Friday, March 4, 2011

Does Any Of This Sound Familiar? (Part 2)

A few weeks ago I began a post by one of my favorite countries in the world and where I have many dear friends: Argentina.  This is part 2 of 3 posts.

The era of the “Plata Dulce” (sweet money), was also called “Los Anos Locos” (Those Crazy Years).  For example, President Juan Peron spent over $600 million to buy the Argentine railroad from the British (it was worth half that).  But the money was there, so why manage things too professionally.  When economic times started getting tough, Peron instituted several austerity packages, but could never get a handle on his own internal government.  He set strict guidelines (most of which made little sense) for the mining industry and agriculture (his money making machines), but spent money on silver bullets that would put Argentina back in the Plata Dulce, such as steel making.  He cancelled the Pulqui II program and shut down his nuclear program (which thrilled the U.S.).  He slammed the Catholic Church and treated the officer corps, (which was his initial power base, and from whence he came), with distrust and disdain.  In 1952 there was a bad harvest and Argentina could not make its balance of payments.  
 By 1953 Argentina was in a serious economic crisis.  Peron continued to woo those who promised him get well quick ideas.  By 1955, Peron was ousted from power.  He would come back again in the 1970’s only to institute the same types of policies he had almost 20 years prior.  He and later his wife who became President when he died also used soothsayers to make the really important decisions…. 
Argentina seems to never fully matured as a country.  It is almost as if they made decisions so they wouldn’t have to become a developed nation.  It is as if they wanted to stay a “developing nation.”  Yet the country’s history since is replete with severe struggles and for the first time since the Spanish floated up the La Plata River people are hungry and frustrated--not with politics (that is a national pastime, but with building their great country).  Many of the Buenos Aires middle class have moved to gated communities.  Argentina has been blessed with incredible bounty (raw materials, self-sufficient in oil, the best and deepest top soil in the world, brilliant engineers, scientist, writers like Borges, artists like Raul Alonso, musicians like Gardel, agricultural prowess—one of the largest wheat producers in the world, the largest sunflower oil producer in the world, etc.), but they just can’t get their collective act together and build a common identity (except during the World Cup).

So the Pulqui II now sits on a pedestal at the Argentine Air Force Museum.  Ahead of its time; a beautiful machine and a point of past pride for a nation that is “the country of the future…  and always will be?”


Benjamin Franklin in the Art of Virtue suggested, “We stand at the crossroads, each minute, each hour, each day, making choices.  We choose the thoughts we allow ourselves to think, the passions we allow ourselves to feel, and the actions we allow ourselves to perform.  Each choice is made in the context of whatever value system we’ve selected to govern our lives.  In selecting that value system, we are in a very real way, making the most important choice we will ever make.”  What are your values?  What are your country’s values?  Some final thoughts next week.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Pharaoh is Gone, Long Live the Pharaoh?

I decided to interrupt my planned continuation of my previous blog to insert a thought about an immediate issue.

The whole world is talking about the ousting of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.  He was forced from power in 21st century fashion that the world is also talking about and trying to understand.  There was no abhorrently violent revolt, but a revolt fueled by a society that saw their world as a non-zero sum situation.  This is a story of courage, and supported by new media (with just a little violence).  I have been thinking about a confrontation with another Pharaoh some 3,000 years ago.  Whether you believe the Biblical account of the Tribe of Israel leaving Egypt replete with challenges and miracles of deliverance, or not, there is an important lesson that is yet to play out in this modern day event.  

There are two types of slavery the Biblical account teaches us. There's a kind of slavery in which the chains that shackle us, such as was the case of the regime of the Mubarak government, are from external sources.  This Pharaoh was removed from power, rather than the people escaping the Pharaoh.  (That is the 21st century version of this historical story that has many Pharaohs around the world more than a little concerned.)  The Egyptian people today feel free. The external shackles have been removed.  

There is, however, an internal slavery that comes from our own, self-imposed shackles -- our anger, our vanity, our laziness, our greed, our disobedience to universal principles. This type of slavery is not only a problem in Egypt, but is a reality in many parts of the world and there is no place where it should not be a concern.

