voices against significant change than for it. This is particularly the case if there is not a sense of urgency and clear personal incentives in place to encourage those who must lead the change down into the organization.
This is a problem in these unprecedented times. We're at a hinge point in history where big pieces of the global system that supports human activity are in serious flux. Whether it's climate change, a transition to a new era in energy, or dealing with the likely next dip in the financial system, we're talking here about the need to change. I believe the American people intuitively resonate with this need to evolve - to move on to the next level of development. They know that every week the present system is working less well and that the problems are systemic - they cannot be fixed at the margins. Sure, there are some who are change-adverse and will oppose anything, but the great upwelling of support for Obama was not just related to him as an individual; it was contextual -a resonance with the underlying need. This is a special time of immense opportunity that calls for leadership - bold leadership - that captures the evolutionary need for progress, realizes that the past cannot be sustained, and begins to rapidly move humanity to a new way of living. That's easy to say and much harder to do. But you can't do it without doing it. You must engage. Obama is the visionary and he needs to get into the space where he trusts the larger process, hard as that might be. He has to believe that if his vision, motives and objectives are right, the rest of the world will necessarily reconfigure itself to meet them . . . if he always does what's right. He has to trust his intuition and not his staff. He must motivate those around him to see and embrace the vision but not make decisions based on the possibility of failure. Focusing on how things might go south encourages the likelihood of that happening. He's got more help than he knows and it will all show up if he really changes direction. This can only be done by transcending - by operating at a different level than that of the present system. If the president believes that he is operating within the constraints of the political system, (which of course his experience and staff will tell him), then that will be the reality. But, if he decides that what he is here to accomplish is greater than politics and bigger than the past, he will engage the citizenry and world at a higher level of idealism . He will play a different game by
different rules. If he does that, the country and the rest of the world will jump to their feet in support . . . and those playing by the old rules won't know what hit them. Nothing will make sense to them. That's the change that Americans voted for, whether they knew it explicitly or not. That's what they'll support. There's an extraordinary opportunity here Mr. President. I hope that you reach up and help us all to manifest it.
Aerobic Exercise Grows Brain Cells - (Phys Org - January 20, 2010) Neuroscientists working on mice showed that even a few days of running stimulates the brain to grow new cells in a part of the brain involved in memory and recall. The scientists divided the mice into two groups: one of which had a running wheel they could use at any time, and the other of which did not. In subsequent memory tests the scores of mice with access to the running wheel were almost double those of the nonrunning group. Kurzweil Unveils e-reader with Full-color Multimedia Across Various Platforms - (Kurzweil AI - January 6, 2010) The free Blio eReader is the first to preserve the image-rich format of books and magazines, including their layout, typesetting, images, color and graphics, while also supporting full media functionality, including video, graphics, and web links. The Blio software application will be available for desktop and tablet PCs, netbooks, and mobile devices (including iPhones and iPods); users can download Blio at blioreader.com in late January 2010. A read-aloud feature provides further distinction from other eReaders. A synthesized voice synchronizes with follow-along word highlighting, so the consumer can look and listen in tandem, an attractive feature for travelers, language learners, young children and the vision impaired.
Commentary: Global Fatigue and Trust Deficit - (UPI - January 21, 2010) This op-ed piece notes: There is a growing chorus of geopolitical deep thinkers and intellectuals who favor a strategic retreat from the imperial posture of the Cold War, where we are now fighting terrorist cells on a planetary scale, and a reassessment of priorities. One of the Democratic Party's champion fundraisers, speaking privately, said, "At times I feel that we're exhausted, sitting on the sidewalk, applauding the inevitable as Team China marches by." We are now saddled with a dysfunctional system of government that raises the key question for the 21st century: Have we allowed ourselves to become ungovernable with a Congress that seems prone to micromanage everything into unworkable policies, courtesy of a system that has moved from no child left behind to no lobbyist left behind.
One Day We'll All Be Terrorists - (TruthDig - December 28, 2009) Our First Amendment rights have become a joke; habeas corpus no longer exists and we torture, not only in black sites such as those at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan or at Guantánamo Bay, but also at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Lower Manhattan. Radical activists in the environmental, globalization, anti-nuclear, sustainable agriculture and anarchist movements are already being placed by the state in special detention facilities with Muslims charged with terrorism.
Time For An Audit...Or Some Competition - (Chris Martenson - January 13, 2010) The Fed will return about $45 billion to the U.S. Treasury for 2009, according to calculations by The Washington Post based on public documents. That reflects the highest earnings in the 96-year history of the central bank. The Fed, unlike most government agencies, funds itself from its own operations and returns its profits to the Treasury. For those who understand the very simple idea that the Federal Reserve prints Federal Reserve Notes (or their electronic equivalent) out of thin air, the concept of 'earnings' on those same thin-air money units is intellectually challenging. And since we have no idea to what extent the Fed is sitting on massive losses, or even what they are sitting on in many cases, the concept of P&L 'earnings' are as completely irrelevant as anything can possibly be. Thus, promotion of the idea of Fed 'earnings' is not just erroneous, it's misleading. IMF & World Bank Warnings of a Double Dip Recession in 2010 - (Smart Money - January 20, 2010) The managing director and chief economist of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in this past week, warned that the world economy could soon be heading back into a double dip recession. This is largely due to the 100 or so asset or debt bubbles around the globe that could burst in 2010 sending the world into a double dip recession. The World Bank's chief economist Justin Lin echoed similar concerns: "The foundation for the recovery is very fragile… We may have a double dip," he said, citing excess global capacity that could linger until 2014. In an environment of low interest rates and excess capacity, most of the liquidity could go into speculative investments, he said