|Recommendations for the President||01.01.09|
Towards a Better WorldThe Council for the 5th World
A wide-ranging set of recommendations are presented, which, in the opinions of those contributing this, would move the world many steps towards a sustainable, equitable, peaceful world.
Differences of faith have traditionally been the crucible of conflict, especially in the Mid East. No religion will ever convince another religion that the other religion is wrong, and conflicts over faith often turn bloody when one’s soul seems to be in the balance. Yet there is substantial common ground upon which to build world peace. All major religions share a version of the Golden Rule, for example, and a directive not to kill.
See Bill Moyers Journal of December
In the excellent film BEYOND OUR DIFFERENCES, director Peter Bisanz explores the common threads that unify the world’s religious traditions. Religious leaders, politicians and luminaries in their fields give voice to the positive effects of spirituality and morality, focusing on commonalities spanning all faiths. See http://www.beyondourdifferences.com/
Much of the suicide bombing and terrorism in the Mid East stems from ignorance, where spokesmen who say they speak for God give uneducated people a stilted and self-serving view of their sacred texts. The Koran, for example, states that men and women are equal, but are they told that? Educating women in Afghanistan would be a good start.
We suggest that you establish interfaith institutes around the world whose purpose is to educate leaders of all faiths in the common ground between all religions, so that they might be sent back into their respective areas to teach and spread understanding and peace. Gaza would be an ideal place to establish the first one.
It might seem strange to mention music here, but it is a natural complement to the interfaith institutes above. Just for some uplift, visit
http://www.playingforchange.com/ and listen to Mark Johnson’s “Stand By Me” video, which took 10 years to create, using musicians from around the world. Music is truly universal. It cuts through all the political posturing. Mark is raising money to build Playing For Change studios around the world, promoting peace through music. It would be wonderfully effective to have such studios in every interfaith institute. You need to use all the tools, because your job is very big.
Nowhere is peace in shorter supply than in and around Israel. Democracy is no solution to these issues. Hamas is the elected government of Palestine. Israel cannot stop the rockets from Gaza. If they invade, they become hated oppressors and will face a bloody insurrection. But you, as Commander-in-Chief of American divisions repositioning from Iraq, might have a card to play here. Consider placing American troops peacefully on the ground in Gaza purely to defuse the situation and build peace. Israel will not attack its sponsor’s forces. As in Afghanistan and most hot spots, the Palestinians are hungry and desperate. They need jobs. Feed them. Educate them. Build infrastructure. Build their economy. Welcome their commerce. Build the first interfaith institute. Make them our friends, and peace will have a chance.
Your danger is to step in too quickly with a blank check for Israel. Do so, and the possibility of peace recedes. What is needed is evidence of an even-handed negotiator, where the needs of both sides are honestly recognized, and a new plan is envisioned. You can do this.
It has long been a mystery as to why we do not trade with Cuba because they are communist, while our largest trading partner in the communist People’s Republic of China. It makes no sense. Fidel is virtually gone, and it is time to open Cuba, which will benefit both Cubans and Americans.
We suggest that you remove the embargo on Cuba and open relations with them on the same terms as China.
Afghanistan and Pakistan
The Mid East, and especially Afghanistan, is the graveyard of empires, and the American empire could easily fall there as the USSR did. Sarah Chayes, a thoughtful and dedicated American author who has been living in Kandahar for years, is a frequent guest on the Bill Moyers program. See http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/blog/.
Chayes knows first-hand what is going on over there, and she says “Two things have happened since 2001. One is that the Pakistani military intelligence agency has been diligently reconstituting the Taliban, which it first created in 1994. The injection of this newly reconstituted Taliban back into Afghanistan represents something closer to an invasion by proxy than it does an insurgency. And secondly, Afghans, including Pashtuns in the south, have been bitterly disappointed by the behavior of the Karzai government. The word ‘corruption’ does not do justice to the scale of the phenomenon.”
