Saturday, November 29, 2008

Colombia...Myths & Mystique

As my wife and I are in the middle of another visit to Colombia this week, visiting her relatives and pursuing some business opportunities; I am compelled to communicate some fresh observations and comparisons of this dynamic country with both Panama and the USA. First a few general points of interest on Colombia itself...

Colombia is the 26th largest nation geographically in the world and the fourth largest in South America (after Brazil, Argentina, and Peru), with an area more than twice that of France. It also has the 29th largest population in the world and the second largest in South America, after Brazil with over 44 Million people. Colombia has the third largest Spanish-speaking population in the world after Mexico and Spain. Their style of Spanish is the most Castilian, or pure, Spanish after Spain itself. You could argue that Colombia was probably the most heavily influenced country in Latin America of Spain's culture during the days of "Conquistadores".

Colombia's location with the equator and its substantial variety of elevations and climates provide this unique country with a large range of climates from year around snowy peaks to tropical rain forests and beaches to dry, arid deserts. Its three largest cities of influence are Bogota the capitol, Medellin the city of eternal spring, and Cali, a significant trade center near the largest Pacific port of Buenaventura. In the last few years I have personally gotten to know Bogota, my wife's hometown, Medellin and Cartagena. We have been in Bogota these past few days and will spend three nights in Cartagena starting Sunday.

Bogota and its municipalities have an estimated population of 8,244,980. In terms of land area, Bogotá is also the largest in Colombia, and its altitude (2,640m) makes it the third-highest major city in the world, after La Paz and Quito. Higher than Denver and Mexico you really sense the thin air the first couple days you are here, especially arriving from the sea-level resident town of Panama City. This factor also makes it quite cool and rainy compared to the other major cities in Colombia though this close to the equator they don't get snow at this elevation. You have to dress warm and this time a year carrying an umbrella is recommended. Bogota is a robust, clean and well organized city. The public transport system is modern and effective compared to other major cities I have known and the highway system about town is contemporary as well though this trip I notice more road deterioration on the secondary roads than my last time here. The good news is there is a LOT of road work going on with a number of them closed during reconstruction. That makes traffic heavier than normal on other routes, but hopefully once the projects are completed will bring some relief to the congestion as well. Taxis are plentiful, new and cheap as well. Most trips cost around 6000 pesos...or $3 USA (current exchange is roughly 2000 pesos to the dollar which has fluctuated up and down about 20% this past year with the dollar value gyrations).

Bogota is the center of the county's economic, governmental, military and cultural systems. The many Colonial buildings, many dating back to the 1500 and 1600s, are beautiful and "built to last". (See wikiepedia's profile on Bogota and many nice photos of the city HERE). Most modern structures are of beautiful golden colored brick laid by fine artisans of bricklaying. Buildings 30-40 years old look like they were built last week...maintained very well. The people dress very well here though of course there is still the vast divide between the classes, rich and poor. But overall, Colombia has a robust economy and second highest GNP in South America after Brazil.

We are setting up business in Colombia as an expansion of our Panama business efforts. While Colombia is a much bigger, diversified market than has a bigger culture gap than Panama and Costa Rica with North America. English is not as widely spoken here and because of the past decades of civil unrest with a couple guerilla factions who have been profiteering on international drug trade...mostly selling to the US...Colombia has historically been seen as a violent, dangerous place to travel or do business. That has been changing drastically these past 6 years especially because of strong leadership of the current President Urribe. Most of the Colombians are very supportive of this current administration and the cleaning up of the guerilla activities which are now largely relegated to outreaching jungle corners of the country near the borders of Venezuela or Ecuador which give these elements a place to run when tracked down. The borders are not secured it seems. This past year the masses of Colombians worldwide have finally become very activist in pushing for eradication of the guerilla factions and release of the hundreds of political prisoners these forces have kidnapped. I have always felt that it takes a whole majority population to empower these kinds of changes versus just waiting for government leaders to do something. There was another large mass demonstration against the FARC movement on Thursday pushing to release more prisoners before the holidays. The momentum is on the side of the "good guys".

The productivity and cleanliness I see in Colombia is testament to the culture and work ethic that I perceive as being much stronger than in Panama or Costa Rica where we have been operating the past 6 years or so. I would not want an employee based business in either of those two countries because of the socialistic employment laws and general laziness and lack of ethics in the general populations. Colombians on the other hand are far more productive and energetic towards progress as far as I can observe. Those that are in Panama or Costa Rica truly stand out in their service attitude and intelligence from the natives of those countries. While some could say I might be biased by marriage, I am basing this on what many other peers of mine have observed in these markets as well. The Colombians smile and are more open than most of the other Latinos I have interacted with. Education is highly valued here, and healthcare is at a very quality level...and INEXPENSIVE. Many foreigners are discovering Colombia as a quality and inexpensive destination for healthcare, especially in the areas of plastic surgery and dental care. I have a friend who came here with us who needs major dental reconstruction work. His quote from our Doctor friend was $3500 compared to over $25,000 quoted in the USA. The x-ray machinery used was very modern compared to what I have seen in other Latin markets.

Cost of living in Colombia, and Bogota specifically, seems to be a mixed bag. The cost of vehicles and gas to run them seems a bit higher than Panama and of course the USA. The "sin taxes" are heavy here on alcohol, wine and other imported goods. Cigarettes are half the price of the USA, but smoking has been banned in most public places in Colombia like was recently passed in Panama. The costs of real estate here seems to now be a better value per square meter than Panama, and from my observations of the comparative construction sites I think the quality is much higher in Colombia. They also import less of their construction products since they have a broader industrial and mineral production base in Colombia than Panama or Costa Rica has. They have significant industrial production of cars and other machinery here including General Motors, Kellogg and other international manufacturers and distributors to this region based in Colombia. That provides a broader range of import/export than most other countries in Central and South America.

Politically, Colombia is a presidential representative democratic republic as established in the Colombian Constitution of 1991. The Colombian government is divided into three branches of power; the executive, legislative and judicial with special control institutions and electoral institutions. The President has the most power and the current President has the highest rating in recent generations. The country seems to be moving forward with a fury after decades of conflict, corruption and indifference. Many Colombians who fled political prosecution or threats from guerilla factions are starting to return to their home country. While many found success and more income living and working in the USA and Canada, many have not been successful in adapting to those cultures and miss their families and homeland. I predict that with the rising economic crisis and loss of jobs in North America, many will find the prospects of returning to Colombia a positive idea. Profits are going down and taxes going up in the USA, which will more than likely squeeze out the poor and many in the middle class who were up and coming in that system.

There are a few myths about Colombia that I want to address. Colombia's greatest problem is the international "perception" that it is grossly violent, corrupt and "backwards". To be sure, there are zones and remote areas still controlled by dangerous and rebellious factions who have staked their lives for generations on the principles of "revolution" and "revolt"...class warfare if you will. I'm sure there were times and circumstances justifying much of that sentiment in history. Unfortunately, over time these causes get worked out or absorbed in the society and the "revolutionary" wakes up one morning to find himself quite outnumbered and unwanted. The human reaction in many of these cases is to "continue the cause" at whatever the price and they build their whole identity as a revolutionary for only "revolution's" sake. In addition there are many external factions or powers that take advantage and manipulate these "revolutionaries". There is much evidence of this now between Venezuela's President Chavez and other political forces in Ecuador who seem to be giving harbor to Colombia's "revolutionaries" and supporting them with arms and supplies to carry on their crusade. Just this past year, Ecuador and Colombia almost went into direct combat at the border they share because of a squad of Colombian military who took out some FARC leaders just over the border in Ecuador. One should see both sides of this issue where borders should be respected, but the neighboring nation also should respect their neighbor and keep their neighbors enemies from using their territory as well. One has to naturally ask the question why a neighboring country would give shelter to the enemies of the state.

