Aftermath of 9/11 – Hope, Peace, Power

Victor Guzman survived 9/11 from the 85th floor of the World Trade Center  Watch this video to see how he lived to tell how 9/11 changed his life in a positive way.
In a strange way, his story is my story.

I was on the opposite coast that dreadful morning, but the impact was no less devastating.  I had celebrated my 50th birthday 12 days earlier by being downsized from the best, most lucrative position of my career as International Division President of Allied Domecq (Baskin-Robbins and Dunkin’ Donuts).  I almost never watch TV, but for some reason that morning I flipped on the news a few seconds before the image of the first plane hitting the first tower seared itself into my consciousness.  I believe the impulse to turn on the TV at that moment was not an accident.  I called my family together and remember telling them that I didn’t know what it meant, but it was hugely significant and the world would never be the same from that moment forward.

Newly emancipated from my career at its peak, I was still full of confidence.  I decided to take advantage of that moment of freedom and reward my dear wife, who had faithfully followed me across the world as we climbed the ladder.  We abruptly sold our California house, moved to Atlanta and built our 5,000 square foot dream house where we could be near her family.

What followed was four years of unemployment.  It was a period when, like Mr. Guzman in this video, I had the time to be intensely involved with my family.  We enjoyed precious moments working, playing and studying the scriptures together.  It was also a time of grief and depression.  My oldest son, stricken with the disease of schizophrenia took his life.  The first five years following 9/11 was punctuated by some consulting work and one year as International Division Managing Director (President equivalent) at Papa John’s International.  In that year, my performance exceeded all the targets I was given, but within one year to the day, I was fired by a boss who had never intended to fill that position and knew it would be vacant again one year from filling it.  I had sold our Atlanta home and relocated to a place we didn’t want to be.  Success meeting my objectives at Papa John’s had refreshed my confidence, but this time I was done with living inside the matrix, the corporate life.

It had been just over five years since 9/11 and my departure from Allied Domecq.  The second 5-year phase of post 9/11 life began.  Always supportive, Becky followed me as I threw what was left of our life savings and all of my energy into building a community where we could live free and independent, surrounded by honest, supportive, creative and hard-working people of like mind, good people who care about their fellow-man as Christ taught.  This second 5-year segment has not been easy, nor financially profitable. Today, I have more questions than I have answered.  But, of the things that are important, I am blessed.  My children are now all independent – two in college, two married with children.  I had time to be with them in their formative years, building and enjoying them. I live in a place of immense natural beauty.  My personal land and home are debt free.  I have time to think and have spent a much of my time meditating, reading and writing.  My wife has thrown herself into raising a garden that feeds us.  We have a secure, private supply of clean, pure, life-giving water.  Our efforts have yielded a core group of trusted, beloved friends.

So, you can see, 9/11 has a great deal of significance to me.  You could say it was the beginning of a ten-year journey through tumult, failure, sadness, depression, blessings, hope, peace and empowerment.  The journey has just begun.

In this moment of reflection, I am impressed to tell you that
the outcome of the next years will depend on whether we sink into confused despair or realize that we are individually and collectively powerful.  With God’s guidance, we can create a world of hope, peace and power.

There’s a new game in town

If you have read many of my posts you know I don’t like labels.  I’m neither a conservative nor a liberal, neither a Republican nor a Democrat.  I think most real answers are somewhere outside of mainstream thought and are certainly not found in mainstream media.

So, I was delighted to learn of a new website that offers Americans a new option that circumvents the corrupt two-party system.  I found out about it from a NY Times Op-Ed piece titled Make way for the radical center.   I navigated my way to Americans Elect 2012 and joined.  I was presented with a lot of questions to answer that are supposed to link me up with other “like-minded” people.  As I answered each question,  the results of the other million + members followed and I thought, wow, this certainly has an extreme liberal/progressive skew.  I began to wonder if I’m that far in the minority.   I’m not easily bullied into changing my views even when vastly outnumbered.  I just wondered if mainstream America is really that far to the left of me.

Then I took a look at some of the forums.  There, I found that even self-avowed flaming liberals were acknowledging how stunned (and delighted) they are at the skewing.   I liked one self-proclaimed liberal’s comment that the site needs to bring in more conservative views.   I may or may not agree with his views, but I was impressed with his desire for an open, inclusive discussion.  As one who values solutions over polemics, I couldn’t agree more.

Please join the site and make your views known.  Maybe, if enough thinking Americans get involved we can turn this thing around.

Principles for a Strong, Free Community

Cover of "The 5000 Year Leap (Original Au...

