“Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell” & Front-line Homophobia

The survey sent to hundreds of thousands of men & women serving us bravely in all branches of the military, exposed two things about the military culture as it relates to sexual orientation:

  1. The majority really don’t care what your orientation is, so long as you’re skilled and competent
  2. The minority who do care are of the most “macho” ilk: those who are specially trained for front-line combat duty, like Navy Seals and Marine Special Ops

So, the real issue is, do you maintain a policy to keep a minority of your members happy?  The strongest argument for doing just that is the fear of the ultimate consequence: the threat by those service members that they will not re-enlist if the “don’t ask/don’t tell” policy changes.  Thus, the argument goes, if we allow a gay or lesbian person to serve openly in the military, we will lose our finest and most trained, elite soldiers.

To which the sane and most effective response is:  We will not lose fine, trained soldiers.  We will simply replace homophobic ones with those who have equal capability but have been barred from enlisting due to their refusal to hide their sexual orientation.

Value added, we will weed out bigoted, small-minded men (the overwhelming majority are men) who may make good fighting machines, but clearly don’t possess other valuable qualities needed to be a truly great soldier & human being: acceptance of differences (really needed in today’s wars that emphasize “changing hearts and minds” as much as brute force); the ability to discern between fact and myth (critical thinking); and the capacity to assess someone or something based on effectiveness vs. personal fears/phobias.

And that is the best reason to overturn this policy.

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Looking for Someone to Blame…

Talk to the handWe can all understand a national angst around a number of life-altering issues, from our woeful economy & jobs outlook, to food that makes us sick and a growing number of crazed individuals who want to see all of us blown to bits.

And when we get scared, or angry, or feel out of control, we want to pinpoint the source of the problem – we want someone or some entity to blame.

Is it Congress?  Is it one political party or the other?  How about the media, issuing  inflammatory stories, whether ultimately true or not, to keep their market share from falling?

Or, is it that we as a nation, and we Boomers as the current leaders of it, have lost our “moral compass” – that our society as a whole is disintegrating, causing much of what’s wrong with our nation today – as we hear more and more often these days?  How about our own unwillingness to make tough sacrifices thus keeping ourselves reliant on extremely unstable parts of the world?

It’s really tough to resist the natural temptation to look everywhere else but in the mirror for the root cause of our problems.  But here’s the cold truth of our distresses:

  • A bad Congress continues to be bad only because we let them get away with it…and I don’t mean just keep voting ’em out…I mean we don’t hold them accountable when they’re in.  Admittedly that takes time…to write them…let them know consistently what you want them to do – but that is the pesky part of a “representative government”
  • Sensationalism in the press continues because it works…we watch/listen/read it
  • Political parties respond to their loyal and most extreme base because they’re the most vocal; moderates are the least, which is the majority of Americans
  • The disconnect that is now the norm in our communities (our lack of involvement), our spread-all-over-the-world families, or our use of technology more often than face-to-face, makes life a tad surreal, moving ever closer to an imitation of it; this may make life easier, but it doesn’t make it better…
  • Companies that do bad things rely on us forgetting about their bad behavior in short time…and we do.  The best example of this over the past year has been the toxic food that’s made it’s way into our homes as a result of agribusinesses’ unsanitary conditions (being humane and clean takes too much out of the profit-margin).  They also know that we simply do not use our consumer clout to send them a clear message of discontent – refusing to buy from companies with poor track records is a tad inconvenient (shopping elsewhere…keeping track) and they rely on us being too busy, or apathetic, to do so

As the song puts it so well:

I’m Starting With The Man In The Mirror
I’m Asking Him To Change His Ways
And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World A Better Place
Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change

Here’s the link: Sing along with Michael Jackson, and perhaps we’ll finally take seriously the powerful message of this song from so many years ago, that is even more relevant today.

Want Economic Recovery? Then Ensure a Strong Middle Class

Did you know that in the late ’70’s, the wealthiest 1% of Americans took in 9% of the nation’s total income; in 2007 that same 1% took in 24%?

By economic standards, 1% of the population having almost 25% of all income is telling…the last time there was such a concentration of income at the top…was 1928, according to Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley, and former Secretary of Labor.  It’s a troubling indicator at best; at worst it’s our last warning that unless we mount of major comeback of America’s middle class, we are in economic hot water, and cooking fast.