There are so many interesting international political issues to discuss; there is neither time nor space to cover them all here. Let me focus on a couple main issues that should be considered between Colombia and the USA.

Colombia and the USA have had a fairly long history of peaceful and meaningful interaction. The USA government under Teddy Roosevelt brokered the separation of Panama from Colombia back at the turn of the 20th century. The USA's primary interest in that was obviously the construction and control over the Panama Canal. It seems to me Colombia just went on its way without too much reaction to building of the canal. Colombia has maintained a balanced international relationship with both Spain and the USA while retaining sovereign distinction. Culturally they are more like Spain. Economically and lifestyle wise, consumerism has caught on here as well from the media and political exposure to the USA. The cities are becoming more and more cosmopolitan and the younger generation is catching on quickly to technological advancement and North American style consumerism. This is a double edged sword as we start seeing the breakdown of many cultural traditions such as family values and professional education in exchange for the making of a quick buck and living just for the "NOW". Divorce is on the rise and some of the youth culture represents to me futilistic expectations based on the failed establishment and the emptiness of their new material world. There seems to be a competition internally now between the Colombians finding their "soul" and unity in relationship to the historic internal conflicts, while experiencing bigger generational gaps and less family unity in both business and home life. It is like Cosmopolitanism comes with the cost of lost traditions...and everyone starts wanting to be alike on the outside while being a little "hollow" on the inside. Many moderns exchange reading books and interacting within their families with pursuing quick wealth and outward appearances of new cars and homes with the latest trimmings. While the goal of economic prosperity is not a negative, to sell your soul or identity to get there probably is.

Many friends and family members have often expressed concern about my security in traveling here. I have to say I feel more secure in Colombia's major cities than I do in the USA's major cities. Sure, there are bad factions and neighborhoods to avoid...but overall there is a strong police and military presence that seems quite focused on "keeping the peace". They don't seem to be so much about the little infractions of traffic and misdemeanors as they are about keeping the citizens safe from robbers or terrorist type elements. If you look at things realistically, there are fewer guns here per capita than in most USA cities and it is much harder to buy/find one. It would be interesting to study the number or levels of USA gangs and felons to the number of Colombian "gangs" and guerillas. It is estimated that the FARC, Colombia's largest revolutionary group is down to about 4000 members now. Compared to USA's gangs and drug "bad guys", I would guess the factions there are a higher percentage of people per capita than in Colombia. There's a little research project for someone to take on...

The biggest barriers to entry in Colombia in my opinion are language and currency differences. If you don’t speak Spanish here and not accompanied by someone who does, you will find it hard to find your way around or take a taxi somewhere. Most business hotels have English speakers somewhere near the front desk, but in the restaurants or other service levels, hard to find. The other mystery to me is why the banks and laws do not allow foreign currency accounts such as US dollars. To exchange money is an expensive and laborious process here. The banking process is very bureaucratic and difficult for establishing accounts. Unless you "know somebody", a foreigner or foreign company is hard-pressed to establish a banking relationship...and they are definitely about "knowing your customer" which has been driven by the USA banking system post 9/11. That is probably a good thing to a point, but to put so much interference in establishing business relations that it gets to a point of defeating the purpose, you find many foreigners just going away without established business relations here.

An upside to the financial systems here is that Colombia is not as exposed to the current global financial crisis spurred by overextension of credit in the USA. Mortgages, known here as "hipotecas" are a fairly recent phenomenon as most people own their homes or condos outright and passing them down through generations. Credit is expensive and not as freely given here as in North America. Banks will rarely lend more than 70% of the purchase price...and most loans are based on 50% cash deposits on the line. That keeps business and consumerism on more a "cash" basis than a credit one. As Americans are now discovering, that is not a bad trait to return to. But, those traditions are also arguably keeping Colombia behind the curve of international trade and tourism. A couple sources have told me that Colombian authorities are now reconsidering their positions on currency and banking laws. I hope they do establish more international currency friendliness because as I do business here, I would like the option like I had in Panama, Costa Rica or Mexico to have dollar accounts and not have to constantly wrestle or plan for currency swings when I enter into future contracts.

I also hope to see continued free trade relations pursued between the USA and Colombia. I am concerned that the Democrats in congress have blocked the current free trade bill that has been pushed by President Bush and been in limbo for months now. As I've stated in other blogs here, I am not a proponent of government or state led trade relations between countries. These "free trade" agreements tend to be more about mutual protectionism and intergovernmental cooperation than about true free trade between large and small businesses in the various countries. I would like to see these agreements hacked out by real business counsels on both sides of these agreements who are the true producers and traders in the various countries. Having bureaucrats in the middle politicizing all transactions is NOT my idea of FREE trade. That being said, something is better than nothing at this point in the game, so I would encourage our countries to implement some form of the current agreements that have already been negotiated. If the USA doesn't "get it done", they will find themselves shut out of some profitable enterprises and exchanges, and perhaps more importantly lose political influence with the only remaining power in South America besides maybe Chile that are friendly to United States interests. China has already ratified a trade agreement here and throughout most of this region. Is it in the USA's best interests to leave the region more heavily under the influence of socialism and communism? I don't think so.

These are interesting times to live in, both as an American and as a global traveler/consumer. There are many new technologies and discoveries to be excited about. There is huge growth and potential in international business and trade relations. Yet, all we hear about are the negative events, the barriers, the misunderstandings. It is time that all the world's citizens get out of their own backyards of self interest and get in touch with the exciting and interesting variety of ideas and lifestyles our world has to offer. Colombia and other countries in this region are unique and different in many ways...yet...they have the same goals and desires that we have in North America. Most all of us prefer to live in peace, prosperity and positive hope for the future. Unfortunately we are surrounded by the voices of conflict, negativity and telling us all the reasons why we CAN'T live or trade peacefully with our global neighbors. We need to start looking more at our similarities than our differences...and it needs to start with all global citizens individually. We can no longer count on our governments or corporate institutions to speak or act on our behalves. They aren't. So...we each need to spend time outside the foxholes of our own existence and examine the possibilities at large with ALL our neighbors. Personally, I am finding my neighbors in Colombia an interesting and viable alternative to interact and build life together with. I think I am seeing signs that they have the same interests in return...

Monday, November 24, 2008

More Bailouts????!!!!

Every day the past couple of weeks it seems the media is filled with news of the various HUGE companies coming to Washington, DC looking for federal government bailouts for their companies and industries. Once again, the "big guys" of our corporate economy can jump right to the head of the line looking for PUBLIC funds to cover their proverbial "derrières". In most cases, these are some of the most egotistical, hedonistic business leaders in the world. It seems all the heads of Wall Street and the "Big 3" automakers no longer believe in free enterprise and competition. They seem to think that just because they have grown to such a behemoth size in a few decades and employ so many thousands of people...they should have carte blanche to manage their companies any way that they choose. They think they are too big to fail. Their boards allow them to spend money any way that they choose as officers of the company...and in most cases these "leaders" of corporate America have huge "golden parachute" contracts that insulate them from almost ANY fallout of their own actions or failure of leadership. In a competitive, free market world, this would be unheard of...or at the least...we would allow companies taken down by bad leadership to live by the fruits of their actions...or inactions maybe.

But now...their multitude of sins, lack of competitiveness and stewardship over BILLIONS of dollars in revenues simply translates to an attitude of "if you let us fail, you will lose tens of thousands of jobs, and our foreign competitors or foreign debt holders will continue to squeeze our poor souls out of the markets." These people have the audacity to place the risk and blame on everybody but themselves. We have seen this industry losing competitive steam against foreign competitors like Toyota, Nissan and others for YEARS now. How much more of this will thinking Americans continue to put up with?