It's easy to think ourselves free when we overcome an externally-imposed limitation. The people of Egypt feel that way, and deservedly so.  But then we're shocked and surprised to discover Pharaoh pursuing us after we've escaped his Egypt. But the Pharaoh we see closing in on us in the desert is a Pharaoh that we took out of Egypt with us (or in the case of the Egyptians tonight who think they have ousted the Pharoh, it is the Pharaoh they are left with). The Israelites cried, "Maybe it was easier in Pharaohs Egypt.  Maybe that was better than the challenges we are now faced with."  Egyptians tonight  shout from Tahrir Square: “We've been freed from the Egypt that closed us in from without,” but they have yet to transcend the “Egypt of yesterday” in themselves.  I am metaphorically speaking of the internal struggles they now face.  The norm of baksheesh (bribes) that are commonplace, the mistrust and greed that the old regime nurtured, the pride and feelings of superiority over fellow citizens that are pervasive outside of Tahrir Square, and the void of honest leadership, are a real part of the Egyptian reality.  Egypt and Tunisia have proven they are much bigger than these internal shackles, but as societies, they have yet to fully sever those bonds.

To accomplish the freedom the people of Egypt seek, they will have to part the Red Sea of the remnants of  the old regime and the "everyman accountability" that comes with past poor choices, (which is the case in every country in the world), and penetrate the depths of who and what they are in order to uncover their truest self.  The people of Egypt and Tunisia may have taught a few Pharaohs around the world a new lesson, but they have the chance to teach the whole world something about how to break the most injurious shackles. The Egyptian youth in Tahrir Square won the day today because they saw their plight as a non-zero sum situation—they would either all win or all lose in their fight for freedom.  It is now up to the whole world to follow their example and realize the non-zero sum scenario includes us all.  This blog post may sound like an excerpt from Don Quixote as he mounts an attack on a windmill, but it is time we all consider dealing with this self- imposed slavery.  Until we do, we will never be truly free.  Until other countries in the world stop believing that ends justify the means, we will continue to experience external Pharaohs, because we have not yet conquered the internal Pharaohs that in the end give permission for the external ones to exist.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Does Any Of This Sound Familiar?

In the mid 1940’s Argentina was entering the era of “La Plata Dulce.” (Sweet Money)  They had nearly $2 billion in foreign capital reserves and possibly the largest domestic gold reserves in the world.  Through the next five years Argentina looked like the up and coming nation on the world scene.  We don’t hear about much of this now, however, because Argentina made some poor decisions when they should have been making their wisest ones.  They didn’t manage their programs well, they spent in foolish ways, the costs of the internal support of the government became bloated, even though they instituted severe austerity measures.  They began to focus on “silver bullet” projects that had little hope of pulling them out of their downward spiral.  But before we get to the failures, here is a short list of some of their incredible successes.

Between 1948 and 1952 Argentina beat the United States to become the World Basketball Champions.  Mario Fangio was the world’s top Grand Prix driver, Enrique Morea won the Wimbledon Tennis Championships (the first Latin American to do so).  Pedro Leopoldo Carrera won the World Billiard Championships.  Pascual Perez won the World Boxing Title in Tokyo.  Bernardo Houssay won the Noble Prize for Science (Medicine), again the first Latin American to win this prize.  Delfo Cabrara won the Gold at the London Olympics in the Marathon.  The Argentines had one of the most advance nuclear programs outside the United States (I’ve been to those facilities, and they were impressive).  And the topic that got me thinking about this…  In 1947 the Argentine Air Force was flying the Pulqui (arrow in the Araucana language).  

This aircraft flew at 720 km/hr.  Had a service ceiling of 45,000 ft and a range of 900km.  It had four 20mm cannons, which was excellent firepower for the day.  The U.S. fielded the F-80 in 1948 and was about equal in capabilities.  In June of 1950 the Pulqui II flew.  This jet aircraft had a swept wing design, could fly at 1050 km/hr, could fly for 2.2 hours and had four improved 20mm cannons.  It was the first fighter jet from Latin America and only the fifth in the entire world.