Cover via Amazon

I’m reading, thanks to some friends of Sewanee Creek, an insightful book that chronicles the creation of the United States. It is called The 5000 Year Leap. by Cleon Skousen.

There have been many aha moments, but I just read the opening lines to the 7th principle of freedom: the proper role of Government. It resonated so strongly with me that I felt compelled to jump on the computer and share it.

Under the bold header, “What Powers Can Be Assigned to Government” it reads,The founders recognized that the people cannot delegate to their government the power to do anything except that which they have the lawful right to do themselves.”

My experience in business management taught me that this is a true principle. In many ways I have always been a bit of a contrarian, preferring to march to the beat of my own drum and driven by strongly held, biblical principles of right and wrong. Often, in the course of my employment, I found that my principles were at odds with those in higher authority. On a couple of occasions I tried to institute change from a grass roots level. That approach invariably landed me in hot water and confirmed to me that this is a true principle. In a corporation, those who have position power will have their way, that is as long as they are clever enough to exercise and maintain power, as they usually are upon reaching a high or ownership position.

That understanding emanates from business experience, which can/should be very different from government of a democratic republic.  But the underlying principle is eternal and immutable. You can not delegate power that you do not have.  In the domain of government, where in America our underlying assumption is of a government for and by the people, the application can become circular and confusing until one inserts the concept of God-given, unalienable rights. These rights and the power that proceeds from them are few and broad, but must be tightly defined.

To return to my business analogy, as a mid-level manager, I had neither the right nor the power to institute change within an organization that I did not own or been delegated rights and powers, regardless of my sense of right and wrong. As stated elsewhere in this great book, rights stem from ownership. Where I disagreed with my superiors my options were, (a) execute exactly as I was directed, (b) convince those in authority of a better way or (c) resign and find a place to work more closely aligned with my values.

Only when rights of ownership and true authority are respected can an organization of any sort reach the potential to achieve the purpose for which it was created. If it is true that the rights of government of the USA are vested only in the people, it is clear that there has been a boardroom coupe.  America is ruled by unelected bureaucrats who report indirectly to hands-off elected officials who have made themselves unaccountable to those who should be vested with power, the people.  But the people have become deservedly dis-empowered because of their witless incompetence in the exercise of their power. Anyone who has participated in boardroom politics will recognize that only those who exercise their power with wisdom and clever insight will retain power. Even owner/founders are routinely deposed by hired managers. The American people have lost power because they have failed to exercise their true, God-given power.  God giveth and the government taketh away.  America is no longer a Republic.  It is a corporation, ruled by hired managers.

I want to relate this back to something more local, as that is all I feel empowered to speak of with any confidence any more. The Village values individual freedom and rights. Rights stem from ownership. Ownership should be the result of honest thought, labor and investment. This is why individual (not communal) property ownership is a keystone to successful community whether at the Village or Nation/State level. That is why the Village on Sewanee Creek is different from most “intentional communities” that typically end up in flames because they are often built on a utopian socialist, common-ownership model.

It is a little understood fact that the constitution of the United States was not ratified or even drafted till years after the successful conclusion of the revolution. Similarly, I have felt it inappropriate to impose homeowner association bylaws for the Village which should be the product of land owners within the village. George Washington declined the offer to become a king. He was a public servant in the best sense. I desire to do the same. My wife and I own most of the Village property now. But when it is sold, I am a Villager, created equal and with equal rights to other Villagers.

For those who might be interested in a model for government of the Village (not to mention the Republic of the USA) read The 5000 Year Leap.

Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged – a philosophy to unite Left and Right

I have occasionally hinted in my blogs that “I like liberals” or that I feel a strange kinship with some aspects of progressive thought.  As I have written these things, I cringe a little inside, expecting to be castigated by conservatives for association with such hated labels.  Finally, here is a piece that explains my feelings.  Here is the core of my hope that there is ample reason to believe that a majority of Americans from both ends of the political spectrum can find common cause if they will cast off the labels and think for themselves.

Thank you, Tom Mullen, for articulating this so well.  I include the full text of his article as well as a link to the original below.

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Why Progressives Might Enjoy Atlas Shrugged
By Tom Mullen

I had the opportunity to see Atlas Shrugged, Part I on Saturday in the only theater in which it is being shown in Tampa, FL. It is currently running at Cinebistro, a specialty theater where you can enjoy a high-end meal and fine wine served at your seat, which is very similar to a first class airline seat. Admittedly, it is just the kind of venue that progressives might associate with an elitist gathering of selfish capitalists. However, the movie itself tells quite a different story than they might expect if their understanding of Rand is limited to her interviews with Phil Donahue or Mike Wallace.

