A Fond Farewell: My Final Postcard from Arizona

My family has been rooted in Arizona since the 1880s, but our process of uprooting began in 1993 when my oldest daughter moved to North Carolina after college. Over the next 20 years, my wife and I, our youngest daughter and finally my mother all followed her path. I, however, clung to the home of my heritage by serving on an Arizona-based corporate board that took me back eight to ten times each year.

But that final strand of the Jamieson Arizona root was pulled out of the desert soil when I didn’t run for reelection at the corporation’s 2010 annual meeting.

Disconnecting from the state where I matured personally, spiritually and professionally was jarring. Arizona gave me the opportunity to become who I am today by providing fertile ground to discover and grow my skills.

Arizona gave me dear friends and valued colleagues with whom I shared many  deeply-meaningful landmarks in my life: the birth of my first child and the death of my dad; arriving in Phoenix as a young, newly-married man seeking his place in the world, and 25 years later, completing a successful political and business career; hearing a spiritual call that led to my ordination in the Episcopal Church.

Arizona educated my grandmother, my parents, my children and me. It was where my dad and my children spent their childhoods, and where my wife and I bought our first home.

I owe the state more than I have given it… more than I can ever give it. Yet, the Arizona I knew and loved has morphed into something radically different.  It has become arid and hostile ground where I could not have launched a successful a career in my chosen field. The state’s politics are based on xenophobic fear and right-wing anger, and Arizona’s open, expansive landscapes stand in contrast to a narrow and restrictive social agenda. I, sadly, understand that I no longer have a place there… even though Arizona will always have a place in my heart.

I yearn for the  “no-fear, let’s get it done” atmosphere that oxygenated Arizona politics in the late 1970s and early 80s.  I covet the sunsets and never-ending horizons, the constant sense of discovery and opportunity that fueled migration to Arizona.

Now, instead of opportunity, people come looking to escape “the other”. Instead of cherishing the richness of ethnic diversity, they seek to wall out those whose skin color and heritage are different from theirs. These Arizonans are the “take back my America” crowd, a movement that will soon crash head on into a solid wall of increasing diversity.

Arizona’s current political leaders are seeking to create a refuge from the inevitable, and maybe it is ok that nativists have a place of their own… giant walled communities where they can live pretend lives while disparaging those who come seeking a better life.

I agree with an observation from Charles Blow, a columnist in The New York Times. He was writing about the anger and frustration of America’s political right, and speculated that they might find some relief in the 2010 election. However, according to Blow, they “may win the day” but not the age because their movement is an “intellectually bereft campaign of desperation and disenchantment, amplified by a recession. Great recessions don’t last. Great ideas do.”

This gives me some hope for Arizona. Perhaps great ideas will once again capture the hearts and minds of her people and the state will once again be a place of promise. I am not optimistic, but hopeful.

The Arizona I knew— the Arizona of my great-grandparents, grandparents, parents and children— the place of pioneers and opportunity— was conservative, but welcoming. It was a place where my business partner, a second generation American of Mexican heritage, could grow up shining shoes in a copper mining town, and then go on to serve as a leader in the state senate and as a prominent business man.  It was a place where a child of privilege like me could find a new path, grow out of the narrow boundaries that had defined my upbringing, and flourish as a liberal.

America is changing, but Arizona has become a retreat house, an Alamo, for those whose passion is defending yesterday’s status quo. So I bid her fond farewell. The Arizona I knew and loved will always live in my heart, but the Arizona of today no longer calls me home.

A Memorial Day Remembrance: My Friend Jim Masters

Many men of my generation pause each memorial day to remember our Viet Nam-era friends and colleagues who lost their lives in war. My memory today is of my friend Jim Masters, an intelligence officer in the Navy who died when his plane was shot down near De Nang.