The Pulqui II was so impressive the Dutch sent a contingency to buy it because they considered it a better option than the British and U.S. designs of the day.  This was only the third swept wing aircraft in the world after the F-86 which would see action in the Korean War, and the MiG-15 which would have been no match for the Pulqui II.

So what happened?  Why isn’t Argentina a world power today?  What does this history have to do with the present?  Next week's blog will add to this discussion.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Rethinking Public Private Partnerships

With the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the world transitioned from “Cold War” to “Boiling Peace.”  U.S. national security interests, policy and structure are still struggling with this transition.  Two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have all but negated the “peace dividends” of the end of the Cold War.  The U. S. Armed Forces have become increasing dependent on an expeditionary strategy to meet their multiple high intensity conflicts and security requirements worldwide.  U.S. Military doctrine stresses rapid response with a “mix and match” force structure unique to each situation.  Operations continue to require lighter, leaner, and more lethal capabilities.

The United States Armed Forces face several problems, however.  First, the conflict they are engaged in are neither light, nor lean.  Second, reconstitution is required immediately.  Third, this will be an expensive shift that must take place in an environment of defense budget austerity. Fourth, these changes in the present environment require new mindsets and paradigms that will be painful for most armed forces to make.   “Peace dividends” such as BRAC in the U.S., have reduced the infrastructure, forcing most armed forces to rethink their strategies for maintaining the flexibility they need to support an appropriate readiness posture.

Beyond defense, the political spectrum also includes Development and Diplomacy as recently noted by U.S. Secretary of State Clinton.  In this era of austerity, there are two more “d’s” to add to the world’s challenges, Deficit and Debt.

Albert Einstein once reflected, “The problems which we now face cannot be solved by the thinking that created them.”  In other words, we must be willing to sacrifice what we are now for what we need to become.  We need to get our public-private-partnerships right.  We have asked the nations’ armed forces to become the diplomats and developers in the nation-building agenda in many parts of the world.  Many countries have turned to public private partnerships through contractors to provide such things as security, reconnaissance, logistics, and training.  Doesn’t that sound like the armed forces job?  This has weakened military professionalism and accelerated improper uses of civilian contractors.  Flip-flopping these roles will not only nurture military professionalism, it will significantly alleviate the pressures of deficit and debt in achieving U.S. and International Defense, Development and Diplomacy.  What is inherently governmental and intrinsically military must be returned to that milieu and those things that business can do best, should be turned over to business (including development, and to a certain extent, diplomacy).

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Observations on the Present-Day Nation-State

In 1964 Bob Dylan released an album entitled The Times They Are a-Changin’.  I was 9 years old.  I have witnessed many changes since then.  Yet when I consider the geopolitical milieu, I borrow from a BTO album released ten years later: You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet.  Even in the turbulent 1960’s when nearly 30 African states gained their independence from colonial rulers, it is interesting to note that almost no borders changed, nor the total number of countries. 

In most cases when one speaks of a state or a country, the concept described is a “nation-state.”  A “state” is defined as a self-governing political entity and we often use the word “country” interchangeably.  A “nation” is a tight-knit group of people that share a common culture.  The former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, and today’s Lebanon, and Spain are examples of multi-national states.  Canada and Belgium are examples of two-nations in one state.  The Kurds, Tartars, and the Roma are examples of stateless nations.  Palestine finds itself in a gray area of not being completely stateless, but certainly not a fully recognized state, with a geographically and politically divided nation.  States require a level of cohesiveness, a common identity, for successful functioning.  This is typically achieved through shared values, norms, and expressive symbols of it nation(s) within that state.  See my posts on 11 August, 21 July, 16 July, 7 July, 28 June, and 5 June of 2009 for further discussion of these elements.  In Renan’s lecture at the Sorbonne in 1882, he explained,

 A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things that actually are one come together to build this soul or spiritual principle. One of them lies in the past, the other in the present. One is the common possession of a rich heritage...; the other is a present accord, the desire to live together, and the will to continue to accumulate and build the common heritage.

