Warning up front.
There’s going to be some language and broad generalizations made in this essay.
Strategic thinking involves looking at long range macro level inputs or factors over time and predicting how they will affect the future. You must be able to use the left and right side of your brain in harmony to clearly design a future desired end state. Then you must support that end state with a narrative vision that describes the way you will get to the end state. Then you design measurable objectives to support the vision. The end state might never actually be achievable and sometimes it can be difficult to decide if you’re still on the course toward the end state. However, if you are continually guided by the vision, then you can measure the objectives and through those measurements, you surmise that you’re still on course. This takes courage and good judgement.
Very good strategic thinkers are not afraid of listening to diverse and divergent ideas. These leaders appreciate a different approach and input, but they only use what helps them get to the end state. They have the confidence to stay the course and are not swayed with unmeasurable things like feelings, opinions and conjecture. There are other strategic thinkers who lack the confidence to stay the course. After these leaders listen to diverse or divergent ideas, they allow the unmeasurable things to creep into their consciousness. Those unmeasurable things cloud their judgement. Pressure is almost always the culprit. That pressure usually manifests itself in a perceived time crunch. The perception that something must be done, causes them to lose focus and the downhill slide begins. In most cases, they were on the path they designed. They simply lacked the confidence to stay the course.
Now that we’ve got a baseline or background for this article, let’s dive into the meat of it – our elected leaders have problems, big stinking damn problems. The least of which is the morphology of modern politics and the greatest of which is the lack of backbone and confidence to do the right thing. The reality of the 24/7/365 news cycle, coupled with social media and an increasingly plugged in populace affects their thought processes. They believe they’ve got to be out there doing something every single day or maybe they need to look like they’re doing something. Yep, there it is. They start living in the world of make believe versus reality.
The scene cuts away to a cold lonely spaceship leaving Earth’s orbit.
Oh no! We are no longer on planet – Real World.
We are drifting into some perceived ridiculous world of feelings, perceptions, conjecture and opinion.
“Houston, this is Off World 7…we’ve got a problem.”
“What seems to be the problem, Off World 7”
“Houston, it looks like our cognitive computer is taking input from things that aren’t real. We’re losing confidence. It is negatively affecting our ability to make the hard-right designs.”
“Off World 7, have you checked your backbone?”
“Yeah Houston, it appears we are losing backbone at an alarming rate.”
“Dammit Off World 7! If you cannot repair the backbone, you’ll start drifting off further into space.”
“Yeah Houston, that’s what we are afraid of, but we’ve already started doing the easy-wrong, versus the hard-right.”
“Shit! Off World 7, that’s bad, that’s awful bad! Okay, we will get a team of engineers working down here on how to repair your backbone, so you can isolate the cognitive computer and start making hard-right decisions again.”
“Thanks Houston. We’re feeling pretty lost up here.”
“Off World 7, you’ve got to calm down and remember your training. Think back to before you went to Washington… just because it’s popular and you want to get reelected doesn’t make it right. Start by isolating your cognitive computer from opinion, conjecture, perceptions and feelings. Focus on the vision and get back to measuring the objectives you designed back home to help accomplish the mission for your constituents. Remember it’s what’s best for them, not for you. Focus on that, while we work on a solution to repair your backbone.”
The scene cuts away and we leave our poor astro-nut lost politicians floating through space…
We have got to have the backbone to do the hard-right over the easy-wrong. We had such an advantage leaving the late 1980s and into the early 1990s, that we have been able to play poorly on the international stage for quite a while. It is high time we buckle down and get our competitive advantage back. It’s that advantage that causes competitors and enemies to think twice before they piss us off. We’ve lost a great deal of that advantage – see the Russian advances in eastern Europe in the last few years – to which we did very damn little. Certain global actors and competitor nations are losing their respect for us. It’s time we get our house in order and get our competitive advantage back. If you think other nations and international competitors are not measuring us and waiting for a good time to “try us”, you’re dead wrong.
