Thursday, December 24, 2015


They say nowadays that the year-end holidays are among the most stressful times we experience. If that is so, how far have we strayed from where Christmas is supposed to guide us!

We are doing it to ourselves. We spend all of our time on decorating the home, the office, the yard with ‘made in China’ lights and ornaments, which we then, in a few weeks with a hangover induced remorse, will have to dismantle again and put away in the attic. We spend precious hours on stuffing the mail with gaudy greeting cards conveying the best sentiments from Hallmark or American Greetings and on taking advantage of incredible shopping deals for stuff that nobody really needs, with the result that we are exhausted before the party begins. In the process we run out of time to observe the birth of Christ the way it used to be celebrated, by candle light, in church or outside, caroling, volunteering or just enjoying the company of those who are most dear to us.

If we are so proud of our values and culture why have we, in only a few generations, so massively succumbed to consumerism?

Our stress is also elevated by the need to be politically correct all the time. In our Christmas get-togethers we are not supposed to talk politics, but how can we avoid it when our cable TV channels and the most outspoken candidates are working day and night to polarize us? In the midst of a messy and discouraging election campaign, we yearn for Jesus-like leadership, and wonder where it may be coming from.

But here is the good news: Christmas still comes around every December 25, inviting us to have our dreams and aspirations reborn. There is still that Silent night, Holy night whether we open our eyes to it or not. Everything else is not really part of Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all and may the shining star guide you to where you want to go in 2016.

Saturday, December 5, 2015


In my previous two segments on climate change I put the spotlight on Bill Gates and the Breakthrough Energy Coalition that he put together and on Ben Sasse (R), the junior Senator from Nebraska, because I think that what these two prominent Americans have been saying is key to getting the American political establishment engaged in the battle of climate change.
Bill Gates, because by his words and actions (committing $2 billion of his own money) he is challenging the political establishment to take the threat of climate change serious and come up with a strategy (and the funding of that strategy) to fend off disaster for the living earth that could result from continuing human contributions to global warming.
Ben Sasse, because he had the courage to call his colleagues in the Senate to task for not seriously tackling the great national problems that worry most Americans.

For America to play a lead role in reducing, if not eliminating, the human contributions to the current phase of global warming two things will be required:
1.       Money to surface and develop transformative technologies that have the potential to supply clean renewable energy at a cost below the cost of fossil fuels (Gates’ point).
2.       A national strategy for climate change (Sasse’s point).

It is no longer disputable that greenhouse gases released by human intervention are contributing to the warming of the atmosphere that our generation is experiencing. The question is still largely open if the human activity is the main driver, a major contributor or a minor contributor to the release of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, but either way I believe that we owe it to future generations to do everything we can to reduce our emissions and mitigate the negative effects of global warming. It is called good stewardship.

Money is required for basic R&D in the field of clean renewable energy, because the existing technologies like wind, solar and nuclear are in their present form not cheap enough to bring about a wholesale, worldwide, replacement of fossil fuels. Moreover, there are significant negatives associated with large scale deployment of each of these technologies and these will have to be worked out before a change-over becomes feasible. Also, R&D needs to be extended into exploration of other forms of clean renewable energy that currently may only exist in our imagination or in the test labs of scientists. Only governments, and particularly the governments of the developed countries, have the money that it will take to surface the needed technologies and have the capacity to absorb the financial risks that inevitably come with a trial and error based discovery process. America can play a lead role in this with its world class university based research institutes and its superior national wealth. Business will be reluctant to step in to finance new products and technologies if it does not see the government doing its share by funding basic R&D and adopting a national strategy for climate change.

Political will is required to: 1) Acknowledge the challenge presented by climate change. 2) Accept the responsibility to curb it and protect the people from the negative effects. 3) Budget appropriately for the funding of whatever will be required of the government. Of course there will be formidable hurdles to overcome before Congress will muster the will to get serious about doing these things. For one thing there are powerful special interests lined up against any government mandated change in energy generation and consumption in the USA. Not surprisingly this has resulted in ideology on the right side of the aisle that wants to deny that any government action is required. But there is a slim chance—Bill Gates seems to think a good chance—that forward thinking politicians would see the light and the promise that American discovery and development of transformative technologies in the energy field would generate huge new employment opportunities, export opportunities and renewed prestige for American ingenuity. So, we should not give up on developing a national strategy for climate change.