Like libertarians, Rand’s Objectivist economic theory was rooted in what we today call “the non-aggression axiom,” which Thomas Jefferson and the liberal faction of America’s founders called “the law of nature.” According to this philosophy, each individual has an inalienable right to keep the product of his labor and to dispose of it as he sees fit. The non-aggression axiom forbids any individual or group from using force to take away the justly acquired property of another. Neither does it allow for anyone to interfere with voluntary contracts, as long as those contracts do not involve the initiation of force against anyone else.

This prohibits the government, which is by definition the societal use of force, from redistributing wealth or enacting laws which go beyond prohibiting aggression. Establishment media figures who interviewed Rand immediately focused on the implications of her philosophy for social safety net programs, charging that Rand’s philosophy would not allow for programs for the poor or handicapped. While this is true, it obscures the most important implications of Rand’s philosophy for economic policy in the United States.

What would likely startle progressives watching the film is its emphasis on the evils of what free market proponents would call “crony capitalism.”  This is completely consistent with the novel, which demonstrates that the beneficiaries of government regulation supposedly enacted for “the common good” or “the benefit of society” are really the super-rich. Indeed, the film never criticizes the beneficiaries of social programs. Instead, it spends all of its time demonstrating the difference between those “capitalists” who acquire their wealth through government privileges and those true capitalists who acquire their wealth by producing products that consumers voluntarily buy.

This is a crucial distinction that has eluded progressives from Woodrow Wilson to Michael Moore. After seeing Moore’s film, Capitalism: A Love Story, I pointed out in my review of that film that there was very little that libertarians would disagree with. All of Moore’s criticisms of what he calls capitalism are really the result of crony capitalism. The biggest culprit in the economic collapse of the last decade was the Federal Reserve, a central planning/wealth redistribution institution that Rand explicitly condemns in her novel. Unfortunately, Moore incorrectly concludes that the economic distortions, inequitable distribution of wealth, and widespread harm to middle and lower income Americans were the result of a free market.

Rand would agree completely with progressives on the injustice of today’s American corporate state. That might also surprise progressives who probably assume that Rand would have supported the mainstream Republican policies of George W. Bush. Not only would Rand have condemned Bush’s version of state capitalism, but she was openly critical of Republican hero Ronald Reagan. When asked by Phil Donahue about Reagan during his administration, Rand said in so many words that he should have stuck to acting.

The only opportunity that progressives might have to disagree with anything in the film is the portrayal of the labor union official who tries to sabotage Dagny Taggarts launch of a new railroad line. This encounter takes all of about 3 minutes of the 113 minute film and is not a condemnation of labor unions in principle, but rather the illegitimate power that corrupt union officials can wield because of government privileges.

However, the true villains in the film are not union officials, beneficiaries of entitlement programs, or any other group associated with progressive philosophy. The villains are exclusively corporate executives and the government officials they get in bed with to illegitimately acquire wealth. The heroes are those who acquire their wealth by productive achievement and voluntary exchange. If one had to sum the film up in one sentence, it is an effective demonstration of the evils of crony capitalism and its difference from a truly free market.

I encourage progressives to see this film and to read Rand’s novel. If there is one thing that I hope they take away, it is that even great wealth can be acquired legitimately, when it is the result of human beings trading the products of their labor with the mutual, voluntary consent of all parties. Once progressives begin making the distinction between legitimately acquired wealth and wealth acquired because of government privilege, they will find libertarians and all other proponents of truly free markets standing by their side, fighting the evil corporate state.

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I pray that the deep chasm dividing Americans will be healed around our common desire to live free in the pursuit of happiness and prosperity, our birthright.


Celebrating Tax Day with Atlas Shrugged

April 15 marks the release of Ayn Rand‘s landmark, Atlas Shrugged, in movie theaters.  Its release on tax day, is a symbol of freedom-loving patriot’s revolt against a government run amuck with socialism.  Rand’s protagonist is John Galt.  He throws off the chains of socialist leaches and creates his own community of creative, productive, freedom-lovers.  Galt’s gulch becomes the center of a movement that sucks the producers out of the system, depriving the less productive members of society from their source of support.

I have been accused of being a John Galt.  See my blog where I admitted that “in some respects, I’m galty as accused“. My Galtiness is in my philosophy of rights to property, personal accountability for productive work to produce one’s own life requirements and the pursuit of freedom from over-regulation that fosters such productive attitudes and results.