The most appalling representation of this last week was the heads of the "Big 3" automakers all flying into DC for congressional meetings asking for billions of dollars in bailouts. These CEOs ALL flew in on their private huge jets, limosined to the halls of Congress, and then without squinting or blushing at all, asked for the government via the country's taxpayers to bail them out of their debts. I watched some of these proceedings and found myself very angry with these conceited, cavalier and myopic executives with ner an apology nor plan to pull themselves out of the dump they put themselves in economically. They have been playing "Wizard of Oz" for so long that they have lost touch with the reality of their circumstances...and for that they are asking the American people to cover their proverbial asses. If they succeed in getting their bailout, their boards will probably OK each of these guys a huge bonus with it...or maybe an upgrade on their corporate jets? Wouldn’t surprise me.

I think Ron Paul has it right in his diatribe against where our government seems to be headed on these bailouts during this economic crisis...

We must remember that governments do not produce anything. Their only resources come from producers in the economy through such means as inflation and taxation. The government has an obligation to be good stewards of these resources. In bailing out failing companies, they are confiscating money from productive members of the economy and giving it to failing ones. By sustaining companies with obsolete or unsustainable business models, the government prevents their resources from being liquidated and made available to other companies that can put them to better, more productive use. An essential element of a healthy free market, is that both success and failure must be permitted to happen when they are earned. But instead with a bailout, the rewards are reversed – the proceeds from successful entities are given to failing ones. How this is supposed to be good for our economy is beyond me.

I truly do feel for many of my friends and even relatives that work for or are retired from automakers in America. They are obviously "feeling it" in their stock plans, 401Ks, and stand to risk many of their benefits such as healthcare. Yet, from the investor’s side, there HAS to be a better way to turn things around than just giving the greedy bullies on the economic block whatever they want to "guarantee our survival". Let's get these plastic weasels out of the henhouse of free enterprise and bring in some leadership that has more to say than just "I'm sorry" and "help me or else". It's time for REAL leadership and solutions. If I were a Congressman, I wouldn’t even want to see these people on my doorstep again. I would put a sign on the door "no solicitors". You can get those signs for like 99cents at Walmart...who according to reports by the way are having a very decent quarter economically.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Relationships...of People and Trees

I don't know about you, but as I grow older...and hopefully wiser...I do more reminiscing and connecting the dots between all my past experiences, relationships, and how I have arrived to my present state of existence. Between my previous educations in communication and psychology and my practical sense of who and what events have been key in determining my life decisions, I have come to the consensus that who we are is the sum of all the relationships we have experienced and/or chosen in our lives.

When you really ponder this, it gets a bit complicated and onerous. Complicated, because relationships are a combined matter of the heart, mind, social and even cultural mores. Onerous because many of our relationships can be harmful and stifle our growth. Some relationships, especially those of family we were born into, we have no control or choice over. So at ground zero of this missive we start from the premise that much of our relational history we really had no choice over. For some of us that has been a positive benefit and for others who grew up in less hospitable family environments, it has been a handicap in our effort to develop into successful, fulfilled persons.

Of course many volumes of thick, hardbound books have been dedicated to psychological studies of who we are based on our genetics and family upbringings. There are more psychologists, ministers, sociologists and other professions studying the roots of human psyche than there are IRS agents looking to collect taxes. Human behavior can be so bazaar and unpredictable that one of my favorite sayings in life has been "why go to the zoo when you can just sit around any city in the world and observe the behaviors of the most interesting animals on Earth...humans".

Much of our initial behavior and interaction derives from our DNA genetic code and probably the relational programming and temperament we learn in early childhood. Yet, time after time we see spectacular examples of individuals who against all odds and adversities, rise to levels of greatness and proficiency that is totally foreign to the roots they came from. I guess it can come down to the question of how some "bad" people come from a good family or traditions, and vice versa, how some great humans can arise out of the ashes of devastating family conditions. For me that dichotomy points to the reality that no matter what circumstances and influences we come from, our minds and spirits if allowed can climb to whole new levels. We are the ONLY animals who have the power to become whatever we imagine we can be within reason and choose our relationships based on higher values than just physical attraction. The physical is part of our makeup obviously, but there is so much more to it.

I am convinced that where we control our destinies as far as identity and values are concerned is proportionate to the relationship choices WE make as we move through life. This starts at a very early age. We, like most animals in the kingdom, start out imitating and mimicking other people. Early in our life, we usually imitate our fathers or mothers depending on which sex we are. Boys are groomed to play with guns and trucks, girls are encouraged to play with "Barbie dolls" or clothes. Later on our behaviors modify a bit based on our first "best friend" or group of young peers who encourage us one direction or another in our behavior. Some of us are pressed towards athletic/physical competition; others of us are more exposed to intellectual or artistic pursuits. Some of us fall into the "brainy" group, others more about looks and image. Some lucky individuals fall into both camps which can increase their odds of success in society.

The hardest thing to do in life is decide as an individual what or who you want to be without regard to your upbringing or root environment. I would say MOST people in the world just go along with the program, fall in line, and live up to the expectations of their families, friends and others. A small percentage of people are able to break free of external controls or influences to become truly independent thinkers and doers. Let's face is not "popular" to flow against the tide of society, family or otherwise. Most of us grow up in very controlled environments where we are rewarded for conforming and punished for "independence" or uniqueness. Those who don't fit in are often marginalized and ignored...which usually has lifelong consequences of being isolated and ineffective in the mainstream of humanity. But, then again, a very few rise through this cloud of non-identity to become significant icons of leadership or geniuses of creativity who stand out so much in the crowd that the "Crowd" now wants to adapt and adopt this icon's image or capability as their own. I would suggest that most of the world's "over achievers" are people who pursued very different paths from what they were originally "wired" socially to pursue. A few examples...Bill Gates, Warren Buffett...and yes...President elect Obama. Without knowing every biographical detail of these examples, I know enough generally about their backgrounds to know that they took paths very different from their original "programming".

One of my stepfather's favorite sayings was "as a twig is bent, so grows the tree"...and with my activities in youth of working his tree farm together...I was able to see this play out in nature. Trees that grew up heavily shaded by bigger, more mature trees did not grow as fast and were always limited by the size of the big tree it grew under. This was OK for brand new plantings that needed temporary shelter from the elements, but eventually trees that sprouted a little further from their source experienced more sunlight and got more rain...which caused it to grow faster and freer. Young trees that were stomped on or feasted on by deer or other animals in the kingdom often grew into weird shapes and sizes, or completely died before maturing.


I have seen this same phenomenon of nature play out in lives around me. Many people are so controlled and "under the shadow" of their families or peers that they will never grow to their potential or outside the shade of those limiting influences. You listen to enough people telling you what you CAN'T do for long will believe them eventually.

Other people through circumstances or by design have been allowed to grow with less controlling influences. They have been free to take in the sunshine of fresh new ideas mixed with “rains” of experiences that cause them to grow fast and independently...without restriction. Of course, too much sunshine or water on a young sapling can cause premature death as well. But, if everything is in balance with the nature around them, those elements will actually make a person stronger...alas the old adage "what doesn't kill you makes you grow stronger".

You can have all balance of nature going for you when along comes a predator of some form that stomps all over you or tries to "suck the life out of you" such as a bloodsucker might do in nature. My comparison to this would be the bad influences or even uncontrollable circumstances that happen in life which can dampen your spirits, threaten your finances and even your very life. The key difference between humans and trees are that humans are more MOBILE...both physically and mentally. If we choose to, we can usually find a way to move away or towards certain influences. If we are satisfied with where and who we are, there is probably no need to move or change our circumstances. Sometimes we just ride out the storms. But, for those of us who are not satisfied or living lives of "quiet desperation" where we are planted...perhaps it is time to consider some "moves". It can be physical adjustments, or simply mental or relational ones.