I’ll give two concrete examples, so you don’t think I’m just complaining: (1) our national financial health and (2) immigration reform. And they may or may not be inextricably linked – oh crap really? Yes, they might be INEXTRICABLY linked! Remember, you’ve got to be able to think clearly, when thinking strategically. Use both sides of your brain, be flexible and yet inflexible. Forward thinking, yet in the moment. Okay enough, “wax on, wax off” Mr. Miyagi philosophy Daniel-son.
To fix our national financial health long term and to isolate it from violent ups and downs, we must do three things: (1) grow our economy gradually and predictably over time, (2) increase taxes to the proper level and keep them there and (3) reduce spending. Envision our financial health as a stool, you must have all three legs (1) a strong economy (2) proper taxes and (3) moderate expenditures. You must have all three in equal length to keep the stool on solid footing. If you try to balance on any two of the legs, humpty dumpty falls and as the nursery rhyme goes, “All the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put humpty back together again.” We are losing our competitive advantage and to get it back, we must have the backbone to work on all three legs of our financial health.
Here’s the challenge we have. In our two-party political system, VERY BROADLY speaking: the first party wants to grow the economy, reduce taxes and control spending. The second party wants to grow the economy, increases taxes and increase spending.
The first party’s platform almost always includes, “no new taxes.” In fact, they usually want to cut taxes. They say, they want to cut taxes to “unshackle business” and “help consumers spend.” The truth is, that tax cuts done right will help the economy. The deeper darker truth is that most tax cuts are done to win votes. Tax cuts very specifically designed to grow business help the economy. Tax cuts that bring new business to the U.S. are just what we need. But tax cuts to citizens who already don’t pay their fair share, continues to hurt the Nation. Those kinds of cuts are only done for campaign donations and votes – greed, yes greed is at work. Some folks could afford to pay their fair share. Unfortunately, they’d rather pay lobbyists to work on our legislative and executive branches to change the tax code to their advantage, rather than pay their fair share. Hey man, I get it. Don’t throw stones at me. I’m a dyed in the wool capitalism fan. I don’t want the federal government to have any more of my money than they need. But DAMMIT, when I don’t contribute my fair share, then the whole suffers. Some folks are not doing their part. They know it. Everyone knows it. I’m not advocating that we continually increase taxes, hell no. I am advocating, that we must increase overall tax revenue, by reforming the tax code, so that all citizens pay their fair equal share. And one party, my party, disagrees with me. Certainly, we can improve the economy and reduce expenditures to help our financial health, but working on just those two legs of the stool will ONLY get us so far. To restore our competitive advantage, we must have backbone to work on all three legs (1) better economy, (2) better taxes and (3) less spending.
The other party believes that taxes are necessary to fund new programs and grow the federal government to help the people, because the people need extra help. We are simply not capable of doing things for ourselves. Or…wait for it…they just want to stay in power, so they give away federal dollars to people through broad over reaching federal programs to garner votes – greed, yes greed is at work. This party would be for tax reform, certainly. The problem is they would be unlikely to stop at simply reforming the tax code and making it fair. They would lie and say they just want to reform it, only to increase taxes across the board later. Why? Because they like to spend our tax dollars. This party would spend up to their limit and like a spoiled brat trust fund baby, complain to their parents that their credit card was maxed out. Then they’d advocate for new taxes, so that they could give away more money. Because they need votes – greed again my friends. I am sorry, but at the federal level, this party’s policies are not good. The federal government can be too big and currently it is. National level social programs and entitlements can be too big and currently they are. Such programs are crutches that have turned into wheel chairs, that have made certain portions of our population so weak, they can no longer stand on their own two legs. Where this parties policies and ideas start to shine is at the state and local level, where programs can be targeted toward what the constituents really need. Their policies at the national level simply don’t work long term. Sorry, it’s true. Socially, they have great ideas, but they want to buy them. You cannot buy peace, love and security. It must be earned. Certainly, we can improve the economy and increase taxes to help our financial health, but my point is – working on those two legs alone will ONLY get us so far. To restore our competitive advantage, we must have backbone to work on all three legs (1) better economy, (2) better taxes and (3) less spending.