But I make a distinction.  I am only partly Galty.  I have great respect for many of Rand’s ideas, but I find some of them destructive, even heretical.

Listen carefully to Ayn Rand’s speech via the persona of John Galt and you will also hear an unyielding rant against “mysticism” which, in her view is any form of religious faith.  Her god is rational thought and the quest for wealth is unbridled materialism that is the product of one’s genius and labors.  There is no room for art, for love, or value of anything but wealth and its perks.  Hence, there is no room for charity.  It is ALL about the returns I deserve.  There is no room for gratitude to a supreme being or a debt of sacrifice for the well-being of anyone but myself.  It is all about looking out for #1.  Those who are not born gifted to be bright or creative, those who are disabled and are therefore less productive do not deserve to eat at the table of the deserving wealthy.  From Rand’s perspective, wealth is the proof of deserving productivity.  Taken to its ultimate extreme, Galtism becomes fascism.  Where fascism becomes tyranny, it is no different from the ultimate form of socialism, that is communism.  Both fascism and Communism are, in the end, just political labels for the same thing, tyranny and both are forms of slavery.

Anyone who has observed Wall Street’s theft of America‘s wealth, the corruption of Monsanto that strips the farmer of his ability to save seeds, or America’s subsidization of big business while ignoring the under-capitalized and politically out-gunned small business entrepreneur knows that wealth is not necessarily the ultimate sign of morality.

I accept Rand’s challenge, “I am, therefore I think”.  And I think she has it amazingly right SOME of the time, but equally and disastrously wrong at other times.

In my view and as Rand asserts, to be happy we all must be creative and work hard.  But we must also make a personal choice, un-compelled by government,  to love, sacrifice and be generous to our neighbors.  Rand decries the cowardice, the lack of principle and morality of the middle road.  Yet error of thought often lies in definitions.  The middle road can also be defined as balance.  In that sense, I seek a middle road and find joy there.

If you haven’t read Atlas Shrugged or seen the movie yet, you owe it to yourself to stretch your mind with Ayn Rand’s deep and inspiring thinking.   You can listen to John Galt’s most famous speech here:

John Galt Speech FULL part 1 of 3

John Galt Speech FULL part 2 of 3

John Galt Speech FULL part 3 of 3

Atlas Shrugged – the documentary

Bashing the Obama/Bush-Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex

Recently there was an Obama bashing post on “Friends of Sewanee Creek” our private website.  It was one of those chain emails that get mindlessly forwarded by people with a particular point of view.  Upon checking Snopes, it was found to be at least a partial fabrication.  No surprise.  One of the site members, a conservative, remarked that he was tired of the Obama bashing.

I responded:

I agree that the energy being expended toward “Obama or ANY bashing” is mis-directed. This is not to say that Obama deserves our admiration or support.  Only that the focus on Obama is a carefully manipulated distraction from the real issues.  Obama is a puppet.  So is congress. Both are dangerous to our liberty and to the peace of the world.

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The US government and virtually all governments are thoroughly
corrupt from the top down
.

The global military-industrial-congressional complex are collectively the problem because
THEY ARE DRIVEN BY GREED AND POWER.

The global military-industrial-congressional complex are firmly in power because
THE PEOPLE ARE DRIVEN BY GREED AND POWER,
corrupt from the bottom up.

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Please re-read the statement between the bars and think about it.
It’s simple cause and effect.
No solutions will be evident without a clear understanding of the problem.

Whether overtly religious or not, few people practice Christ’s teachings of charity, love and service either on a personal level or national policy level . Hence, Republicans who are supposedly the party of the religious right continue to support aggressive war and imperialism under the false flag of democratizing the world. But if you listen carefully to their rhetoric you will find the real motives are based on self-preservation of our standard of living over the rest of the world – grass roots greed and power.

No single individual is to blame for the world’s problems. It is all of us together. Therefore, No form of bashing will accomplish anything but distraction from the real problem that lies in each individual heart.

I am convinced that we are now beyond the point of no return where political activism using the levers of democracy can be effective.  Hence, while I pay attention to the theater of politics for cues, I believe that our only salvation is in the moral character of individuals.

Never has the saying, “All politics is local” been more true. We must begin with personal morality and by that I do not mean sexual morality, although it is certainly included.  For an example of effective political action that can turn the tide, I look to Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, the writings of Henry David Thoreau and especially the example of Jesus Christ.  The most effective non-violent movements start by restoring moral judgment to a large, critical mass of the population.