She ridicules the American policy of funding the Pakistanis to keep looking for bin Laden. What motivation do they have to find him, if their funding dries up when he is found?
You have a great opportunity to set a new direction in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Chayes could be a vital advisor for you in this effort. Military spending is a very inefficient use of our scarce resources. A much smaller amount could be spent to much greater effect by helping the population get fed and housed, find jobs, and become educated. Build roads, dams, infrastructure. Promote the pomegranate industry. The Afghans already love you. Build on this. Bin Laden will be found when the people bring him to you. If you jump right in on the side of the warlords, your opportunity will be lost. Stepped-up military action will be ineffective without the support of the Afghan people.
It is obvious that drug money funds much evil around the world, from the drug wars along the Mexican border to the conflicts in Central America and even the Taliban and al Qaeda. For too long we have been held captive by the idea that to legalize drugs is to condone their use.
Prohibition of alcohol did not work; it merely led to gang warfare. Repealing prohibition was not an endorsement of alcohol, it just made sense and reduced violence.
Prohibition of abortion did not work; it merely made it more dangerous. Roe v. Wade was not an endorsement of abortion; it just made sense and saved mothers’ lives.
We need to learn from history. Prohibition of drugs does not work; it merely leads to drug wars and funding of terrorism. Legalization of drugs is not an endorsement of drug use; it just makes sense.
It may be time now to legalize all drugs to take the profit out of the equation, to stop the drug violence, to make drugs safer, and to organize the effort to help addicts get off the drugs, as most want to. Removing the profits from the drug trade would go a long ways towards bringing peace to the Earth. Legal poppies could be raised in Afghanistan, as another cash crop like pomegranates, but not as the dominant crop in the region. Legal drug sales are taxable, like alcohol and cigarettes.
Abortion and Sex Education
Life is sacred. That is common ground. You are right to support the common goal of reducing abortion. Prohibition does not make abortion go away, and abortion would be unnecessary in the absence of unwanted pregnancies. If abstinence were an effective birth-control policy, then Sarah Palin’s unwed daughter would not have given birth.
We suggest that you promote sex education and access to effective birth control, which are not endorsements of sexual immorality. They just make sense and reduce the frequency of abortions.
If life is sacred, then all killing should be resisted, so war should be avoided, and poverty and starvation must be reduced around the planet, and veterans should be well cared for. Being pro-life is much more than being anti-abortion.
The pirates of East Africa prey on undefended shipping lanes because their previous livelihood, subsistence fishing along the coast, has been stripped from them by corporate fishing trawlers. The fish are gone, corporate fishing profits are up, and piracy is what economists glibly call an externality, a cost to be paid by the rest of us so that corporations can prosper. It is not right.
We suggest that you, in cooperation with India and other responsible and concerned parties, establish a naval cordon along the coast, perhaps 20 miles out, keeping commercial traffic and trawlers seaward and local fishing vessels and pirates landward. Allow the coastal fisheries to recover, and until they do, assess a tax on the corporations whose trawlers spawned this disaster and use it to rebuild the economies of the coastal communities. Build friends for us in Africa. You have a natural base there.
This is your biggest test, and you have major pitfalls to avoid here as well. We know that you need people around you who know how to pull the right strings, but you will need to orchestrate the new ideas, or you will get more disasters. As you have observed, the economy is broken. The traditional ideas do not apply any more. The lever of lower interest rates, for example, is no longer connected in any meaningful way to the engine of the economy. Greed is not and never was good. Trickle-down never happened.
In the recent meltdown, the bonuses and excessive corporate compensations were very real, but the profits on which they were based were illusory. The wealth did not suddenly disappear. It never existed. It was sleight of hand, motivated by greed, and exacerbated by those reluctant to endanger their own flow of benefits.