What should such strategy look like? I see three major approaches:
1.       Eliminate carbon emissions that are controlled by human activity.
2.       Capture, recover or absorb carbon emissions.
3.       Protect people and property from the negative effects of climate change.

Investment in R&D and development/commercialization of the output of the R&D effort would be required in each of these three approaches. It stands to reason to expect that a successful strategy would have to incorporate elements of each of these three approaches.

In opposition it will surely be argued that we would be wasting readily available natural resources by a large scale move to renewable energy and that in the process we would be jeopardizing millions of jobs and the health of our economy. These are bogus arguments. In the first place because it will take decades before the proposed strategy could take full effect. Second because the strategy will only be successful if new sources of clean renewable energy can become available at a cost that is lower than the cost of fossil fuels. Third because we are not wasting anything by leaving fossil fuels in the ground as a kind of strategic reserve. Fourth because implementation of the proposed strategy will require highly qualified employment from a very large number of Americans. And fifth because other nations will beat us to the game if we don’t take the lead.

America misses a unique opportunity to reassert its global leadership in creating a better, cleaner and safer world for coming generations if it now does not follow through on the potential for combating the warming of our atmosphere.

Thursday, December 3, 2015


Freshman Senator Ben Sasse (R) of Nebraska made a notable inaugural speech in the Senate on November 3, almost a year after he took office. It was the first time he took the floor in the Senate Chamber and it deserved a much larger audience than he got. He held out a mirror in front of the members of the Senate and told them that “the public is right that we as a Congress are not shepherding the country through the serious debates we must have about the future of this great nation.” And he added: “The Senate isn’t tackling the great national problems that worry those we work for.”

One of those great national problems (although not mentioned by name by Senator Sasso) is the issue of climate change that is now the subject of discussion at the United Nations conference in Paris, France.

Senator Sasse is right in putting his finger on the degeneration of the American political system that is at the root of the delinquency on the part of Congress. It is not just the Senate that is falling down on its job. The whole system has been corrupted by the money influence of the special interests and by the polarization in two irreconcilable camps. The resulting dysfunction risks making what once was the model of good governance into the laughing stock for the whole world to see.

What the country needs—in addition to a redress of how our political institutions work at the federal level—is a national strategy that defines the challenges the nation faces and sets priorities in dealing with each of them. For sure the climate challenge should appear somewhere in such prioritization. The debate should be not on whether it requires intervention by the governments of the major economic world powers but on how such intervention can best produce results.

In Part I of my Climate Thoughts, I referenced Bill Gates who addressed this question in an interview with The Atlantic and called for a tripling of government spending on energy R&D.  Gates stated that ‘We Need an Energy Miracle” and he is committing to invest $2 billion of his own money in clean energy start-ups that should come out of vastly increased government R&D spending. Gates points out that at $6 billion US government R&D in the energy sector pales in comparison with the $30 billion spent in medical research. The richest country on earth should be able to adequately fund basic research in several areas of need at the same time. To the predictable congressional push-back against such spending increase Gates retorts that the case for American innovation, American jobs and American leadership resulting from such R&D investment is just too compelling to fail in the end. Gates underscores his optimism by his willingness to put his own money at risk.

He may be too optimistic though on Washington DC’s readiness and willingness to expand the government’s reach into the energy field and pay for it. All the momentum is the other way, particularly on the Republican side that is currently in charge of Congress. Just listen to the GOP’s candidates for the 2016 presidential election.

I am largely sympathetic to the conservative point of view that we should not be spending money that we don’t have. We are already more than $18 trillion in debt and we have a slew of unmet needs, like the funding of our entitlement programs for the future, the upgrade of our infrastructure and the readying of the population for the rapidly changing job environment. I too am an advocate for a smaller, more nimble government, but one that has the courage to face the major challenges of our era and provide solutions, real results for the people who are footing the bill.

There are at least two things wrong with the current structure of the public sector. First it is large, bureaucratic and misdirected. It should be small, efficient, competent and focused on enabling the private sector to propel the country forward through innovation. Second it is permanently under- funded. This may solely be because it is spending on activities that should not be done at all or should not be done by the public sector. In principle, a smaller, more nimble government focused on enabling citizens (people, companies and organizations) to grow the economy and propel the nation forward should be able to function on less tax revenue than it currently collects. But chances are that under-funding will not be resolved without a complete reorganization of our public financing system. Our current tax code and the de facto blocking of revision and simplification of the IRS code in Congress are formidable impediments to progress. As it is we are not taxing the right entities, activities and sources of revenue. We should have a legitimate discussion about the merits of taxing consumption more than income. A shift from tax on income to a tax on consumption in itself should help the environment, particularly if consumption taxes take into consideration the burdens that specific consumptive activities place on the environment and the wellness of the population. But, as Senator Sasse points out in his maiden speech to his colleagues: “No one in this body thinks the Senate is laser-focused on the most pressing issues facing the nation.”