Why?  Because the rich spend less relative to their income, and invest wherever they can find the best rate…which is often overseas.  Therefore they do the least for the American economy, vs. those of us in the middle class, who spend a much larger portion of our income (because we are always striving for a better life…good for us!) so we are a boon to the economy, and we invest right here in the good ol’ USA.

According to Mr. Reich, the programs after the Great Depression moved the economy back to a more “widely shared prosperity” from the initiation of Social Security so the elderly were not longer living in abject poverty, to infrastructure-building programs that paid folks a decent wage while getting them back to work, and the mandating of the 40 hour work week with paid overtime so folks were making a decent living wage.  The GI Bill at the end of WWII got returning Vets the education they needed to improve their job prospects, again giving a burgeoning middle class the boost it needed to thrive and prosper.

However we do this, and it is not an “either/or” proposition but an “and/both” – a combination of business tax breaks, job creating programs, and the closing of tax loopholes so everyone is paying their fair share relevant to size of income – the squeezing out of the middle class must stop.   Not just to ensure a full and faster economic recovery, though.  The middle class has always been the spine of America; and it is what our revolution was designed to ensure, that all citizens can have a better life, not just the exceptionally wealthy, many of whom today get there perhaps not under the most ethical of conditions.

Get behind legislation that is designed to bring health to the middle class, and legislators who understand that this is the missing piece to s0lving our nation’s woes (not just economic, but social through the reduction of fear that drives so much of what is polarizing us right now), and you will be part of a common sense solution that we can pass down to future generations.

Thinking for Ourselves….Part II

Here’s some quick, easy, and helpful tips for self-determination of thought so we can stop relying on TV & Radio pundits to do the thinking for us…

  • Assessing legislation: It’s easy to tell when legislation is designed to help a special interest rather than us (it’s clear in a bill’s language, carved out exceptions, etc.) – what makes this even easier is that pretty much all legislation is designed to help the politicians as much (or more) than their constituents; how would you create that bill (in general terms) so it benefits us, not them?  Now you know how to think/respond to not only the legislation at hand, but your legislators about it…
  • Assessing decisions made by leaders, whether elected or otherwise: Those who have been in a supervisory/decision-making position know first-hand how difficult the job is, and that you can’t please everyone…those who have experienced a variety of supervisors know the difference between a true leader (helps others to do the right job the right way) and a “manager” (tells others what to do/seeks no input); true leadership requires balance – balancing the needs of the many against those of the few, doing the utmost to create a win/win for all concerned and if that’s not possible, ensuring there’s balance between all interests so everyone at least comes away with something they need.   When those at the fringes of both sides of an issue are unhappy with the outcome, that’s a very good sign that the outcome is balanced, that true leadership rather than “management” has taken place, and that the decision is generally a good one
  • Avoiding The Dunning-Kruger Effect: Discovered by Cornell University David Dunning (along with Prof. Kruger) this states that our incompetence masks our ability to recognize our incompetence – wow, that’s a catch 22…and it underpins much of the erroneous thinking we unwittingly do (like letting others do the thinking for us…).  To keep this from happening to you, simply increase your level of competence.  This is easily accomplished by:
    a). some fast fact-checking of claims/opinions/statements made (the internet makes this effort that much easier), thus making sure you form your own thoughts based on fact, not emotion or a situation in process that may not even pan out; and

    b). understand that we all have levels of incompetence and be strong enough to find out what are yours…once you know what they are, you can ensure you don’t fall prey to them…

  • Don’t make decisions when you’re very angry or depressed: When you do, they will most often be bad ones… This is why we see Boomers holding opinions that are self-contradictory (wanting government out of their lives while preparing to collect SS/use Medicare), or choosing to behave badly, from shooting at Census workers to brawling at their children’s sporting events…  That incompetence thing above is fueled by such powerful negative emotion, which masks our ability to think more rationally/use deductive reasoning (or any reasoning at all for that matter…).  These are awfully hard times – making bad decisions that will come back to haunt us later will only make things worse.  Remedy: seek some input/help from someone you trust who isn’t angry/depressed, and listen to them.