Sidebar, you might think at some point I would be advocating for a balanced budget and the elimination of the federal deficit. Nope, that would wreck the whole world. Yes, would wreck the whole world. You see, the United States of America is one of the safest investments in the world. That’s why other countries invest in the United States. People usually worry about China, which has about $1.2 trillion of our debt. Well don’t look now, but Japan, one of our closest allies, has $1.1 trillion. It’s not just other countries that would suffer if we didn’t run a deficit. It’s big business. Yes, seasonal big businesses around the world buy into the treasury as well. When times are good, they buy very safe treasury notes, bonds and bills. When times are lean, they slowly cash those in to keep the business running. Without a debt, we would have no need to issue such bonds, bills and notes. Thus, we must run a debt. How big is the question? We need folks to invest in the future of the USA. How do you think we would get along without anyone investing in our future? How do you think the world would get along without a safe place to put their money? Yep, they put their money into our treasury and we pay them interest on it.
Wait a damn minute! You’re saying a deficit is good? Yes, but “I like big butts and I cannot lie.” Here is the big but – the current national debt is too big. It’s way bigger than it needs to be and everyone knows that. Where should we start to fix it? How much should it be lowered? Where can it be lowered? I think we keep the public debt to the U.S. Treasury – for now. I suggest we start working to eliminate intergovernmental holdings. It’s about $6 trillion. Intergovernmental holdings are debts that government agencies have borrowed against one another. Yep, our government is so big, that agencies have borrowed against one another. It gets worse, they have also borrowed against the American People. Crazy, right? Totally crazy. Lost my damn marbles and they are rolling around on the floor crazy. It’s like a top fuel dragster driver hitting the gas and the parachute button simultaneously. We cannot go fast if we are dragging a parachute! One reason that we are losing our competitive advantage – we cannot stop spending.
One way to reduce federal spending and help the three-legged stool of financial health stand firm is to reduce the size of the federal government and the programs therein. Every time we develop a new program, we must fund it and staff it – that’s how the federal government grows. If we have borrowed $6 TRILLION, YES TRILLION, dollars from within the government to run the government, then the damn government is too big. Where is the biggest liability – retirements. We have robbed the American People simply to run government. You ask, how much have we robbed the American People, well here are some numbers: $2.8 trillion in Social Security and another $7 billion in military retirement have been borrowed through intergovernmental loans to keep agencies running. Yes, we have borrowed within our own government, against your retirement. Disgusting, but true.
Let’s bring this around toward immigration reform. You were probably wondering how I might get to that right? Well here we go! Sound battle stations, full speed ahead, open outer doors and flood torpedo tubes 1 and 2.
Okay, here’s where people lose their backbone. We are a Nation built on immigration. Most immigrants are good people. They simply want to find a job, work hard, raise their families and die in a better place than they came from. That place is the United States of America. Like the Nations that invest in our national debt, immigrants are investing in the future of America. You ask me how? Well I will tell you how – they moved here! Damn, I’m tired of answering that question. They didn’t move here to burn the place down. They moved here, because we are the light of the world. We are the only truly free Nation, big enough and expansive enough, to provide real opportunity for them and their families. You worry immigrant crime. WTH! Here we go again, losing backbone at an alarming rate again. Less than 5% of crime is committed by immigrants and undocumented aliens. Yep, 95% of crime is committed by regular old Americans! Hell, let’s deport them. It’s the Americans fault! Wait, that’s just crazy, we can’t deport ourselves. Holy shit, that counterintuitive argument is too often missed by most folks. Immigrants don’t commit crimes for two reasons (1) fear of being sent home and (2) where they come from the prisons are terrible and the police force is worse, so they are terrified of all police and prisons. Huge motivation to keep themselves out of trouble.
We lose our national collective backbone when we listen to asshole xenophobes that have a voice in the media or politics about the terrors committed by immigrants. I’m not absolving immigrants of crimes, not one iota. But it’s time to put that myth to rest, stomp it, kick it and turn it into a crimson stain on the carpet. Xenophobes harp on immigrant crime or terrorism as a reason to keep people from entering our country. You know what the real reason is? Greed. OH no, yep, I brought up greed again. Those xenophobes are worried that immigrants will vote for the other party and they will lose votes. They wrongly believe that ALL immigrants are going to settle in the cities and vote like other city dwellers. They have no idea how those immigrants will vote. In most cases, immigrant values are closer to historic American values. Family, religion and pursuit of financial security are usually what immigrants are pursuing, which sounds conservative to me.