I strongly believe we make our own destinies based on the relationships we pursue or stay in. There is good and bad in some of our relational traditions. As stated earlier, we cannot choose the families we are born into. In most cases, we find great meaning and connectedness in our family bonds. "Blood is thicker than water" as the saying goes. Yet, many people I have met are also heavily stunted in their growth based on accepting proximity and security by staying "close to their roots". They don't have to worry about too much sun or rain in their lives, because the bigger trees will always decide how much of each they should get. In exchange, they give up the joy and freedom of the "sun" beating down on their faces and miss those “rains” of experience washing away all the "dust and debris" that has built up on their branches from the "bigger trees".


In life I have had my share of failed relationships...with friends and with women. At the same time, the long term relationships that I continue to treasure are those that have positively influenced my life and values. I am freer than many people because I have allowed myself to move in new directions throughout my life. I have been open to many different experiences and people. Someday maybe I'll even write a book about that wide variety of people who have influenced my growth...both for positive and negative. I retain control and responsibility over my own life BECAUSE I don't allow any other person to have an OVER-shadowing role in it. If people start controlling us, that usually means they don't accept us as we are...or they want too much from us. I have learned the hard way a few times not to pursue or give in to people that want to manipulate or control me. Instead, I have learned to gravitate towards a few "trees" that offer me enough space to get my share of sunshine and rain, yet I can look up to them and see how and where their source of growth is coming from.


We all have been hurt or damaged by other people at some point in our lives. When this happens, it is part of the human condition that we experience pain and react…sometimes in very sub-conscious ways. Some of us live the rest of our lives REacting to the hurts others have caused us. We hole ourselves up in some corner of life holding on to our pain and covering up our wounds...never again to take the risk of relating or getting close to someone else because of the fear and expectation of being "stomped on" again.

Others of us are able to pick ourselves up and keep moving until we find a better relationship to connect to...a shadier spot next to a bigger and better "tree". Some of us need more shade than others just by our natures. Like trees, certain people are just stronger and more independent than others at getting by in life. Those trees/people tend to stand out in a crowd...they are not clumped together in easily identifiable groups. It takes a while to totally understand and take in their beauty...and that is OK. Often times, we want to be like them...but in reality we cannot because we did not grow up in the same family or under the same circumstances or diet of sunshine and rain. Yet, we still should appreciate the difference and respect the uniqueness of nature.

Let's face it, our relationships, or lack thereof, are the catalyst for whom and where we are in life. If we are rich, it is usually because we grew up around moneyed people or we were successful in selling or meeting the needs of other people with money or serving our employer. If we are poor...well, we didn't do any of the above. If we are happy, usually it is because we are around happy people. If we are down and depressed, it usually means we are alone or surrounded by negative, depressed people. Our lives and values are determined later in life by the relational choices we make. If we want to be successful, we need to surround ourselves with successful people...but then again, not so close or connected that their success overshadows our own capacity for it. If we want more passion in life, we need to pursue other passionate people and relationships. This is how we will make it happen. Remember, we have the unique ability to pick up and move ourselves towards the "forest and trees" we want to live and be influenced by.


And finally, it’s all about balance. We will never find the relationships we want if we are totally shrouded and shaded by the relationships we have. Sometimes we have to take more risk to get where we want to go relationally. This may mean going through seemingly long times of being alone. If there is purpose and consideration in our alone time, then it can be a very positive growth period for our personal lives. Being alone doesn't have to mean being "lonely". Loneliness comes from being dependent on others...their reactions to you...their approval or lack thereof towards you. Being too focused on other’s reactions will cause your life to wilt and falter. On the contrary, if you are able to self focus in a positive manner...reflecting in the sunshine and rain of your own life without the definition or permission of will more clearly see which "trees" you want to be like versus just looking for shelter in the "forest" of life.

One final correlation between trees and I mentioned earlier about my family's tree farm, some of my best adolescent memories were the days and hours spent working the tree farm with my Stepfather. It was a truly bonding experience...and even though we didn't grow up from the same "blood roots", I was fortunate to have his shade over my life for those key formative years. His tree of life was strong, quiet, and independent yet underneath sensitive and even complicated. But...just like his careful tending of the trees, he tended carefully to the nurturing and caring of my mother, sister and me. We all should be so lucky to be transplanted near such a productive and plentiful "tree". Better yet...may we all aspire to become that kind of "tree" to someone else.

Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers....Psalms 1:1,3

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Guatemala...on the Rise

Over the past year I have been hearing bits and pieces about growth and progress in the Central American country of Guatemala. Since I have now spent almost 10 years of my life in Central America, from Mexico to Costa Rica to Panama, my ears are always attuned to what makes this whole region cook...or not.

First, a few observations from the macro level. Latin America represents a significant percentage of the world's population and strong emerging markets. While "Latins" or "Hispanics" share a common language and many common traits, each country I have experienced between Central and South America harbors unique and special cultures that need to be understood and respected if one wants to interact with them. Since North America's melting pot has now become a second home to so many disparate groups in this demographic, it is even more important for "Americans" to know and understand their neighbors...even if they may be "Distant Neighbors".

One of the best books I first read when moving to Mexico in the early 90s was called "Distant Neighbors". To this day the book remains one of the best reads I have found to help understand the vast differences in culture and thinking between the USA and Latin America. Though this book focused on real life experiences of a "Gringo" couple trying to adapt to a new life in the country of Mexico, I have come to believe the same lessons can be applied to most any Latin country a foreigner or "gringo" (common term for USA tourists) may want to travel or live in.

While I feel my home country has developed unwarranted immigrant "phobias" and outright repugnant forms of bigotry and racism on many levels, the reality is that the USA is now irrevocably challenged to mold and blend with the new demographics of Hispanics who now make up the largest block of "minorities" in the USA. I will save the discussion of the immigration issue and racism for another day, but for the sake of simplicity and focus here, I want to suggest that we American's cannot just blanketly lump all Hispanics or Latinos together in one "camp" of race or culture. If you've studied ANY reasonable amount of world civilization history, you become quite aware of the unique and varied cultures that over a couple thousand years have melded into a unique and diverse culture now called "Hispanic". Their traditions go back much further in time than the comparative history of North America as we know it, and I personally think there are many positive traits we North Americans can learn from our "Distant Neighbors" and that their presence in the USA has been a positive stretch of our own culture and ideals. Let's face it, much of our Western USA was part of Mexico less than 200 years ago. On to Guatemala...

Guatemala is a country of about 13,000,000 people bordered on the north by Mexico, Belize to the northeast, and Honduras and El Salvador to the southeast. While being colonized by Spain in the 1500s,they proclaimed independence from Spain in 1821. In the 20th century it was run by a variety of military juntas and dictatorial leaders. It has also had long periods of civil war and unrest. Guatemala had a long history of fighting between their government forces and insurgents from 1960-1996 until finally a lasting peace agreement was reached in December of 1996. Since then there has been continued corruption and a history of civil rights violations. The USA via the CIA has also had significant roles and manipulations of the country’s leaderships and military controls over the past 40 years as well. In the past 4-5 years, free trade agreements have been put in place and the country seems to be on a new path of sustainable growth and development even while the gap between rich and poor continues to be quite dynamic.

On January 14, 2008, a new, younger President was elected, Alvaro Colom. While coming from leftist leaning, socialist roots, he seems quite focused on business and economic development. This is a refreshing change from military rooted and corrupt Presidents of the past. A special report on Guatemala is available at this link…and seems to spell a bright future for this newly emerging Central American country. President Colom's core focus seems to be lifting the masses from poverty, pushing for inclusion of all elements of civil society to reconciliation and unification, and has aligned himself more strongly with the fight against narco-trafficking and better relations with the USA in that and other agendas. With their GDP growing 5.7% in 2007 and external debt dropping to 12% of GDP, they seem to be going the opposite direction of our own USA economic system.

