Fixing America Part 3: remain in movement

fixing america repair with gold




“There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt






“America is moving around and a lot, but is stagnant.

Either way, change will come.

It could be bloody, or it could be beautiful.


It depends on us.”











america one heartbeatPart 3 is about fixing America. I thought long & hard about this fighting my way thru the general cynicism and malaise associated with the slightly perverse opinion on the ‘decline of America.’ Instead I will write more about attitudes and actions, real tactical things, than about pointing fingers and gnashing of teeth.



There will be some big sweeping thoughts as well as how to fix what is going on beyond the random ‘quick fix’ things we seem to focus on because  politics is involved.



My thoughts will actually parallel those of Zbigniew Brzezinski’s as outlined in a small book <which is actually little more than a 200 page pamphlet> called “Strategic Vision” in which he outlines the steps that must be taken to ensure continued American success.



I mainly decided to write about this because I am tired of seeing & reading all these one-off editorials on what is wrong <with America & the world> and what should be done to fix things. Brzezinki has taken on this challenge and brilliantly outlined what to do … and why it should be done.



I also wrote it because while I sense we are drifting as a country which reflects some solid underpinnings to hold on to – questions about quality of life, crumbling national infrastructure, global challenges with economic competitiveness and overall social wellbeing.



I also sense a turning point.


A turning point to fix the deepening domestic stagnation which is inherently what damages America domestically as well as its global standing by under cutting the credibility of international commitments and prompting other countries to search for new political arrangements <note … it has not been foreign policy ineptness or military decline that has undercut credibility>.





Before I get to specific actions let me say that I believe when something is destroyed, even an idea or concept, something stronger and ‘realer’ can be created.



That belief I just stated is … well … is an attitude.


And anything to do with ‘fixing America’ is a lot about attitude. Maybe that’s why my preface focused on attitude things, having the ‘head’ or the mindset to fix things which is maybe more important than the actual tangible fixes themselves.



That said … the general attitude seems slightly odd, but explainable, in today’s America.

america fix once time

We even have potential leaders, presidential candidates, standing up shouting about ‘America is no longer great’ or ‘we are broken’ … and yet these same candidates seem to also want to close the borders tightly and further isolate the country against the rest of the world <which, in an odd twist of logic, suggests they want us to stagnate in our own non-greatness together>.



What they are trying to say <but doing it poorly while trying to score political points> is to say … “America is like a revered heavy weight champion who has taken a couple of punches … but not been knocked down … and we are still a champion.”



And that said … what people truly feel isn’t anger … but love <aren’t they two sides of the same coin?>.


We love the country and, just like in personal relationships, we worry about what we love.



And let me state unequivocally that a portion of that ‘love’ has to do with what has already been achieved <the past> … not just pride … the achievements and actions … for ‘we have tasted flight and yearn to fly again.’





“For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.”


Leonardo da Vinci





And because we have tasted flight our corresponding negative attitude is consistent … “Americans have a long history of worrying about their decline.” <Joseph Nye>.


fix it not working

– Puritans in 17th-century Massachusetts lamented a fall from earlier virtue.


– The Founding Fathers fretted that the republic they had created might dissipate like ancient Rome.


– Numerous contemporary think-tanks have written that with America’s foreign policy in a state of collapse, its economy ailing and its democracy broken, the American century ended last year.






My foundational thoughts before the tactics.






I don’t believe there is any decline.


I believe united states has some issues and some tangible things that can be fixed.


All fixable things. This includes issues in congress and leadership and alignment <I added alignment because I have to believe there are good leaders strewn within leadership but the system is making it impossible to be effective>.





I believe while I am using United States as an example this thought is relevant to all countries. That this is not just a United States concept <anyone can use the fix components>.






The world is now shaped to an unprecedented degree by the global interactions of issues, emotions attached those issues, collective and shared perceptions and conflicting narratives all no longer solely dependent upon one specific region <by the way … this makes isolationism or ‘domestic only’ thinking archaic thinking>.


While it is easy to apply this thought to places outside the borders of America it would behoove the citizens of America to think of it themselves. Our problems and issues are seen daily … globally … and it effects how America is viewed.


This suggests that HOW the American system performs at home and how America conducts itself abroad will determine Americas place in the world order.









Last point said … I believe the future, the fate, of America is … well … America’s to shape.





America needs to first face <attitudinally> what I call the impediments of yesterday. Here is what I mean:





“Some of the toughest problems we face are those created by the successes of our past.