Short of achieving such a mass conversion, the only solution is to work with converted, small, local communities.  If you can’t control the world, control yourself, then your personal environment. Perhaps if I prove to myself that I can discipline myself, then influence a small community, I can gradually regain the hope that leads to faith that leads to power, to change the world on a larger scale. That’s what Gandhi did. Until then, I have no right or reason to hope for anything better.

I like liberals

despite the fact that I am not one.  

I know I’m venturing into dangerous territory, the no-mans-land between opposing trenches.

I am conservative, and cautious, sometimes fearful, repressed, yet sometimes driven.  People like me keep the world from spinning out of control or at least we like to think we do.  We live within our means.  We save for the future.  We plan for the worst.  We are captivated by a steep moral code that puts boundaries around our lives.  Boundaries make us and others around us feel safer.  We’re fairly predictable.  Politically, we demand fiscal sanity; recognition of what is real.  We analyze the data, find trends and, unless we anticipate something huge happening to reverse the momentum, we generally expect trends to continue.

But there’s another side, buried deep inside of me, that cries out to be creative.  It is an irrepressible force that bursts out of its cave from time to time with a defiant roar.  That creative urge demands that I sheer off the constraints, think unthinkable thoughts, and believe the unbelievable, that insoluble problems can be solved simply, damn the data.  A liberal thought might be something like there is plenty of money to go around to feed the hungry, clothe and house the poor from government coffers that can somehow be magically filled simply by printing more money or redistributing it from the rich.  It is an urge that tells me mankind is basically good, that despite the endless trail of failed utopian societies that depended on people to be unselfish, love others more than themselves and share without restraint, utopia is possible and deserves to be attempted yet again.

Fortunately, my primary self reasserts and I usually come to my senses.  I realize that communes where all property is held in common never survive long, not in a pure form.  Almost nobody loves others better than or even equal to themselves even if there have been one or even a few exceptions.  And though I try to be otherwise, that includes me almost all the time.  That’s why I recognize that personal ownership of property is essential.  Without personal ownership, we typically slide into sloth and “poor greed”.  That is, the back side of the greed coin most people attribute only to the wealthy, which is “driven greed”.  In the end, greed is a problem everywhere.  It is not limited by class.

Consider two unlikely questions together.  “Why do I like liberals?” and “How often do arch-conservatives excoriate liberals as the cause of moral corruption and America’s destruction?”  “Rome is falling because of the damned liberals.”  If you hang around Republicans the refrain is familiar.  These two questions together remind me of another odd couplet.  “Why do I love my wife?”  And “How many jokes are there about men who can’t ask for directions, won’t put the toilet seat down and women who refuse to think logically.”  Why do I love my wife even if she drives me nuts?  Maybe it’s because I need her so desperately.  In the balance between the yin and the yang of our profound but natural differences, something magical happens.  Two halves make a whole.  Take away either half and you have . . . a hole.

If we were a culture made up only of conservative accountants, who would plant the beans to be harvested, much less counted?  (That is NOT to say that only liberals are productive, LOL.)  Or, more accurately, who would dream the big dreams, take the leaps of faith, think outside the steep walls, invest their life savings on an impulse that has less than a 1% chance of success, yet ends up surprising everyone with cold fusion?  Those are liberal, throw caution to the wind, faith-driven impulses.  When I was young, my avowed liberal private sax teacher often said I must play with abandon to be any good as a jazz musician.  There is something liberating in being liberal that allows people to abandon reason, take illogical leaps of faith, and come up with something totally unexpected, fresh, new and good.  It is the ultimate expression of faith.

Isn’t it a bit ironic then, that faith in God, is generally thought of as more natural to the politically conservative side of the aisle while atheism is associated with the educated liberal elite?

Of course, the argument favoring the flip side of the yin/yang equation is equally important and, if you are basically conservative, I don’t need to elaborate.  If you’re not, well, you just don’t get it, do you?

That conservative/liberal dichotomy helps explain to me why the art community seems to be disproportionately full of liberals.  I love art.  There is nothing that validates me more than when I feel creative.  I love creativity, whether I observe it in the scientific laboratory, in the tinkerer’s back yard, the artist’s easel or an inspired jazz improvisational performance. 

If I love creativity, how can I help but love and need creative people?  Many if not most happen to have a wide liberal streak running through them.  There’s an old cliché that I think applies equally in love, politics and life.  “Can’t live with ‘em and can’t live without ‘em. 

And so it is; I like liberals.