Facts, Factoids and Flinders: Questions to Ponder

P1000025Does Voter Turnout Measure the Strength of a Democracy?

Seventy-seven percent of eligible voters went to the polls in New Zealand’s recent nationwide parliamentary election. Australia (where voting is mandatory) had a 93% turnout for their last two elections. Sixty-five percent voted in the United Kingdom’s 2010 general election. The United States’ voter turnout in the 2012 presidential election was 58%, and for the 2010 off-year congressional election it was 41%. Are we really the world’s best example of a vibrant democracy?

Ideology or Science?

Does political ideology rather than science drive America’s response to climate change? Alan Leshner thinks so. Leshner, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, told The New York Times, “Ideology and intuition sometimes appear to be trumping science. I fear that the pace at which the public understands that the climate is changing–––and puts pressure on the political system––– will be too slow.”

A poll conducted on behalf of The NYT and CBS supports Leshner’s concern. Only 46% of those polled (and 26% of Republicans) believe that global warming is causing a serious impact. The Republican number is important when thinking about potential responses to climate change because they have a good chance of controlling both houses of Congress in 2015-16. Any remedial legislation would have to pass through those who do not believe that a remedy is necessary.

Marxist or Saint?

Helder Camara, the late Archbishop of Brazil, said “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”

Pope Francis said, “Inequality eventually engenders a violence which recourse to arms cannot and never will be able to resolve. It serves only to offer false hopes to those clamoring for heightened security, even though nowadays we know that weapons and violence, rather than providing solutions, create new and more serious conflicts.” Rush Limbaugh called the Pope a Marxist.

Are Poor People or Poverty the Problem?

John Boehner of Ohio, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, told the American Enterprise Institute, “People have the idea, ‘I really don’t have to work…I really don’t want to do this…I think I’d rather sit around.’” This sounds like the reincarnation of the 47% theory espoused by Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential campaign.

Say it again, Mr. Secretary

Secretary of State John Kerry told participants at the January 2014 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, “After a decade defined first and foremost by force, we are entering an era of American diplomatic engagement that is as broad and as deep as any time in history.” Kerry said that the United States’ foreign policy would henceforth be assertive, but non-militarily focused, global engagement. Then the world turned, and we are back to the diplomatic era that emphasized on bombs and missiles.

“Informed” by Fox?

The Farleigh Dickinson Public Mind poll reported “Sunday morning news shows do the most to help people learn about current events, while some outlets, especially Fox News, lead people to be even less informed than those who say they don’t watch any news at all.”

Dictator or Strong Leader?

Opposition voices from the American political right label President Obama a dictator when he uses executive orders to implement policies. The same voices proclaim that Vladimir Putin is a strong and forceful leader.

Why Do Democrats Oppose the President’s Nominee for Surgeon General?

Democrats in the Senate held up confirmation for Vivek Murthy as Surgeon General. Why? Not because he is a bad doctor, but because he advocated tougher gun laws, including licensing gun owners and banning assault weapons. In 2012 he tweeted, “Tired of politicians playing politics w/ guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of NRA. Guns are a health care issue.” The NRA went on the attack and Democratic senators trembled.

Truth or Heresy?

What makes us think we can–––or even should––– impose Jeffersonian democracy on nations that have no governing history other than strong-man dictators; and, in which vast numbers of the electorate are poorly educated and ill-informed? Wouldn’t it be better to assist nations in developing their capacity for inclusive educational opportunities, modern governing practices and economic development; and, to strengthen infrastructure, such as electricity, roads and running water? Such endeavors would take a generation of hard work before true democracy takes root, but it would have a chance to grow and prosper.

Cocksure or Doubt?

“The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt. Even those of the intelligent who believe that they have a nostrum are too individualistic to combine with other intelligent men from whom they differ on minor points. This was not always the case. ” Bertrand Russell wrote this in 1933 under the title The Triumph of Stupidity. It still applies today.


How Much Money is a C.E.O Worth?

Six Walmart executives earned a combined $8.4 million in incentive payments in 2013, despite the company’s poor stock performance. William S. Simon, the president and C.E.O. of Walmart’s American operation received total compensation of $13 million. The average hourly worker at Walmart makes $27,000 per year. Is Simon really worth 481 times more than the employees who service the customers who fill the registers with cash? I think not. Please share your opinion.

Is America the Land of Opportunity?