It seems that Guatemala is poised to benefit from its rich natural resources and energy production with this new leadership. They are pumping a lot of money into their tourism sector and along with that, security measures to lessen the crime and corruption that so long kept much of their growth in check. Guatemala also seems quite committed to growing their financial services and real estate sectors and compare quite favorably with the corporate and bank privacy laws that Panama has grown up on for a long time in this region. If you believe everything this article states about the current and future development of Guatemala, Panama should be watching in its rear view mirror as Guatemala is bigger and closer geographically to the North American markets that have arguably driven the tremendous growth in both Panama and Costa Rica the past decade.

With all that I have hearing and reading about Guatemala, I will plan to visit soon to see things for myself. Who knows…if the dollar keeps falling against world currencies, the “quetzal” might not be a bad currency to have a position in.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Sarah Palin Aftermath...

I'm not sure about the rest of you, but I continue to be amazed at the continued spin about Sarah Palin and her "15 minutes of fame" as the Republican VP nominee. I agree with many of the pundits who say that while Palin initially gave McCain a post convention "uptick", in the end I think she cost him many independent votes he needed with her obvious lack of intellect, international knowledge and abuse of the English language. It is not at all about her sex or class...but to think she was the smartest, brightest of Republican candidates McCain could call on as his VP is a scary proposition to me and I think called into question his judgment to lead the federal government.

Dick Cavett put it best in his column this week...

November 14, 2008, 10:00 pm
By Dick Cavett
The Wild Wordsmith of Wasilla

Electronic devices dislike me. There is never a day when something isn’t ailing. Three out of these five implements — answering machine, fax machine, printer, phone and electric can-opener — all dropped dead on me in the past few days.

Now something has gone wrong with all three television sets. They will only get Sarah Palin.

I can play a kind of Alaskan roulette. Any random channel clicked on by the remote brings up that eager face, with its continuing assaults on the English Lang.

There she is with Larry and Matt and just about everyone else but Dr. Phil (so far). If she is not yet on “Judge Judy,” I suspect it can’t be for lack of trying.

What have we done to deserve this, this media blitz that the astute Andrea Mitchell has labeled “The Victory Tour”?

I suppose it will be recorded as among political history’s ironies that Palin was brought in to help John McCain. I can’t blame feminists who might draw amusement from the fact that a woman managed to both cripple the male she was supposed to help while gleaning an almost Elvis-sized following for herself. Mac loses, Sarah wins big-time was the gist of headlines.

I feel a little sorry for John. He aimed low and missed.

What will ambitious politicos learn from this? That frayed syntax, bungled grammar and run-on sentences that ramble on long after thought has given out completely are a candidate’s valuable traits?

And how much more of all that lies in our future if God points her to those open-a-crack doors she refers to? The ones she resolves to splinter and bulldoze her way through upon glimpsing the opportunities, revealed from on high.

What on earth are our underpaid teachers, laboring in the vineyards of education, supposed to tell students about the following sentence, committed by the serial syntax-killer from Wasilla High and gleaned by my colleague Maureen Dowd for preservation for those who ask, “How was it she talked?”

My concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some collapsed governments on the continent, the relevance was Alaska’s investment in Darfur with some of our permanent fund dollars.

And, she concluded, “never, ever did I talk about, well, gee, is it a country or a continent, I just don’t know about this issue.”

It’s admittedly a rare gift to produce a paragraph in which whole clumps of words could be removed without noticeably affecting the sense, if any.

(A cynic might wonder if Wasilla High School’s English and geography departments are draped in black.)

(How many contradictory and lying answers about The Empress’s New Clothes have you collected? I’ve got, so far, only four. Your additional ones welcome.)

Matt Lauer asked her about her daughter’s pregnancy and what went into the decision about how to handle it. Her “answer” did not contain the words “daughter,” “pregnancy,” “what to do about it” or, in fact, any two consecutive words related to Lauer’s query.

I saw this as a brief clip, so I don’t know whether Lauer recovered sufficiently to follow up, or could only sit there, covered in disbelief. If it happens again, Matt, I bequeath you what I heard myself say once to an elusive guest who stiffed me that way: “Were you able to hear any part of my question?”

At the risk of offending, well, you, for example, I worry about just what it is her hollering fans see in her that makes her the ideal choice to deal with the world’s problems: collapsed economies, global warming, hostile enemies and our current and far-flung twin battlefronts, either of which may prove to be the world’s second “30 Years’ War.”

Has there been a poll to see if the Sarah-ites are numbered among that baffling 26 percent of our population who, despite everything, still maintain that President George has done a heckuva job?

A woman in one of Palin’s crowds praised her for being “a mom like me … who thinks the way I do” and added, for ill measure, “That’s what I want in the White House.” Fine, but in what capacity?

Do this lady’s like-minded folk wonder how, say, Jefferson, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, et al (add your own favorites) managed so well without being soccer moms? Without being whizzes in the kitchen, whipping up moose soufflés? Without executing and wounding wolves from the air and without promoting that sad, threadbare hoax — sexual abstinence — as the answer to the sizzling loins of the young?

(In passing, has anyone observed that hunting animals with high-powered guns could only be defined as sport if both sides were equally armed?)

I’d love to hear what you think has caused such an alarming number of our fellow Americans to fall into the Sarah Swoon.

Could the willingness to crown one who seems to have no first language have anything to do with the oft-lamented fact that we seem to be alone among nations in having made the word “intellectual” an insult? (And yet…and yet…we did elect Obama. Surely not despite his brains.)

Sorry about all of the foregoing, as if you didn’t get enough of the lady every day in every medium but smoke signals.

I do not wish her ill. But I also don’t wish us ill. I hope she continues to find happiness in Alaska.

May I confess that upon first seeing her, I liked her looks? With the sound off, she presents a not uncomely frontal appearance.

But now, as the Brits say, “I’ll be glad to see the back of her.”

Friday, November 14, 2008

IF the USA and China Work Together...

We MIGHT have a chance to turn around the ever increasing pollution and global climate changes that are bringing disease and destruction to the world's masses...IF the USA and China could only work together on the problem.

There was a very interesting article in October's "Foreign Affairs" magazine by Richard Holbrooke, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, on "The Next President" in which he compares the issues and positions between then candidates Obama and McCain. Since then the American people have voted and elected their new President, which to me tweaked the relevance of this overview of issues that face our next President-elect.

While it is obvious that many imperatives face the new leader of the free world, I continue to focus and believe in highly prioritizing development of renewable energy sources and getting our system weened off of fossil fuel addictions which are making our whole population sick and in addition making historical enemies of freedom and democracy hugely rich through the transfer of wealth from our productive system to their iconoclastic, Islamic system which holds almost monopolistic control over much of the world's energy supplies. I truly think...and hope...that President-elect Obama understands the danger of this dependency and will do something about it. The lack of action on this has been my greatest disappointment with modern Republican leadership in the USA. For the sake of their future relevancy, I hope the Republicans quickly get on the right side of some of these fundamental issues our country is facing. We can't afford to have our collective heads in the sands of ignorance any longer.

Though the article gives a reasonable overview to the myriad of issues confronting our leadership, I couldn't help but focus on the energy part and the lights really went on regarding the potential, and responsibility, that the USA and China have on solving this major crisis together. The following quotes bear repeating in support of my theme:

Obama has a far more comprehensive plan, with an ambitious goal for emissions reduction, a market-based mechanism that has broad support among economists on the left and the right, and substantially greater investments than McCain's plan in technologies that will help achieve these goals. McCain stresses removing environmental restraints on domestic and offshore drilling. This is hardly a serious long-term solution to anything; even if major new fields were found, they would have no effect on supply for at least a decade, and they would do nothing for climate change or conservation.