You ask – why do we need immigrants? You say – we are doing fine, without them. Thanks for teeing that up for me. Let me take the driver out of golf bag and pound that crap right down the fairway. One of the reasons we are running a debt to the social security trust fund is there’s not enough people paying into it, to cover the number of people drawing out of it. No, it’s not a Ponzi scheme, but it sure seems like one at times. The social security system was designed with a stable, growing, working and contributing population. We simply need more people working and paying into the system. There are industries that would absolutely collapse without seasonal immigrant labor. We need to make those folks citizens. There are other industries that are dying on the vine and have already turned to non-seasonal immigrant labor. Trucking companies would already be dead if it weren’t for immigrants. Interstate commerce would be dead without trucking companies. See where this is going?
Don’t get me started on what would happen if we had another major war. I’m not talking about the recent war I fought in in the Middle East. I’m talking about a major conflict that could jeopardize the sovereignty of the United States of America. Yeah, we got technology and nukes, sure. But we are falling behind in those two areas, because our economy is suffering and sequestration (the Budget Control Act of 2011) took its biggest share from the Department of Defense. Where is the real threat to our national defense in terms of a major war? We don’t have enough people to fight a major war. Yeah, turns out the American People are having less kids. WTH! Holy crap the American People commit most of the crime and the American People are jeopardizing our long term national security by having too few kids? Dammit, we are our own problem! But we’ve got 323 million people and counting in the United States, shouldn’t that be enough. No, sorry. You’re not thinking strategically, not even close. In the top 10 most populace nations on Earth, only Japan is our ally. Japan is currently number 10. The other 8 countries on the list of most populous countries are competitors, neutral or worse. In a national security worst case scenario, we are simply outnumbered. Outnumbered and not putting enough money into defense, because we want to spend it on social programs is bad, really bad. Who was running the executive and legislative branches of our government in 2011 when sequestration robbed the Department of Defense?
Damn! This is so complicated and interconnected.
How does a regular Joe or Jane American figure it out?
It is really not complicated at the regular Joe and Jane American level.
Here’s the solution: we need to elect people with the backbone to make the hard-right decisions.
That’s it, so simple.
Look past the flash and the great suits.
Drill down into what they stand for and what we can count on them to do when they get to Washington.
The scene cuts away…
Meanwhile back on the spaceship:
“Off World 7, this is Houston… we found the right answers at the coffee shop over on the local military base. It’s a simple step by step solution.”
“Copy that Houston, send the solution. We are pretty anxious up here. We can actually see a black hole out of the commander’s window.”
“Off World 7, this is Houston, solution follows:
- Reduce the size of the federal government over time
- Increase the tax base and population through immigration immediately
- Make citizenship cheaper and easier immediately
- Reduce the debt by ending intergovernmental borrowing immediately
- Put money back into defense immediately
- Reform the federal tax code to make it fair across the board over time
- Reduce spending over time
- Reduce long term entitlements over time
- Give the American people their liberty and dignity back immediately
“Houston, this is Off World 7…copy all and roger that. I’m embarrassed that we got to this point. Working to repair the backbone and avoid the black hole time now.”
“Off World 7, this is Houston. We will pray for your safe return.”
As the scene ends, the Commander of the space ship, Off World 7, stares blankly at the list.
He thinks to himself and slowly rights down the following in the margin next to the steps Houston sent:
- Grow the federal government
- Reduce the tax base and population
- Make citizenship more expensive and harder
- Increase the debt through intergovernmental borrowing
- Take more money from defense
- Increase spending
- Increase entitlements
- Continue to erode liberty and dignity
Then he says to himself quietly, “Holy shit. This is bad.”
The scene ends.
“We the People” need to think for ourselves.
“We the People” need to elect folks with the backbone to do the “hard right” thing, versus the “easy wrong” things.