Some of the greatest impediments to effectiveness are the slogans, the commitments, the issues of yesterday, which still dominate public discourse still confine our vision. The convincing proof of this is the profound sense of unreality that characterizes so much of today’s politics and economics. “


Peter Drucker





Past success burdens us and our thinking.
We have tasted flight, embraced those successes almost as ‘expected’ and , yet, everything is changing.


Globally and domestically. We cannot go backwards. We cannot replicate history. We need to shape our future not based on the past but rather on our vision.


<note: I fully understand this is difficult because the past always looks great … and comfortable … and replicable>



I would suggest that promising a return to an imaginary past era of greatness is easy. Doing it is complex. And, worse, the past is never the future.



Anyway.fix the whole world


Let’s be clear.


The issues are wide open today. America’s decline is not assured nor is it sure we are in a decline.

With a change in attitude aligned with some specific actions <tasks> America will redefine its place & space in a new global context.


And while most things are complex the path to reinvigorating America is relatively simple <with some multiple moving parts>.



I would suggest, rather, Brzezinski did, the most difficult aspect of ‘fixing America’ has to do with somewhat redefining The American Dream <or how we look at what we want and believe we deserve>.





Ultimately Americas long term success in self renewal may require a fundamental change of focus in America’s social culture: how Americans define their personal aspirations and the ethical content of their national dream.

Is the acquisition of material possessions way beyond the requirements of convenience, comfort and self-gratification the ultimate definition of the good life?

Could patiently and persistently pursued domestic reforms turn America into an example of an intelligent society in which a productive, energetic, and innovative economy serves as the basis for shaping a society that is culturally, intellectually and spiritually more gratifying?


Unfortunately such a far reaching evaluation of the meaning of the good life might occur only after the America public has been shocked into painful understanding that America itself will be in jeopardy if it continues on a course that leads from the pursuit of domestic cornucopia to a plunge into international bankruptcy.”











Let me discuss some real change thoughts.


Brzezinski suggests on every measure “America is still peerless <GDP, size of economy, innovations, etc.>” and insists that reports of America’s decline are exaggerated. While I could quibble over some of the things he actually says there is a very tangible plan of action of ‘things to do.’

Things to do is important because galvanizing change is always a combination of vision and tangible doing. The ‘doing’ specifics outlined create opportunities, show vision <through doing> and provide hope for something better.



For example, he explains the present belief of America’s decline by saying: “Six critical dimensions stand out as America’s major, and increasingly threatening, liabilities:”


– an unsustainable national debt


– our “flawed financial system”


– “widening income inequality coupled with stagnating social mobility”


– decaying national infrastructure


– “a public that is highly ignorant about the world”


– “America’s increasingly gridlocked and highly partisan political system.”



I also like the fact he suggests, while many economists, political scientists and social commentators have labeled the problems “insoluble … he says “The United States has the capacity to correct its evident shortcomings–if it takes full advantage of its considerable strengths in the following six key areas: overall economic strength, innovative potential, demographic dynamics, reactive mobilization, geographic base, and democratic appeal.”


Some specific fixes. Some necessary infrastructural changes <improvements>.


Crossing out problems and writing solutions on a blackboard.


– attack a frayed and antiquated infrastructure.





When our roads, bridges, water systems, railways and airports are crumbling, we can create up to 13 million jobs by rebuilding our infrastructure.

We pay for that by closing corporate offshore tax loopholes or a moratorium on a variety of other spending initiatives or raising taxes or … well … it doesn’t really matter where you get the money.


Heck, we can pay for that in some many easy ways it seems silly to not do it. it is a jobs creator, and economic growth creator and an American upgrade. This is the foundation for all fixes. An infrastructure change is like planting a strong tree which roots will spread and provide the solid base from which all else will bloom & prosper.


If you don’t want the federal government to pay for it then I suggest we do what was done in the 1800’s when the first transportation infrastructure initiative took place – federal investment in state initiatives.



– Investing in the public sector



Let’s call this ‘directed innovation and entrepreneurship.’ Far too often we make broad sweeping ‘freedom to innovate’ for empowering small business ideas … if we have specific needs … why not focus & direct our efforts? Government spending is not a bad thing when done wisely. What could be wiser than incentivizing directed innovation?
We should.



– Public highly ignorant of the world.



“The uncomfortable truth is that the US public has an alarmingly limited knowledge of basic global geography, current events and even pivotal moments in global history.”