The search for effective energy and climate-change policies will require a national consensus on the seriousness of the situation and an action plan entailing compromises and sacrifices on everyone's part, sacrifices normally associated with war -- all without undermining economic growth. As a cautionary tale, it is worth recalling President Jimmy Carter's fervent but unsuccessful attempt to rally the nation in a prime-time televised speech in April 1977. Wearing a much-mocked cardigan sweater, he said that his energy-independence project would be the "moral equivalent of war." When someone pointed out that the initials of that phrase spelled "meow," the press had a field day, ignoring the substance of Carter's proposals. A true national debate was deferred for 30 years. One of Ronald Reagan's first acts as president was to remove from the White House roof the solar panels Carter had had installed.

The twin challenges of energy dependence and climate change offer an opportunity for a breakthrough between the two most important nations in the world today, which also happen to be the world's top two polluters. Together, China and the United States produce almost 50 percent of the world's carbon emissions. In the last year, China has passed the United States as the world's largest polluter. In 2007, two-thirds of the worldwide growth in global greenhouse gas emissions came from China, according to the Netherlands Environmental Association, which estimates that China now emits 14percent more climate-warming gases than the United States does. On a per capita basis, however, it is still not even close -- as every Chinese points out. The United States produces 19.4 tons of carbon dioxide per person per year; China (5.1 tons) trails not only the United States but also Russia (11.8 tons) and the countries of Western Europe (8.6 tons). India checks in at only 1.8 tons per capita.

The effort to produce a new international climate-change treaty to supplant the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012, is getting nowhere fast. A new agreement is supposed to be finished and ready to be signed in Copenhagen at the end of 2009. Do not count on it. With neither China nor the United States playing a leading role in the negotiations, many members of Congress are warning that there is no greater possibility of Senate ratification for the Copenhagen agreement next year than there was for the Kyoto Protocol in the 1990s (in other words, none) -- unless at least Brazil, China, India, and Indonesia agree to limits on their carbon emissions. And without China and the United States, the value of the treaty, although still real, would be limited.

Here is a seemingly insoluble Catch-22: the major emerging economies will not agree to any treaty containing meaningful limits on their emissions, and the U.S. Senate will not ratify an agreement that does not include them. There is, however, another approach that should be considered, without abandoning the Copenhagen process: multiple agreements in which various combinations of nations address specific parts of the larger problem. In such a collection of agreements, there would be a greater opportunity for genuine U.S.-Chinese cooperation. In particular, the two nations could reach bilateral agreements for joint projects on energy-saving, climate-change-friendly technology. The mutually beneficial goal would be an increase in energy efficiency and a reduction in carbon emissions in both countries. (Japan, the world's most efficient energy consumer -- and an indispensable ally of the United States -- could participate in such arrangements; it has much to teach both nations, and it already has bilateral technology-exchange agreements with China.) From carbon capture to clean coal to solar and wind energy, there is vast untapped potential in joint projects and technology sharing -- but no institutionalized U.S.-Chinese framework to encourage them.

I hope "we the people" will get active and encourage our government leaders to pursue agreements with China and other large and powerful nations to cooperate in development of cleaner and cheaper renewable energy sources. It is too big of a problem for any one country to get a grip on alone. In particular, with the current global downsizing of the economy and consumerism, this joint effort could provide jobs and income far surpassing those lost in the current downsizing of manufacturing/consumer based industries in both countries.

This could be the moment to take advantage of current cultural swings and ratify more trade and joint ventures towards these global macro issues instead of just bailing out antiquated, curve-lagging industries in both countries who have missed the mark on planning for current market needs. Let the next multi-millionaires come from renewable energy IPOs instead of “happy go lucky” oil drillers. And I also continue to hold the belief that countries that do business together, stay together. The more powerful nations become connected in business and trade, the less likely they will make war on each other and will defend each other's interests. Based on our global conflicts with Muslim extremists and other dictatorships that would rather see democracy and free trade destroyed, it would be a very prudent time for the USA to have a growing partnership with China...arguably the NEXT superpower of the globe both economically and otherwise.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Immortal Music...

Last night after arriving home late, I was scanning the endless range of cable stations for something to "lull" me to sleep. Suddenly on EWTN, the Catholic religious network that I have to say I normally avoid, was this huge sounding symphony of Beethoven's "Misa Solemnis" which I had listened to decades ago but suddenly found myself newly enthralled at this masterpiece of musical genius. Having my musician's background and experience in producing musical groups and writing music to a certain extent, I just can't imagine the genius of Beethoven who intertwined so many layers of music and voice into this long expression of passion and spirituality. Here was the Bavarian Chorus and Symphony of a couple hundred musicians and a tremendously talented "Quartet" of singers, performing this huge composition so perfectly together that it brought tears to my eyes.

I couldn't find the same version I saw last night on TV as performed by the Bavarian Radio Choral and Symphony so I will look to buy the DVD somewhere online. I did find Bernstein's series of recordings of this mass on YouTube and share one of the video links above at the head of this blog. It isn’t as quality of a recording or perfectly balanced performance as I witnessed last night, but it still gives a pretty good illustration of what I am expressing today.

Even though this “Misa”...Latin for “Mass”… is written and performed in Latin...the universal passion and combinations of moods created by clashing dissonances, eerie harmonies, heavy percussion, varied tempos, and amazing control over so many artists to produce the lightest solo line to the heaviest combinations of all instruments and vocalists giving 100% simultaneously. Once can't help but make some life comparisons to this symphonic symbol of genius ideas and creativity.

To hear the wonderful quartet parts in this symphony is to marvel at the combined individual talents, singing in counterpoints yet all in beautiful harmonies and controlled tones, ending up on the same chord eventually bar after bar, staff after a testament to individual talents/styles that when combined in a common direction of the symphony make total sense and complete productive effect. World collective efforts could use some of this process in advancing the human race in the many causes we share.

Beethoven's melodies are lilting and lifting, whether sung with lyric or simply tones played superbly by one of the symphony instrumentalists. To think Beethoven wrote this masterpiece in his later stages in life when completely deaf is another testament to man's ability to overcome adversity to express his innermost passions and ideas. These are the true miracles we observe in life where one excels even in the midst of their most trying times. There is something in the human spirit that challenges us to overcome our failures and make the self immortal even in our physical mortality. For those of us who have learned music, to master an instrument, or to simply understand the disciplines of composing such musical ideas...this is an experience that I think knows no other comparison. To have these hundreds of great talents both in the chorus, symphony and quartet tied together by a great Director to perform the genius creations of a composer who lived 200 years ago is a truly astonishing feat and again, symbolic of how our world could function together if we all were free to develop our talents and intelligence anywhere near our capacities.

Personally, I think our world could use more exposure to these fine arts and expressions of achievements in harmony and cohesive ideas...that could be replicated in all other aspects of our lives...from politics to religion to corporate productivity. Music is truly the universal language and how sad to me that the world is much more focused on sports and wars both real and economic than on "making beautiful music together". I am newly challenged to expose as many people in my own little world to the "symphonic world". Whether young or old, rich or poor...with a little understanding, experience and an open mind...I think anyone could understand the power and potential of these artistic expressions. At least I am currently optimistic of this possibility during times of great pessimism.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

New Technologies...Hope for the Future

In the midst of all the world's bad economic and environmental news, I have been looking for "good news" lately to get me up in the morning with a better, more positive perspective for the future. I am happy to report that if we look for it, there are many new discoveries and technologies that will over time bring significant improvements to life for MILLIONS of humanity. Let's look at just three varied ideas and or businesses that can have significant impact when fully developed and marketed.