Jim and I reported for duty at the Atsugi Naval Air Station in Japan on the same day in December of 1967. He was married but his wife Becky wouldn’t arrive for a few weeks, and my quarters would not be vacant for a couple of months, so we were assigned temporary accommodations in adjoining rooms. We became good friends as we explored the surrounding community together, a friendship that continued after Becky arrived and they moved into married housing. Jim’s squadron alternated between the war zone and Japan, while I was safely ensconced as a member of the air station’s staff. Jim was killed in 1970, shortly after I left the Navy.

In those days I was a militarist, believing that America’s war-making power was the world’s  only guarantor of peace. While I now believe that there are no winners in war, I continue to hold a deep respect for the military men and women who put their lives on the line each day. I understand the necessity of maintaining a strong military, even while deploring the necessity of its use.

The following is a quotation from a Franklin Roosevelt speech at Arlington Cemetery in November of 1941 to commemorate those who died in World War I. His words, which were delivered two years before my birth, speak to me today.

“We are able today as we were not always able in the past to measure our indebtedness to those who died. A few years ago, even a few months, we questioned, some of us, the sacrifice they had made…. We know now why these men fought to keep our freedom— and why wars that save a people’s liberties are wars worth fighting and winning…

“They did not fight and die to make the world safe for decency and self-respect for five years or ten or maybe twenty. They died to make it safe. And if, by some fault of ours who lived beyond the war, its safety has again been threatened, then the obligation and duty are ours…

“It is our charge now to see to it that the dead shall not have died in vain…this duty we owe, not to ourselves alone, but to the many dead who died to gain our freedom for us and to make the world a place where freedom can live and grow into the ages.”

I eventually came to see the Viet Nam war as wrongheaded, and I opposed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq from the beginning. It is my belief that war is almost never a solution, but in the face of violent threats and inherent evil it is sometimes necessary. And while I question the legitimacy and necessity of the two wars that we are now fighting, I do not doubt for a minute that our men and women in uniform are there because they believe fervently that they are fighting for the cause of freedom for their country and for the world. I have always, and always will, honor their bravery, commitment and service.

So today, in memory of Jim Masters, I say a prayer for all those who have served and died for what they believed. And, to borrow from President Roosevelt, it is our charge now to see to it that they didn’t die in vain. Violence and hatred will not go away because we wish it to, just as it won’t go away because we confront it with violence. And it will not go away because those of us seeking a different path march with protest signs.

Instead of spending our energy and passion on opposing war by marching in the streets, let’s turn our attention to those ingredients that lead to war: poverty, lack of education, hopelessness. Then let’s fight the political fight to ensure that all people in the world have access to adequate food and shelter, decent medical care, a high quality education, and opportunities to earn a living wage.  Only then will we adequately honor the lives of those who have served the cause of freedom.

Surprise: The TARP is Working

Politics today is more about manipulating the minds of voters for the purpose of defeating the other party, than it is about speaking the truth and seeking the national interest.

Take, for example, what is commonly called the bailout bill. The conservatives in the Republican Party and the tea-bag zealots have cast it as a corrupt, budget-busting handout to greedy bankers on Wall Street. Utah’s Republican Party dumped Senator Bob Bennett because he voted for it. Conservatives in both parties lament that it will bankrupt the nation and our children’s children will pay the price of disastrous deficits.

This is a common view on main street, but what are the facts? Zachery Roth wrote in Talking Points Memo that now, 19 months after Congress voted to spend $700 billion on the Troubled Asset Relief Program, we are starting to get a sense of the true cost and effect. “When you look at the amount of money that the government stands to make back— not to mention the widespread expert view that the bailout succeeded in its prime purpose of stabilizing the economy— it could be that we’ve been able to rescue our economy from the brink of depression for a relatively low price.”

Roth offers some facts: The cost to the taxpayers was not $700 billion, but less than $500 billion. Approximately $217 billion of that has been returned, and the Department of Treasury now estimates that the final cost will be less than $120 billion.  He reminds us that the bailout’s purpose was to prevent a complete collapse of the American financial system, and he quotes Barry Eichengreen, a professor of economics and political science from the University of California in Berkeley: “TARP enabled the banks to earn their way back to solvency… and prevented the financial system from falling off the cliff.”