I remind everyone of something I said earlier … “how we conduct ourselves domestically impacts how America is judged internationally.”



A national geographic survey found that a higher percentage of 18-24 year olds in Canada, France, Japan Mexico and Sweden could identify USA on a map than their American counterparts.


A 2006 survey of young American adults found 63% could not identify Iraq on a map of the middle east, 75% could not identify Iran and 88% Afghanistan.


Over 30% American adults could not name 2 countries America fought in World War 2. In a study comparing current events and geography knowledge of young adults US finished behind Sweden Germany, Italy, France, Japan and the UK … only finishing ahead of Mexico.



By the way … the cumulative effect of such ignorance makes the public more susceptible to “stimulated fear.” That in turn increases the probability of inappropriate response.


We spend so much time discussing pragmatic aspects of education that we are seemingly ignoring the fact that in a globally interconnected world being enlightened is much more valuable than being ignorant.


In addition … it makes our domestic decision making smarter.


Personally I would throw rebuilding the public school system as part of the tree roots grounded healthy america fixinfrastructure initiative because, similar to what I shared above, these are the roots which provide the base for the tree to grow.



– Political paralysis.



Paralysis precludes the adoption of needed remedies which in turn fuels global impression of American impotence <if they can’t solve problems in their own house how can they solve them outside?>.


I have dedicated two separate posts to political paralysis … one on politics and one on politicians.


Suffice it to say stagnation is not an option and doing the wrong thing is better than doing nothing.



– Financial Reform



I would not break up the banks. I would simply more vigorously pursue existing laws and tighten up behavioral loopholes. Tighten the box financial institutions can perform their game in. It is like sports. I do not break up teams I fine them when they break the rules or establish a new set of rules for EVERYONE to play the game within.




Are these fixes attainable?






In 2014 some guy in Harvard Business Review discussed how easy it could be <within some complexities>. Of course I liked it because it is a nice attitude editorial on top of specific fixes.




Umair Haque | 12:00 PM May 2, 2014

If there’s one thing I hate these days, it’s discussing the U.S. economy.


Will raising wages by seventeen cents destroy humanity? Will edible deodorant add 0.000007 percent to GDP? If we resurrected giant man-eating dinosaurs, could we use them to keep our warehouse pickers in line? Isn’t it awesome when the Dow hits a record high (but everything else flatlines or shrinks)?



I feel like I’m listening to a debate on the noble merits of true love between the Real Housewives and a bunch of broseph PUAs.



By my count, there are five dirty secrets about the economy we’re not supposed to know.



Number one. The biggest falsehood of all? That fixing it is something like teleporting to Jupiter: impossible! Beyond us! Science fiction!



Contrary to nearly everything you hear on the subject, my humble suggestion is this: fixing the U.S. economy isn’t impossible. It’s not even that difficult. It’s straightforward; about as complicated as tying your shoelaces if you’re wearing Velcro sneakers.


The US is a rich country that’s beginning to resemble, for the average person, a poor one. Its infrastructure is crumbling. Its educational systems barely educate. Its healthcare is still nearly nonexistent. I can take a high-speed train across Europe in eight hours; I can barely get from DC to Boston in nine. Most troubling of all, it is poisoning its food and water supplies by continuing to pursue dirty energy, while the rest of the rich world is choosing renewable energy. The US has glaring deficits in all these public goods — education, healthcare, transport, energy, infrastructure — not to mention the other oft- unmentioned, but equally important ones: parks, community centers, social services.


extreme embrace the extreme experience

So the US should invest in its common wealth. For a decade, and more. Legions of people should be employed in rebuilding its decrepit infrastructure, schools, colleges, hospitals, parks, trains. To a standard that is the envy of the world — not its laughingstock.


Why? If the US invests in the public goods it so desperately needs, the jobs that it so desperately needs will be created — and they will be jobs that (wait for it) actually create useful stuff. You know what’s useless? Designer diapers, reality TV, listicles, reverse-triple-remortgages, fast food, PowerPoint decks, and the other billion flavors of junk that we slave over only to impress people we secretly hate so we can live lives we don’t really want with money we don’t really have by doing work that sucks the joy out of our souls. You know what’s useful, to sane people? Hospitals, schools, trains, parks, classes, art, books, clean air, fresh water … purpose, meaning, dignity. If you can’t attain that stuff, what good are five hundred aisles, channels, or megamalls?



So: invest in public goods; employ armies to build them; create millions of jobs.