More Questions from Abroad

A group of public policy graduate students in Cambridge, England read my book and posed some thoughtful questions. I traveled to Cambridge on April 25 to hear their insights and respond to their queries. How would you answer their questions?

  1. Do you think America is still the land of opportunity, or has its day passed by?


  1. Is the overall trend in the United States creeping toward conservatism or liberalism?


  1. What is the national mood on concerns about sustainability and the environment?


  1. Are the multinational ties in crucial areas such as banking, oil and business ownership so strong that key decisions affecting the citizens of a country are no longer in the purview of their nation’s government?


  1. Is there political will in the United States to engage hard issues such as climate change and inequality? What will happen if the current stalemate continues, hard decisions are avoided and the big problems fester?


  1. Is there political will in the United States to engage hard issues such as climate change and inequality? What will happen if the current stalemate continues, hard decisions are avoided and the big problems fester?


Questions from Abroad

IMG_3642A group of public policy graduate students in Cambridge, England read my book and posed some thoughtful questions. On April 25 I will travel to Cambridge and have an opportunity to hear their insights and respond to their queries. Meanwhile, help me prepare by offering your thoughts about the following questions:

1. How do you think Thomas Jefferson would react now? He built the foundations of the country upon “the principles of peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with no one.” How would he change America today?

2. For the protection of the nation, why is climate change not seen as a high risk in America?

3. At the end of this century, if forecasts are accurate, China will overtake the U.S. on all economic measures. It is part of a long ebb and flow that has seen countless empires and countries have a glory period but eventually be superseded. How might the American national psyche respond to being #2

4. What do you think is the most concerning unintended consequence associated with modern-day America?

5. The forefathers of America were fighting for equality, justice and freedom. To me it seems that the country is run by an elite few for their best interests. Do you think that the United States has gone a full circle?

Please offer your ideas below.

Questions of a Different Kind

Living on the outside margin of linear time is at once both decompressing and uplifting. Kennon and I are spending a week perched on this margin while I ponder questions about entering my eighth decade of life.

We are in a small cabin across the Hana Highway from the ocean. Our internet connection and cell telephone service is on-again/off-again (more off than on); there are no stores, hotels, restaurants or shops within three miles of our abode; no newspapers are available, and fresh fruit and avocados are abundant from trees on this property and from neighbors who put their excess on tables near the road.

If I hit it just right I can get some news over the internet. In one of those moments I learned that the senate Democrats finally mustered the courage to blow away the filibuster. Yes, I know that this might come back to bite them if and when the Republicans take control––– but that is how it should be.

My take is that one of the reasons voting levels in the United States are so abysmal is that the winning side cannot implement the agenda it ran on, and as a result there are few substantive consequences from an election. Elections become partisan power games rather than transforming events. I also favor giving the president a line-item veto for the same reason.

But thinking about politics is not the reason for this journey to Hana. Instead of posing a question about politics or social policy, I will share with you the life questions I am wrestling with each day. They come from the poet David Whyte’s “Questions That Have No Right to Go Away.”  I have engaged the first three. They are questions that demand critical reflection and a tough honesty.

Whyte wrote that they “have to do with the person we are about to become; they are conversations that will happen with our without our conscious participation. They most always have something to do with how we might be more generous, more courageous, more present, more dedicated, and they also have something to do with timing: when we might step through the doorway into something bigger, better–– both beyond ourselves and more of ourselves at the same time.” You can find all ten here (along with Whyte’s answers).

The three I have worked with so far are:

  1. Do I know how to have a real conversation, one in which I invite another to reveal him/herself to me and in which I truly listen to what is said?

2. What can I be wholehearted about… what do I care most about––– in family, vocation, and in my heart and mind? Whyte writes that this “is a conversation we must have with ourselves at every stage of our lives, a conversation that we often don’t want to have…”

3. Am I harvesting from this year’s season of life? Where am I now, and where do I want to go? Am I struggling to stay in a place I was previously comfortable, or living on the frontier I am actually on right now? Whyte suggests that too often we live “for or five years behind the curve of our own transformation.”

On my first day I found myself skipping over the surface of the questions, writing answers in my journal that made me feel good about myself. Yesterday I delved deeper and today my writing is a much more honest reflection of where I actually am in life, and what it means to enter eldership.

I offer them to you to engage or discharge. Meanwhile, I am going for a walk on the beach!