The meltdown was made possible by the fiction of Ayn Rand, whose ideas deeply influenced Alan Greenspan, Ronald Reagan, and other proponents of the unfettered free market. The idea that pirates, in the absence of regulation controlling piracy, would be guided by some benevolent invisible hand towards the best outcome for all concerned, turned out in the end to be just plain wrong. In the absence of laws against pirates, piracy flourishes, and pirates from Michael Milken to Bernard Madoff have fleeced our economy.
These economic pirates looted people’s retirement accounts and investments for private gain. Had they been bank robbers instead of confidence artists, all of those who benefited would be charged as accessories to the crime.
We suggest that you establish a commission whose duty is to find all those who benefited from this meltdown and assess them for damages, returning as much of the ill-gotten wealth to its original owners as equitably as possible. Those who cannot do the restitution need to be charged, tried, and jailed if necessary.
We allowed ourselves to be seduced by the idea that wealth can be made without production or service, and that employment was not an essential part of the economy. If a corporation wished to profit by closing American plants and outsourcing manufacturing to China or services to India, not a finger was raised to prevent it, provided that profits were made, profits that stayed at the top and did not trickle down, a process that reduced America’s wealth and exaggerated our disparity between rich and poor, which is now one of the highest in history. History records that violent revolutions were usually preceded by vast disparities in wealth, so we need to head off such a future disaster now.
We suggest that you use Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman as an advisor. He is on target and will be very helpful to you. See, for example, his 2003 book, The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century, in which the coming bubbles were predicted.
The disingenuous assumption made by those who cut jobs to increase profitability is that growth in the economy will always provide sufficient new jobs to employ those displaced. That may have once been true when there was a frontier and the growing American economy had no global competition, but it is no longer true, and unemployment is steadily rising and is higher than statistics show.
If our economy were a human body, its red blood cells would be jobs. The loss of jobs is a hemorrhage, which in time is fatal. Cells have a right and responsibility to help keep the body alive. Citizens have a right and responsibility to be employed as productive members of society. Corporations have a shared responsibility to keep Americans employed.
You are right to give tax incentives to those who create American jobs and to heavily tax those who eliminate American jobs. You are right to create massive public works programs to get people employed again. You are right to employ people implementing renewable energy systems and greater efficiency of energy use. These options employ many people. It’s all about jobs.
We suggest that as part of your public works program you resurrect the railroad industry, which moves a ton of freight about 436 miles on a gallon of diesel, compared to about 130 for trucks. Railroads are patriotic, as they reduce our vulnerability to imported oil. Cities need rail transit, which reduces pollution and congestion, and intercity rail service in the U.S. is way behind many other countries. Construction of railroads requires massive unskilled labor, which we have in abundant supply.
One impediment to making the necessary changes to our failed ideas of economics is the way in which we measure our economy. All the statistics are about growth, not sustainability. We must change what we measure and how. GDP goes up every time someone gets ill or has an accident. Katrina raised GDP, which is not something to be maximized per se.
We must instead maximize well-being, which includes employment. Currently, when corporate America maximizes profits, it accounts labor costs (employment) as a negative that reduces profit. So maximizing profits minimizes labor costs, which increases unemployment, unless the economy grows forever, which it cannot on a finite planet.
Unemployment is worse than reported because discouraged workers go uncounted and because holding a job as a Wal-Mart greeter is quite different from holding a job as an executive or highly paid skilled worker. They cannot be counted as equivalent, and to do so is highly misleading.
We are at a point in history where economic growth per se can no longer be our objective, for infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible. Now it is time to transition into a sustainable economy that can be maintained indefinitely without self-destructing. The current economic meltdown is just the first example of what happens when growth becomes unsustainable. See the work of Herman Daly, in for example, Beyond Growth: The Economics of Sustainable Development. See http://www.amazon.com/Beyond-Growth-Economics-Sustainable-Development/dp/0807047090.
We suggest that you set up a commission on sustainable economics to flesh out the official theory of sustainable economies and to make recommendations for methods of implementation. Also included would be the duty to redefine the measures of the economy so that we can measure and maximize what is important for the long-term survival and well-being of the American people.