And they won’t be the dead-end, abusive, toxic McJobs that have come to plague the economy; they will be decent, well-paid, meaningful jobs which people will be proud to have.


Dirty secret number two: This is a bogus recovery—and it’s going to poison society, unless we are wise enough to recover from the recovery. The rich are getting vastly richer, to the point that it’s absurd that anyone should be so rich. But the average household is getting poorer; and the poor are getting trampled.

The US is becoming a caste society; and the divisions between the castes are widening. Investing in basic goods is the only way—the only way — to lift millions out of the ruins of imploded lives, and into prosperity again. Yes; the only way.



Selling doggy dating apps for billions while the average household can’t afford healthcare and education isn’t an economy — it’s a travesty. Too many of our growth industries produce low-paying service “jobs” that amount to essentially being being maids and butlers to the super-rich. Sound like a healthy economy to you? I didn’t think so. Hence: invest in the basic building blocks of society — if, that is, it’s a functioning society we wish to enjoy.



Where will the money come from? Dirty secret number three: It doesn’t matter. Print it. Borrow it. Tax it from the super-rich, in whose coffers it’s merely sitting idly. It does not matter one bit. It’s a second order question. If the U.S. doesn’t invest in public goods, it will not prosper; and if it doesn’t prosper, it cannot pay off the debts it already has. Conversely, if it does invest in public goods, and creates millions of decent jobs, the source of investment will matter little; for the economy will have grown and people will be prosperous. We can debate until kingdom come whether to borrow; print; tax; and we should. But we are having a fake “debate” if we pretend that we cannot invest in society first; and then wring our hands that society is falling apart.



Key word: pretend. Here’s dirty secret number four. The pundits don’t want you to know any of the above. They want you to believe that fixing the economy is unfeasible. It’s not. It’s simple. It’s straightforward. It’s obvious. It’s a problem whose solution is as plain as the sky on a perfect summer day.



So why don’t the pundits want you to know any of that? Duh. Because if you did, well, then they might be out of jobs. Here’s what they’re already out of: ideas, time, options, and most importantly, credibility.



Every quarter now, for more than half a decade, pundits and economists have dropped their jaws and proclaimed that they’re shocked. Shocked! That the economy’s still broken!


If every month for years, your doctor frowned, and said, “I’m shocked! The meds aren’t working!”… you’d probably find a new doctor. Maybe it’s time we did the same with pundits and economists.


Remember this old story: a Soviet citizen arrives in the US at the height of the cold war. On arriving, he’s taken to the grocery store. He looks around, eyes wide, and exclaims, bewildered: “But there are no bread lines! How can this be?”.



You see, everything he’d been told about the US was a lie. It wasn’t a land of decadence and barbarism; but, at that time, a land of plenty, of opportunity.


Now, in a grand irony of history, the shoe’s on the other foot. Here’s my new version of the story above.



I live in Europe and the US. I tell my friends in the US that in Europe, if you’re disabled, or seriously ill, or just elderly, many national health services will send carers to your house. That’s right; your house. To … care for you. Like the Soviet citizen of yesterday, my American friends of today say, bewildered: “But how can this be?! That’s impossible.”



Wrong. It’s not impossible. It’s precisely how real prosperity happens.


And in that parable is the story of how economies grow into prosperity. A job is created; and not just a McJob; the career earns an income; the sick are nurtured; the economy doesn’t just grow; but it creates real human prosperity.



An economy is not just a bunch of Very Serious and Highly Intelligent economists debating how many angels can dance on the head of pin — sorry, I meant another variable in an equation in a model. It is lives. Human lives.



So here’s dirty secret number five.



We don’t live the lives we were meant to by merrily shoving Artificially Fried Chicken Flavored Dorito Slurpees down our gullets while watching our societies crumble. We live them when we build things. Great things. Worthy things. Noble things. And the greatest, worthiest, and noblest of all things that mankind has ever built are not apps, drones, corporations, or profits. They are societies in which every life counts. In which every life is truly, fully lived.






Agree with him or not on the specifics … his point is that it can be done.


serious nonsense only f you believe

As for me?


In my eyes, and words, the fixes are possible by removing some key impediments.






“We are an over-muscled giant with a pea-brain for partnerships, negotiations, and consensus-building.