Tyler Cowen, a Libertarian and an economics professor from George Mason University, opposed the TARP, but now believes “The bailouts were a good idea… (without them) we would have had more failed banks, very strong deflationary pressures, a stronger seize up in credit markets than we had… and a climate of sheer political and economic panic.”

I agree with Roth’s conclusion that even though “irresponsible bankers, after years of lax government regulation, came close to tanking the American economy” and had to be rescued by ordinary Americans who took the brunt of the recession; even though those same bankers are working to water down efforts to strengthen oversight and regulation,  “we were able to stabilize the economy for what could be a fraction of the cost originally contemplated.”

Were there abuses? Yes.  Is it unjust that bankers escaped whole while so many people suffered? Yes. But let’s deal with the abuses and injustices rather than condemning the entire effort. A brave and difficult decision was made amidst chaos, and a program was implemented rapidly without the time to lay a solid foundation. Against all odds, the result appears to be one that saved the nation from financial catastrophe.

These are the facts and the truth, but self-serving political framing has created the opposite view in the minds of many. To read Roth’s complete story go to www.talkingpointsmemo.com and click on “Bailout: The Best Program Evaah?”

Gulf Oil Spills and Coal Mine Deaths: Time for Action

It is time for the United States to stop shilly-shallying around the edges of environmental policy, bite the tax bullet, and lead world to a sustainable energy future.

The disastrous environmental, economic and social consequences of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico ought to shake us to our senses. Add this Gulf crisis to the deaths in West Virginia coal mines; plus the environmental degradation of mountains and water that are by-products of mining coal; plus the national security implications of our addiction to oil; plus the life-changing effects of burning fossil fuels on the world’s climate… and the sum is clear: The time for bold action and a firm commitment to an alternative energy policy is now. Right now! This minute!

Thomas Friedman wrote in his New York Times op-ed column that “the only meaningful response to this man-made disaster is a man-made energy bill that would finally put in place an American clean energy infrastructure that would set our country on a real, long-term path to ending our addiction to oil.”

I agree with Friedman, but there are powerful forces with deep pockets and a multitude of lobbyists aligned against major reform. These forces range from mining and oil interests, power producers, and the anti-tax zealots. They are committed to defeating or emasculating any initiative that would substantially alter the status quo.

But the dual tragedies of West Virginia coal and Gulf oil might have produced the perfect public opinion storm, a moment that must be seized.

A place to start is the bi-partisan bill in the United States Senate that, according to Friedman, “would set a price on carbon, begin to shift us to a system of cleaner fuels, greater energy efficiency, and unlock an avalanche of private capital to the clean energy market.” But this bill is only a starting point.

I believe it needs to be strengthened by adopting a two-stage process. First, set a clear goal that commits the United States to a date certain for eliminating our dependence on fuels that destroy the environment and endanger national security.

Secondly, establish an aggressive timeline with mandated action steps that move us to that goal. The action steps would include a multi-year timetable for phasing out reliance on fossil fuels while ramping up new energy sources; and, setting a price for fossil fuels that accurately reflects their true cost. Then, impose a carbon tax that would increase annually until the price reaches the cost. The proceeds of the tax could be dedicated to alternative energy innovation.

Tax is a bad word in political circles, but we are currently paying a hidden tax through subsidies that hide the real cost of our energy consumption. This includes (according to Energy Security: Toward a New Foreign Policy Status by Jan Kalicki and David Goldwyn) the cost of maintaining a military presence in the Middle East; the health cost caused by carbon emissions and other pollutants; the cost of cleaning up polluted land, water and air; maintaining a transportation infrastructure for moving fuel; and the economic costs that volatile energy prices impose on the competitiveness of U.S manufacturing.

Kalicki and Goldwyn argue that “the disconnect between what Americans pay for energy and what it really costs has led to political deadlock… The failure to achieve basic changes has plagued Democrats and Republicans alike, both of which have feared antagonizing domestic producers and manufactures or risking consumer retaliation at even the mention of increasing taxes.”