New Solar energy technologies show great hope for bringing cheaper and cleaner energy sources to the masses. Wired News brings a report of advances in "Solar Ring" technology which can make ice in the middle of the desert from simple solar energy. The solar ice maker is an attractive technology. Clean, portable and relatively cheap, solar ice makers could make the storage of high-value perishable items a reality in hot, poor regions. Refrigeration technology throughout the world is one of the biggest "polluters" of our globe. The emissions from Freon and combustible engines that run most refrigeration trucks and buildings is tremendously hard on the global environment. Like so many things in life, the technologies we rely on to help us survive heat and cool our drinks and living space also contribute tremendously to the cancers and other diseases our environment brings us. This new technology alone can significantly help offset the costs to our health and pocketbooks when we demand cold carbonated drinks and frosty living environments in tropical climates.

I also loved the next story on Wired about the "rental goats" being used to clear unwanted vegetation from fire-prone slopes and polluted landfills...without the use of harmful chemicals or lawnmowers. They even consume and digest certain waste products like paper trash. We see these same affects on our development project here in Panama on Lake Gatun. We have a few head of cattle and horses who keep almost 100 acres of open tropical grassy land mowed down to a very traversable level even at the height of rainy season. They provide natures best fertilizer all self contained on the property. I love observing God's natural order in motion to solve some of the simplest problems modern day man encounters. I'm thinking about buying into a herd of goats now since their milk and cheese products are apparently very high in nutrients and protein needed for a healthy human diet. Thank God Noah put a couple of these creatures on the Ark.

Finally, I loved the idea of the "Inflatable House" that can provide temporary shelter during a catastrophe. This mini inflatable world provides a bed, couch, freeze-dried food, a 50 gallon water bladder, a first-aid kit, radio and a cook stove. A fully livable "home" for less than $3,900! This was another American business idea and I can think of many applications for this genius creation. I'm sure it is a much cheaper and more humane solution than has been previously implemented during disasters such as Katrina and the various increasing devastation we are seeing caused by global weather changes.

So today I am encouraged and motivated by seeing progress on so many fronts in meeting our global challenges of clean and inexpensive energy creation, and humane and ingenious solutions for easing the human condition on planet earth. May all who push these envelopes be successful, rich, and encouraged to keep on their paths of intelligent living.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Obama’s Biggest Challenge…Who He is Going To Listen To

In the aftermath of President-elect Barack Obama's election win, the euphoria has quickly moved into all kinds of speculations over who will be in his inner circle, which he will choose to be at the helms of many crucial government posts. While we know the new President will have a daunting task finding solutions to the significant crisis of the economy, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and potential boiling over of Middle East greatest fear is how he will handle some of the extreme Liberals in his own party who currently lead Congress. Specifically, I hope he can control/bridle Nancy Pelosi, George Miller and Charley Rangel. Let's look at each of these individuals as examples of Democratic Liberals to understand why we should be concerned.

Nancy speaker of the House of Representative, is next in line after the Vice President of the USA to ascend the Presidency should the President and Vice President be incapacitated. This makes her the most power politician outside of the executive office. She also is the first woman in history to attain that position. While her power and advancements are commendable in that modern day America now allows minorities from women to blacks to rise to these levels of power and responsibility without the historical bigotry and prejudice that previously precluded them, I still have to wonder why and how THIS woman rose to this level over many other potential leaders. She is from one of the most extreme liberal districts in the country in the San Francisco area. She first attained office by being named by the dying representative in 1987. She then narrowly won her first election in a runoff...and has now been in office over 22 definition of a lifelong politician.

My observations of Pelosi are that she is ultra liberal and for those 22 years has voted WITH her party 98.3% of the time...which to me points to a total lack of individuality or centrist capability. Everything I have read or seen on the news shows her as the most partisan Speaker of the House in my lifetime. While the media and pundits have been heaping all the blame of our country's economic woes and deficits on President Bush and the executive office, in reality it is CONGRESS that controls the purse strings of our federal government. How is it that they can duck a considerable amount of the blame for federal deficits, debt and lack of oversight on government bureaucracies? In my mind they are no less guilty than Bush and his cronies on economic issues. All I saw them do during the recent panic of Wall Street was show up as "Democrats United" with their "deer in the headlights" image, and fingers pointing at the Republicans on this matter. They then simply proposed the infamous $700 BILLION bailout of Wall Street with your and my tax dollars. How will Obama deal with this issue?

George like Pelosi's twin brother, also from California. He is another long term representative since 1975 from that same region. He is hard core LEFT of left! He is labors biggest "pro-union" congressman which to me equates him with going socialistic with USA industry in a day and age when we are losing competitively to much of the rest of the globe in labor and business. My fear is that in teaming up with Pelosi and others, they will think with Obama in the White House that they have an open mandate for taking the liberal pendulum to another dimension Left than we already are. That would do nothing for my personal beliefs in smaller, constitutional based government along with a requirement for a balanced federal budget. It also in my opinion would further destroy the US business economy in the long run.

Charlie the other lifelong politician in the culprit category. While he has been one of the minority leaders in the federal government to push for equality and diversity in America, he also is one of the most liberal of the Democrats. In addition, he is now chairman of the House and Ways and Means Committee, which means he presides over approvals of the federal government budgets. If you want to watch what our government does with your tax dollars, this is the committee...and want to watch over. His committee can thumbs up or down most any federal government program or incentive. Problem is, he has recently been under a lot of pressure over profiting from subsidized rent programs in New York on properties he shouldn't have anything to do with. While he had the power to get those charges put to rest apparently, I have never liked the guy’s politics or his personal ethics. Why we have a guy going on his 80s in this powerful position in our government is a very interesting question. He is in a position to be a big pain if Obama and other government leaders want to go centrist or moderate in their approach to our nation’s problems. He strikes me as the dealmaker who is always going to be asking “what’s in this for me?”

It’s going to be very interesting after January 20th how much we see these three Democratic leaders interacting with President Obama. I hope for all our sakes that Obama will be able to reason and bring these people some balance in their thinking...and pursue the non-partisan politics he has advocated. Problem is...if he does that...I think he is going to have a battle with these three Democratic leaders in congress. Let's wait and see.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Dance...Dedicated to Overcoming Adversity

My friend Ruth sent this video to me today and I couldn't help but be inspired and affected by it.

We all have been through ups and downs in life and experienced adversity from time to time. Every person reacts differently it seems when faced with adversity or hardship. Some of us get depressed, some angry, and it is easy to be cynical or embittered by circumstances that cause us stress or discomfort. This dance of the one legged man yells out to me the beauty and triumph possible if one chooses to overcome adversity and excel no matter what circumstances confront us.

I talked to a young man last night who is 38 years old though he looks younger. He has all his faculties, reasonably good looks and a likeable personality. We had a pretty deep heart to heart conversation through which I found out he already had 3 failed marriages, was jobless and living at home with his mother. He could not get a clear vision of what he wanted to do in his life and was only focused on what could possibly make him the most money most quickly. When I asked him what he WANTED to do or what he has passion for...he couldn't really answer the question. This to me was the saddest point in the conversation. I wanted to share with him some of my interests/passions since I sometimes feel I have too many of them to pursue in this short lifetime. But, I have found you cannot impart passion in other people...they either have it/develop it, or they don't...and they often have a long list of "reasons" why they are helpless or victims.

As I ponder this subject, I can't help but think on what I know of President-elect Obama. Here is a young guy, not that much older than my friend last night, who overcame a background of being born to a mixed race couple in a time where it was a real stigma, grew up largely fatherless because of his parent's divorce and abandonment by his father, and from what we are to gather he did not grow up with a silver spoon in his mouth. Somehow, and I'm sure he had help along the way, he made it through Harvard Law School, was the first black editor of the "Harvard Law Review" as a highly unlikely candidate. I have only read overviews of his recent published books about his life experiences, but from what I have read it seems he struggled much with his identity regarding race and religion, his early exposure to multi-cultural living also presented many paradoxes to deal with I'm sure. He even did his share apparently of experimenting with drugs and partying without letting it take control of his life like so many do…going through some very low moments. Yet, somehow in a relatively short lifetime, he aspired to and accomplished becoming the first black President of the United States. Can you spell O-V-E-R-A-C-H-I-E-V-E-R?