Jeremi Suri Professor for Global Leadership





Impediment 1:



Government <using Drucker’s view> needs to abandon many malfunctioning programs because they do not produce results and cannot be fixed. Government in and of itself is not a problem. The problem resides in the fact we keep adding and never subtracting. I could suggest eliminating departments but I tend to believe the first priority would be to simply eliminate programs. It frees up money and permits everyone to assess who is most qualified to do what.




Impediment 2:



Businesses <using my point of view> need to abandon older inefficient models because they do not produce results and cannot be fixed.


Organizations should redirect resources toward strengths and abandon, rather than repair, activities that are not succeeding. Many programs and organizations/businesses are engaged in activities that they would not choose to begin today, but have been doing for a long period of time. This is especially challenging when resources are dwindling and making changes may be interpreted as a sign of weakness. However, I believe it is exactly the time when dramatic changes can produce the greatest return and, frankly, are needed the most.



Impediment 3:



Uhm. Its us. The people <I actually close explaining this>.


In closing.



Adam Smith said … “there’s a lot of ruin in a nation.”



And, remember, da vinci said this:


“For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.” 



Therein lies the paradox of any successful country.



The tug of war between ruin and having tasted flight … longing to return <and the fix me now whoexpectations you will return>.



It would be easy to suggest this is all solely about America and America fixing itself.


And historically America has shown it rises to the occasion when challenged.



But today’s world is different.


This is a world where almost everywhere is politically awakened with millions stirring restlessly pursuing “something better.”



It is also a world experiencing a dispersal of global power.


Therefore the world is much less susceptible to domination of a single power even one as economically and militarily influential as the USA.



Global stability is not dependent upon American greatness but rather it depends on America’s ability to renew its role as a balancer and guarantor of global order <not domination>.
We the People Making it happen.



It happens not with a president or government <albeit a cheerleader and empowerer needs to be in those positions> but rather with we the people.



Big changes require big ideas rooted in big ideals–combined with strategic thinking, lots of ‘roll up your sleeves’ on the ground work, a broad willingness to cooperate, and the tenacity to stick with it.


Some would call this a movement. It’s not something that can be created by a president and it has to be more than an uncoordinated collection of splintered issue groups. While everything appears dysfunctional and chaotic and splintered today I could argue that we already have nearly all of the components of an effective movement at work around the country. But there’s little connection among the components, no uniting theme to our many issues, no long term focus, and no common strategy.


Even more importantly it is a movement grounded in labor and tasks and “infrastructure the envy of the world.”



A people movement has to be built by smart, knowledgeable big thinkers, strategists, and organizers.


This was done in the late 1800’s:


They created a nationwide network of cooperative enterprises to provide capital, supplies, and marketing mechanisms for movement members. They formed their own integrated media network of newspapers, magazines, books, and speakers, allowing the movement to communicate and educate constantly. They trained thousands to be leaders. They ran their own members for public office, electing hundreds all across the country. They taught literacy classes, put on cultural events, provided lecturers, formed bands and singing groups, held festivals, and otherwise linked members into fun, self-improvement, and a shared social experience.


That’s what a movement looks like.



Let’s get moving.


America can be fixed.


Mostly because we never remain stagnant … always restless and moving.





“Perhaps this is our strange and haunting paradox here in America — that we are fixed and certain only when we are in movement.”



Thomas Wolfe





America is and always has been a restless nation with a … well … static dream.


And maybe that is where I should end.


Tactically fixing America is relatively easy & doable.



Attitudinally we need an adjustment. Not to diminish the sometimes absurd, but mostly healthy, sense of greatness but rather to redefine the personal aspirations & America’s dream.



Let’s maybe call it redefining the American dream.


America has always been defined by a combination idealism and materialism. A balance of the two. Both powerful sources of motivation.


The idealism expresses the best of human instincts in that it sanctifies the fixing america break someone elseprioritizing of others over oneself and requires social and political respect.


The combination has coexisted because one never sought to fix itself by breaking the other. The natural coexisting conflict sparked greatness, opportunity and progress.


In my words it is organizational alignment of social, materialism and political.



We need an attitude shift <and not utilizing anger but rather ‘love of country and what it has to offer’>.



We should avoid seeking pursuing “our nation chosen by God and commissioned by history to be a model for the world” <George Bush 2000>and instead pursue being the best we can be <which I could argue sets the country up to be a model to follow rather than presuming some mantle we are entitled to>.


Informed citizenry.


Informed patriotism.



Being informed means a higher likelihood of being aligned toward a common goal with common tasks. Common tasks which fix America … and fix Americans attitude.

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