They argue, therefore, that the legislative response is weak, and is limited to “shortsighted discussions of industry subsidies, or continuation of the war between producers and environmentalists.” Even though their book was written in 2005, it paints an accurate picture of the current process in Washington. Neither the American people nor our policy makers seem willing to think beyond the immediate interests of various constituencies.

Politicians in power, for instance, want to stay there and those out of power want to return, common good be damned; the primary concerns of business are shareholder return and customer price; and consumers want to maintain and improve their existing standard of living. The first group is subjected to powerful lobbying from the second, and the third is targeted with partisan campaigns of fear, obfuscation and manipulation by the other two.

Meanwhile, the United States is becoming more and more vulnerable as it increases dependence on energy imports, and is thus less able to deal effectively with threats from the Middle East. We are in danger of falling into energy insecurity, and being mired in constant conflict with unstable and badly-governed states.

We need leaders of courage who will act as statesmen rather than partisans. We need leaders who will seek a balanced environmental solution that preserves the interest of the nation, ensures long-term environmental sustainability, protects national security and stimulates economic prosperity… and that earns the United States a mantle of world leadership on an issue that affects every corner of the globe.

That leadership responsibility, I believe, has landed squarely in the Oval Office. President Obama needs to embrace it, seizing a moment when the public is acutely aware of the economic and environmental consequences of our current energy policies. He should begin with the current Senate bill and forge it into strong, bold and comprehensive legislation.

As Friedman pointed out, “This bill has no chance to pass unless President Obama gets behind it with all his power, mobilizes the public and rounds up the votes. He has to lead from the front, not the rear… this oil spill could well become the most important leadership test of the Obama presidency.”

Tom Wright, a theologian and Church of England bishop, once said that leaders must grab the nettles, or resign themselves to a long walk around the thicket. This issue is a thicket full of nettles and it will take immense political courage to take hold of it. The alternative, however, is a long walk around a never-ending crisis, and our grandchildren’s children will pay a staggering price.

So let’s quit shilly-shallying around the edges of environmental policy, bite the tax bullet, and lead world to a sustainable energy future.

A Duty to Balance: Serving as a Corporate Director

During my 19 years on the board of a large, publically held corporation, I have been in many discussions with my colleagues about whether or not the sole responsibility of a director is to enhance shareholder value.  I argue that while this is an important part of our duty, we also have a responsibility to other stakeholders: customers, employees, and the welfare of the community and state we do business in.

This subject is examined in a recent article in The Economist, a weekly magazine that does a superb job of covering world politics, business and economics. The article cited Jack Welch as the icon for the “idea that a firm’s sole aim should be maximizing returns to shareholders.” This idea, according to the magazine, “has dominated American business for the last 25 years, and was spreading rapidly around the world until the financial crisis hit, calling the wisdom into question.”

Welch, himself, now questions it: “On the face of it,” he said, “shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world.” The Economist also quotes a Harvard Business Review article by Roger Martin, Dean of the University of Toronto’s School of Management.  Martin wrote that focusing on maximizing shareholder value is a “tragically flawed premise. It is time we abandoned it” and focus instead on a “customer-driven capitalism” with the goal of increasing customer satisfaction.

My view is that the debate of shareholder vs. stakeholder is a false one, and that a corporate board of directors has a duty to balance the two. They are not mutually exclusive.

Customers who believe that a company listens to their concerns, understands their needs and seeks to serve them will be loyal consumers. Well- trained employees who work in a healthy environment, receive fair compensation, and are treated with respect will have a professional dedication that goes beyond just showing up for work. Corporate investments in a community’s economic development, education system and general wellbeing will make for a better business climate. These stakeholders have a direct effect on the firm’s bottom line, thus affecting shareholder value.

For me the answer isn’t one extreme or the other. Shareholders and stakeholders (both groups, by the way, include management and board members) are inextricably bound together, and value for one is value for the others.