As we Boomers, the ones in power and with the greatest influence, wield that power and influence, it is imperative that we live by Spidey’s uncle’s words: “With great power comes great responsibility” – what we do, how we vote, what we say now, will not just make a lasting impression on our young children/grandchildren, but will form the basis of our lives for years if not decades to come.

To do these things with little preparation, in-depth thought, and with too little rationality, is no different that letting a teenager drive with no training and practice (whoa…that’s scary – teens driving with lots of training/practice is scary enough…), seeking a job without a resume let alone a well-written one, or going on vacation without packing for it…

We can do this right.  Let’s start right now.

Let’s Cut Through the Media’s Political Histrionics

Sheesh.  In our hearts and the back of our highest-on-the-food-chain thinking caps, we know that desperate 24 hour news stations, and newspapers with declining sales, will resort to any attention-pulling concept to stay afloat.

But really, how many more times are we going to fall for it?  Fool me once…twice…you know the adage….what is the exponential consequence for “fool me for the umpteenth time…”?

The latest is the tarot-card-reading interpretation of the Massachusetts senate race results.  They forbode any or all of the following:

  • A full referendum to oust every Democrat in the House & Senate
  • Total disgust with health care reform, or anything put forward by Democrats for that matter
  • Complete dissatisfaction with anything thought about, uttered by, or having to do with Barack Obama

I expect the tea-partiers will glom onto all they can to keep the party hopping.  Same goes for the far left.  But the rest of us (which is the majority of us) are capable but perhaps not willing to take that needed step back and see the facts over the hyperbole.

As with the Governor’s race in NJ, the Senate race in MA was lost by the Dems more because the candidate was weak if not a tad goofy; a strong, well prepared, somewhat more middle-leaning candidate might well have won.  Are folks steamed because the party in power is concentrating more on their own agenda to get healthcare reformed before addressing our economic woes (after all, only 1% of us go uninsured, while 9-12% of us remain unemployed)?  You betcha!  But that is no better…or worse…than the Republicans creating the economic mess in the first place.

I think (I hope) that we more tempered, thoughtful, non-berkenstock-wearing/tea-throwing types understand that one party is not better prepared to make the best decisions on our behalf than the other.  So I think (hope) that we would not continue to ping-pong to & fro from one to the other and back thinking that will somehow change things.  The definition of insanity is doing the same dysfunctional thing repeatedly and expecting different results.  I think, and really hope, that we as an electorate are not insane.

Equally disproportionate is the whole 60 seat supermajority “mandate” self-imposed by the Dems to pass health-care reform (and the real reason they took this on right away in the first place…).  Beyond the fact that the party has shown itself incapable of getting the thing accomplished with such a majority, our legislative process has become so indolent that it has been abandoned on the doorway of political expediency to feed the beast of re-election.  Both parties would, and have, done the same thing.

So, putting this past week’s events in a more rational perspective,

  • MA Dems were aburdly overconfident and that’s why they lost
  • Dems still have an impressive majority in both national legislative houses and could continue work on/eventually pass a well-designed healthcare reform package but will panic nonetheless and pass one that is so weak as to make it relatively meaningless…a year wasted, while simultaneously tackling the jobs/economic reforms issue (if they can still do two things at once…
  • President Obama is human after all (who knew?), has done some good things and made some mistakes, cannot fix our country’s woes in one year and/or all by himself, and has proven himself to be much more middle-of-the-road (rankling folks on both ends of the spectrum) than he is being portrayed as a whole, and
  • Each party has its tome of evils, just different ones – one is no better than the other, each’s ability to do right by us continues to deteriorate as they concentrate evermore on re-election rather than legislation.

What we, the electorate, do from here will determine the direction this country will take over the next few years.  Volleying back and forth from one party to the other will get us nowhere.  Holding those already in office to handling our best interests over their own, will get positive results.

But that requires continuous effort on our part beyond showing up at a polling station every couple of years (and so few of us even do that…); staying abreast of the facts, regularly communicating our expectations to our representatives, pushing for more than just 2 parties from which to choose, and, of course, voting en masse.  Thus far we have shown ourselves far less willing to do these effective nation-fixing things than we are willing to believe the media’s rantings.

It would seem the indolence is actually ours.