One insight expressed by Renan was the present accord, the desire to live together, and the will to continue to accumulate and build the common heritage,” is an essential element in today’s modern nation-state.  When that accord is not present, no matter the past shared heritage, the nation-state is in jeopardy of change.  We see these dynamics in the rise of nationalism.  Seneca, George Orwell, and Charles de Gaulle all expressed the same thought when they explained that patriotism is the love of one’s country (nation-state), where as nationalism is the hatred of another country (nation-state).  That nationalism finds many forms.  Possibly the xenophobia of the Soviet Union, the frustrations in some European countries with some norms practiced by Islam, France’s expulsion of the Roma, and the Middle East’s general love-hate relationship with the decadent West, are some examples of fear of potential change of a nation or nation-state status.  In the United States, some might suggest the Tea Party Movement and the plethora of political pundits on both side of the political spectrum who spend most of their time pointing out the flaws of the other side, but not much time building a common identity among themselves.  They sure know what they are running from, but not quite sure what they are running to.  

In this interdependent world where information, products, services, and raw materials flow almost effortlessly across borders, nation-states find themselves in peril.  Back in the 1960’s and early 1970's that peril was thought to be the demise of the nation-state because the concept has run its course.  Imagine there's no countries, It isn't hard to do, Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion too, Imagine all the people, Living life in peace, John Lennon penned in 1971.  Today, however, it appears the nation-state is in peril because of this interdependent flow, but for a completely different reason.  Meaning has been lost in the present size and capacity of the nation-state to support a common identity.  Instead of an enlarged common identity, in this era of the “long-tail” and niche markets, we are beginning to see the break-up of nation-states into smaller or sometimes unidentifiable entities.  Scotland and Wales stand on the edge of leaving the United Kingdom.  Greenland moves closer every year to independence from Denmark.  China is farming in Africa and shipping the bounty home.  These farms are almost treated like they are a part of China, not the host countries.  There are only 6 million Russians living in the vast interior of Siberia, with hundreds of millions of Chinese not only on the border, but migrating to that resources rich part of northern Central Asia.  Countries up-river from the Egyptian portion of the Nile are claiming new water rights that could threaten Egypt’s future.  Some suggest a key part of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is really about the flow of water rights as much as religion, culture and heritage. 

We will continue to see inter- dependence grow between countries, but we will also see new pressures put on the present nation-states in the form of common identity fractures.  Those countries that are successful in “running to” shared values, norms, and expressive symbols by realizing they are in a non-zero sum scenario have a better chance of survival.  Those that believe in and practice the historical scenario that: in order to win, someone must lose (a zero sum scenario) may find a common identity in a smaller group, but in so doing will exacerbate the demise of the nation-state they now live in.  It is very possible to see the present number of 195 nation-states break the 200 barrier in the next decade.  Some of those transitions will be peaceful and even be applauded on the world stage (such as the probable creation of Southern Sudan).  Other changes may be accompanied by civil strife, civil war, or regional conflict.  Taken completely out of context I will close with another song, this time from the 1978 movie Grease, sung today by the nation-state: “I got chills, they're multiplying, And Im losin' control…”

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

American Immigration: Policies and Principles

Robert Wright in a Technology-Education-Design (TED) Conference suggested that non-zero sum scenarios have operated through history, despite our human penchant for zero sum games. Zero sum scenarios require a winner and a looser. That is, the outcome is an inverse correlation that equals zero. In non-zero sumness, all parties in the scenario garner the same outcome, that is, they all win, or they all lose. This creates a moral progression, motivated by charitable enlightenment on one hand and self-interest on the other, that drives humanity on cyclical, but over time a progressively upward trajectory. Cycles occur on this trajectory in part because of forgetting that one’s fortune is tied to others. As Robert Frost suggested in his poem, The Black Cottage, “Most of the change we think we see in life is due to truths being in and out of favor”. In the short-term, a scarcity mentality can glean great rewards for the successful taker. Sooner or later, however, the principles of the non-zero sum milieu that much of life’s scenarios apply to will take its toll, reminding us that we are in this life together.