Bernard Madoff operated a $50 billion Ponzi scheme that paid unrealistically high returns to earlier “investors” with the “investments” of subsequent “investors.” So long as new “investors” could be found, the scheme continued, but Ponzi schemes always fail when the supply of new “investors” dries up.
The Social Security system is clearly another Ponzi scheme that will collapse when the supply of working Americans gets too small to support the burden of preceding retired workers. So its collapse is inevitable, but we can delay it to the extent that we employ ever more Americans. It’s all about jobs, again.
This hot-button issue needs to be reformulated. Immigration has long been the source of vitality and population growth for the U.S. The influx of immigrants and their higher birth rates is the primary factor that keeps the American population and our employment pool growing. The populations of Europe, Japan and even China are aging and graying faster than we are and do not have this vital source of new blood. See, for example, Fareed Zakaria’s The Post-American World, at http://www.fareedzakaria.com/books. Fareed would be another great advisor for you.
Immigrants are a hard-working and innovative group of people and are vital to our economy. We need legal immigrants to work here and pay taxes here, so as to enable Social Security to survive as long as possible. To the extent that we reduce the inflow of new, young workers, Social Security will fail sooner rather than later.
We suggest that you continue to reduce illegal immigration while at the same time open the doors to a higher volume of legal immigration so that our population of tax-paying employed Americans continues to grow, enabling Social Security to remain solvent longer.
The Big Three
If it is all about jobs, and if letting the Big Three auto makers fail would lose 2.3 million American jobs, then such a failure would make recovery from the current economic meltdown much harder. It is clearly the unrealistically high union labor costs of the American auto industry that have made it uncompetitive. The industry tried to design smaller, more efficient vehicles but abandoned the effort in favor of SUVs and trucks when they found that their higher labor costs prevented them from competing with smaller imported Asian cars made with cheaper labor.
The unions served a great and noble purpose when they improved working conditions and eliminated child labor. But in the absence of global competition, they were able to use the threat of the strike to coerce the industry into unrealistically high compensation and benefits, which drove up the price of American vehicles until foreign manufacturers could afford to ship vehicles overseas into our markets and still undersell Detroit. Bailing out Detroit without reducing labor costs is pointless.
The auto workers in the Mid West have long had an easier time of life than most other Americans, and in this stressful time, it is necessary to level the playing field.
We suggest that you do what is right and required, even though Labor has been one of your staunchest supporters. They do not own you. You can make the patriotic appeal and require as a prerequisite to a bailout that union labor rates be no more than non-union labor rates and that Detroit immediately embark on a retooling to make patriotic vehicles that help reduce our vulnerability to the political volatilities of imported oil.
You are right to put this nation on a course of energy independence as a matter of national security. But you have another hard decision to make regarding ethanol. While bio-fuels made sustainably are preferable to limited fossil fuels, the decision to convert food to fuel must be made carefully. The current excessive diversion of corn into ethanol production has raised food prices around the world and contributed to starvation. If life is sacred, then such actions are not warranted.
Currently there is a 54-cent per gallon tariff on imported Brazilian ethanol made from sugar cane. This protectionist tariff enables our corn ethanol to be competitive, and without it, our corn would go back to being food, and food prices would come down. Ben Bernanke and others favor removing this tariff. Brazil will dominate South America as we have dominated north America. They are the only western-hemisphere emerging economic giant, and we need to work closely with them.
Your challenge is that the corn states such as Illinois love this tariff, and they supported you. But they do not own you, and you must do the right thing for the planet.
We suggest that you remove the tariff on Brazilian ethanol immediately so as to help feed the world’s population and enhance national security by reducing our dependence on imported oil.
The economic meltdown started when deregulated banks found that they could increase profits by selling off their mortgages to investment houses and using the proceeds to make more loans, living off the transaction fees instead of waiting patiently for mortgages to mature as they had done previously. This change lessened the banks’ need to ensure that the borrowers could retire their loans – it became someone else’s problem.