Another recent example to me closer to home is my dear Aunt Nan. As recounted on another blog I wrote, she recently lost her partner of almost 60 years after a long bout with cancer and is in the midst of adjusting back to a more solitary life. If that wasn't enough challenge to deal with, just a couple weeks after my Uncle’s passing she became sick in the middle of the night and on her way to the bathroom passed out. She fell and broke one leg in two places and her kneecap on her other leg along with contusions to her head. They rushed her to the hospital and had to do almost immediate surgery on her broken leg which will require a long period of recovery. She spent well over a week after the hospital in a convalescent/recovery center with large amounts of painful daily therapy to get her walking again. She is now at home confined to a wheelchair and a long road to get back on her feet again. I talked to her the day after surgery and again today and through it all it is amazing how she retains her positive, hearty view on life. I know she's getting good family support, but I think the average person would have quite a bit of "poor me" syndrome during this combination of events. When you talk to my aunt, you only get the idea that she is looking forward, not backwards, and taking each day at a time as an overcomer.

As I consider these three examples of people today combined with viewing the one legged dance video, it reminds me that I have no excuse for not succeeding or achieving my dreams. I have many more advantages over the people mentioned above when it comes to background, experience, and even age. As I approach another birthday this next month I am reminded that the ticking clock waits for no one. How we think and act during every moment of our life determines what we will or won't achieve. Sure, some things in life are based on luck, but a majority is based on "pluck". As Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, "Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect".

So to summarize today's lesson my friends, the way to overcome adversity is to:

Look to the future, not the past.

You have to have a dream, goal or objective in order to steer your life in a positive direction.

We can't limit ourselves to our circumstances or accept barriers, whether interior or exterior, to reach our life objectives.

I'll encourage you if you encourage me. But...I will not wait for your encouragement. will YOU use today? Let’s dance!

Monday, November 3, 2008

President Obama...and What To Expect

I start writing this blog the day BEFORE election day. I think most of us already know, along with the pundits and pollsters, who the 44th President of the United States is going to be. Now that the hoopla of the campaign is winding down and we have to deal with reality...we might as well start looking at the pros and cons in anticipation of this daunting new day in American presidential politics.

As I have stated in earlier blogs, I did not vote for either of the two leading candidates. I voted my conscience and stand by that vote with the idea that until individual Americans start truly voting their consciences...or even developing one...they will always have the government they deserve. Still, I am the eternal optimist and here are some "positives" that I will try to look for and support in this current new American administration.

Personally I would have preferred a mature Colin Powell as the first minority leader of the free world. Yet, I cannot help but be a bit proud of our country that we have finally voted for a minority as our leader and that we had two significant political women strongly considered in this year's race in both main parties. America is truly a "melting pot" which has too long been controlled politically by a white male elite. Wealth from whatever race or nationality carries with it significant responsibilities, but for too long our political system has not evenly represented the varied demographics of our huge and changing population. By electing President Obama, I optimistically hope that his example of rising to the top against all odds serves as an encouragement to all minorities in our country that they too can have a voice and compete to be heard at the highest realms of public office and discourse. Hopefully a large number of young black boys looking for role models will now think and aspire to goals larger than just being the next multi million dollar sports star or "rapper". We have given too much credence and importance to high profile sports stars and entertainers in our society and not enough adulation or respect to business and political leaders who come from disadvantaged minority backgrounds.

Anyone reading this who thinks that everyone in America has had equal opportunity all these years no matter what their race, gender or religion has been deluding themselves. I have seen the ugly face of racism many times in my life, and I truly hope that President Obama serves with intelligence, balance and effectiveness...for ALL Americans. I hope he lives up to his self hype of working with any reasonable leaders from all walks of life and all over the world to solve our many conflicts. I hope he CAN bring peace instead or war. I hope he CAN bring hope to financial markets and relief to the financially devastated. I hope he CAN reach across the political aisle and start some new processes in Washington that will bring progress and renewed positive energy to America at large. It is a tall order...and I hope to God he and his leadership around him will be up to the task of leading the USA away from its current abyss of decline.

Some have compared Obama's rise to preeminence to that of President John F. Kennedy. This comparison has been perpetuated further by the outspoken support Obama has received from JFK's survivors, especially Ted Kennedy and the former President's daughter, Caroline. To this day, JFK was the only Catholic elected as President and was the youngest ever to acheive the Presidency. Actually, I think JFK had significant advantages over Barack Obama. JFK had a powerful political family behind him in name and deed. He also had served much longer as a congressman than Barack Obama has. So, one could argue that Obama is the least experienced, freshest political face to ever enter the office. One has to wonder still how the current Republican leadership could lose this election...but reality is here.

While trying to be optimistic, I have some concerns. I think it highly evident that the economic woes in America and the Republican's lack of a cohesive, detailed plan to correct what has NOT happened the last eight years they were in office is what handed the office to the Democratic candidate. We now have to watch what the new President and his Democratic party with so much control over our combined government entities now will act on to turn our economics around. If they only take care of the "little guy", bail out the failures at the expense of the successful, and turn our whole country into some watered down experiment of "neo-socialism"...I think it will spell calamity for the long term health of our country and you will see capital spill OUT of the USA as fast as you can "whistle Dixie". The only chance America has for recooping its wealth and positive role as a democracy and mecca for free enterprise is to make itself more competitive for investment coming IN...better/fairer tax laws that compete with where capital could potentially flow out...and start REDUCING entitlements and government handouts we can no longer afford, and yes, substantial cost cutting at the federal government level. I will be all ears in hearing how this new administration will pay for its long promised "universal healthcare plan" and re-organizing the huge bad debts of both the citizens and the government at large. I am hoping that now this President will be able to plan and speak honestly about some of the "tough medicine" that will be required to make our country better.

I will also be watching who President Obama chooses to surround himself with in cabinet and other appointments. He needs balance and maturity in many areas where his experience and background lacks. Those key positions will determine if he can execute a viable plan for bringing America out of its current economic straights and successfully "handle" the many conflicts handed to him by our current leaders. Obama's most crucial actions may be about how he handles our "enemies" and how self sufficient he grows our economy and gets us over our addiction to foreign oil and other aid. Yes, we are getting huge financial "aid" from countries that have not traditionally supported or shared our values. You have to wonder about their motivations when you see that happening.

A couple faces I hope to see surrounding Obama are Warren Buffet for economics and Colin Powell for foreign affairs and policy. I hope he attracts some moderate Republicans that can help him stay fair and focused for ALL Americans. Republicans like Robert Kagan, a leading neoconservative and co-founder of the Project for the New American Century...and Republican moderate Chuck Hagel who just retired from the senate...should help him keep as centrist as possible on the political spectrum in representing as broad of interests as possible.

The real role of the President of the United States is to be an example and reflection of its people...both domestically and to the world at large. To that end, I do hope President Obama improves the image of intellect and depth the world wants to see in our leader. This man was elected in my opinion because he appealed to a broader spectrum of Americans, talked about the issues more than his opponents, and represented an image of hope and change that his competition seemed only able to mimic. I hope he continues with a positive message of change, propogated by balanced legislative actions based on realistic financial budgets. We didn't get into our present difficulties over night...and I think any rational person would agree we won't get out of our troubles overnight either. If this new administration simply starts the ball rolling the other direction...this President could end up as one of the greatest of all time. While I didn't vote for him, I truly wish him that success. For ALL our sakes...