The present scarcity mentality coupled with a zero sum perspective in the illegal immigration debate is disappointing. Many are willing to set principles temporarily aside for immediate issues. Possibly these are some who never learned the principle of the Law of the Harvest. It is also frustrating that the present conservative candidates simply assume that in my demographic they want to prove that they are tougher on illegal immigrants than the next person. I consider myself a conservative, but a compassionate conservative. Big government is not the best solution in most cases, and turning to the government to solve all our woes creates a weaker society. I think we need to live within our means and balance the budget. And so on. I also think it is shortsighted to replace patriotism (love of country) with nationalism (hatred of other countries and their people), and top that with a xenophobia for mostly honest, hardworking and good people. We need immigration reform, absolutely. We don’t need to denigrate what this country stands for with draconian measures that repeal the 14th Amendment to the Constitution (as Rand Paul suggest), that penalize the innocent young children of illegal immigrants (as Steve Poizner suggests), and we don’t need laws that are spring loaded to type 1 errors. I have lived in countries that would rather prosecute some innocents in order to catch all the guilty. The United States has always leaned to accepting type 2 errors—allowing that a few guilty might go free in order to ensure that no innocents are prosecuted unjustly. Arizona’s new illegal immigration statute skews the balance to type 1 errors and contrary to American principles.

We have always been a country of immigrants. For most of our history there was no such thing as an “illegal” immigrant. Most of the Irish, Italians, and other European immigrants simply showed up on our door step. Most Black Americans have roots in enforced immigration… And Native Americans may still view the rest of us as illegal immigrants… We have accepted, proportionate to our national population at the time, more immigrants in 1907 than the total legal and illegal immigrant population that crossed our borders in 2007. So what’s the difference today? Tax dollars are tight. Jobs are tight. In other words, we have a scarcity mentality and a zero sum perspective on the future. We are wrong in both regards. As a former participant and leader in the narco-terrorism efforts we have been waging in Latin America I can say with a clearer understanding than many that justifying these anti-immigration issues solely in terms of border security highlights misunderstanding on one side and a political willingness to pander to that misunderstanding by those who know better, on the other. This country has been blessed by our immigrants. They are a force multiplier in our abilities to meet the challenges of the future—not a detriment to determining lasting long-term solutions.

We fight over the definition of what the Founding Fathers meant with the 2nd Amendment, but care little for debate on the 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th, and 14th Amendments, to name a few. We create faulty dilemmas structuring arguments where we believe we have to choose between good and good so that no matter what we choose, we lose, or between two bad options where we feel justified in bad selections. In both cases we are only attempting to make a choice while escaping responsibility and accountability.
Dr. Victor E. Frankl lived three years in Nazi Germany’s concentration camps. Even under these severely inhumane and restrictive conditions, he had this to say:
The experiences of [concentration] camp life show that man does have a choice of action. . . . Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress. . . . Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way… There were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate. . . . The last inner freedom cannot be lost.
Choice is defined as “the mental process of thinking involved with the process of judging the merits of multiple options and selecting one of them for action.” Choice then, involves input, cognition, judgment, and selection. Choice is also the result of selection, as in, “my choice is door number one.” Choice implies the ability to choose between options from all enticing corners. Choice, however, does not stand alone. Choice is a hollow currency without accountability. As Economist and Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen suggested, “There is something deeply irresponsible about denying choice when a choice exists, for it is a denial of freedom and an abdication of accountability.” Interestingly, Victor Frankl, expert and exemplar of choice, recommended that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast of the United States (a symbol of freedom and choice) be supplemented with a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast. He explained,
“Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness.”
Accountability is sometimes negatively defined as dead weight, a millstone, blame, stress, and affliction. In response to the negative cloud of accountability I suggest it is much easier to retreat to casting blame elsewhere. It is not “choice and creativity of escaping governing principles,” that drives meaning and long-term success. As Covey explained, “values govern people’s behavior [choice], but principles ultimately determine the consequences [and accountability]”. In all fairness to accountability, it optimistically connotes concern, allegiance, duty, stewardship, loyalty, answerability, and obligation. It is the justification of judgment (choice). Choices are made with or without the understanding of governing principles, but accountability over time is a guidance mechanism that aids participants in making better choices. In this season of political debate, let’s turn back to principles, not knee-jerk reactionary laws that will, in the end cause us once again to reconsider principles, but only after painful reminders of their existence.