When banks began to run short of qualified home-buyers, they invented teaser rates and adjustable-rate mortgages that put ever more unqualified borrowers into homes they could not afford long-term, but their profitable stream of transaction fees continued uninterrupted.
The investment houses then deliberately hid the increased risks of these sub-prime mortgages by splitting them into many pieces and assembling opaque combinations of pieces of mortgages and other investments which were then sold as mortgage-backed derivatives at attractive but unrealistic rates of return based upon the unlikely assumptions that home prices would rise forever, and that home owners would always be able to maintain their payments, even when adjustable rates were stepping upwards, real wages were stagnating, and jobs were being outsourced overseas.
As the risks became more obvious, the investment houses thought that they could just take out insurance against mortgage default, applying an inappropriate model of fire insurance to a situation that was quite different. Fire insurance works because the premiums of unburnt houses pay to rebuild the burnt home. But when a whole class of houses catches fire – sub-prime mortgages defaulting – all the burnt houses need rebuilding, the premiums are insufficient to the task, and AIG goes belly-up unless bailed out by future taxpayers, using money borrowed from China through treasury notes.
Before the whole scheme collapsed, many unsuspecting home owners borrowed and spent their illusory home equity. When unqualified buyers began to default, the housing market became glutted and the construction industry collapsed. Many of these buyers now owe more than their homes are worth. Foreclosures are rampant, and there is no end in sight.
There is no point in foreclosing anyone. Back when homes appreciated, a foreclosed home could be resold quickly to recover the premium, but today, such homes sit vacant after the hapless occupants are expelled. Squatters take over, vandals destroy property, and whole neighborhoods decline. It would be much more preferable to have the American people buy the property at current-market prices with bailout money and convert the occupants to renters, keeping them in the homes and protecting the values of neighborhoods.
We suggest that you establish a Board of Realty Maintenance in every neighborhood. Such boards will assess local properties that are about to be foreclosed, establish for each valuable property a current-market price at which the American public will buy it, then buy the property for the American public, and establish a reasonable rental rate that will keep the former owners in the home.
If life is sacred and the unborn are people with rights, then they also have the right to representation before being taxed, which is why we fought the Revolution. Before we issue federal treasury notes to be paid back by taxes collected 30 years hence from people as yet unborn, is it not only fair to give those future taxpayers representation? Before we chose a short-term option that destroys the livability of a future world, is it not only fair to consider the decision as if those future citizens had a voice?
Most of the significant problems facing us are long-term problems that require far-sighted solutions, but our political system discounts the future heavily and favors short-term benefits with long-term consequences. If this imbalance is not corrected, our entire planet will be at risk as the future manifests itself, clothed in the missed opportunities of the short-sighted past.
We need to invest in non-oil energy, and the recent high gas prices helped, but as soon as investments materialized to go in that direction, the gas prices retreated and the projects were cancelled. One cannot make long-term decisions this way.
We suggest that you establish an Advisory Board for the Representation of the Unborn that would advise you and the Congress on all matters that pertain to potential effects of proposed legislation and executive orders upon those unborn at this time.
The Alien Presence
In recent years Great Britain and France have each opened their UFO files to the public without major incident. The U.S. has not. There was a time when both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. each thought that UFOs were secret vehicles of the other, so the secrecy was about national security. Those days are over, but the cover-up remains. The best evidence suggests that off-planet intelligence exists, has changed ancient human history, especially via genetic engineering, and to this day continues to observe us in a hands-off way akin to researchers not walking in the pond they are studying so as to not muddy the water. If they were malevolent, they would have harmed us by now and they have not, so we can assume they mean us no harm. It is a good time to release the U.S. information.
We suggest that you establish a commission for the disclosure of information about off-planet intelligence, whose duty would be to release everything that is known about the subject and to ensure amnesty for all people who have committed crimes on behalf of concealing this information in the past, so that they can feel safe in sharing what they know.
In all of this we wish you the best, Mr. President-Elect Obama.
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