Unfortunately, Congressional debate and action is caught up in the two year election cycle, which makes planning over a long term time horizon nearly impossible and translates talk of new taxes by politicians into virtual suicide. Politicians may be devious or dumb in our eyes, but they are not that dumb that they shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to advancing their careers.

In a final segment of this three part column I will present some thoughts on what the US government should and should not do to address the climate change challenge.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


The last Chapter of my book ‘NEITHER HERE NOR THERE, A First Generation Immigrant in Search of American Exceptionalism’ is titled “Technology is the Answer”. In it I provide a blue print for how America can benefit from establishing a national strategy that takes on the challenges presented by climate change. I wrote:

“We are burdening the earth with many more people—and all they bring to bear—than ever before. Nature’s way of dealing with that burden is to produce cataclysmic events, wars, plagues, meteorite impacts, floods, earthquakes, and you name it, to rebalance the situation. That’s not how we like to solve our problems in this day and age. Our challenge is to create conditions under which the earth can accept the burden and people can go on with their lives. Technology will have to be the answer.

Any technology that the United States can develop, that will serve to address the following challenges, will have great global commercial value and enhance both the prestige and the world ranking of the United States:
·         World shortage of accessible fresh and clean water and its global distribution
·         Nuclear waste processing
·         Risks associated with the recovery of fossil fuels and gas
·         Alternative energy development
·         Environmental impact of any other kind of human activity

Herein lays the key. We should embrace the challenge presented by the current wave of global warming rather than arguing if it is even happening. We should embrace the challenge to find ways to sequester CO2 from our emissions, even if we are only half-certain that these emissions are causing the apparent climate change. And we should embrace the challenge to find economically feasible alternatives for fossil fuels. Which nation is better equipped than the USA to find solutions for these problems? If we don’t find them some other nation will, and we lose the opportunity to maintain our leadership of nations. Conversely, if we do find technological solutions for the challenges presented by climate change and the need for greater human productivity, these solutions will be very marketable all over the world and enhance not only our economic prospects but also our prestige in the world.

Why would the United States government not consider to issue worldwide challenges to find answers to some of the unresolved questions that stand in the way of further and more rapid progress? In 1714, England’s Parliament offered a king’s ransom of 20,000 pounds sterling to anyone whose method of measuring longitude at sea could be proven successful. In an age of exploration, precious time, cargo, and life was lost at sea because ships, on their voyages, were able to determine latitude by the length of the day or by the height of the sun or known stars above the horizon, but not longitude. It took an English clockmaker, John Harrison, fifty-nine years and five prototypes before he collected the prize with a chronometer that worked. Given all the money the government spends futilely, what would be wrong by paying another king’s ransom (which would have to be a little more than 20,000 pound sterling) for finding answers to the most pressing issues of our time, like clean affordable energy, suppression of drug addiction, or boosting individuals’ propensity towards positive attitudes?

Today, I find myself in good company. Bill Gates and Bill Nye both, individually and separately, make the case for doubling or tripling government spending on R&D in the field of clean renewable energy (including nuclear) and Bill Gates puts his money where his mouth is by pledging $2 billion to invest in clean energy projects and business. Bill Gates channels his financial contributions through an international coalition, the ‘Breakthrough Energy Coalition’, in which he cooperates with 27 other tycoons. And governments are not far behind. A loose coalition of 20 nations announced in Paris the ‘Mission Innovation’ initiative aimed at accelerating the clean energy revolution. See ‘’ In it the 20 countries, including the USA, China and India (but not Russia), commit to seeking a doubling of governmental investment in clean energy R&D over five years. Bill Gates says, in an interview with The Atlantic on November 15, that we need an ‘energy miracle’, but he is optimistic and adds: “in science, miracles happen all the time.”

Where governments and business cooperate with a clearly articulated goal in mind, miracles are indeed achievable. Let’s get to work. If it produces results, it will be a classic case of creative destruction leading to a breakthrough solution of a global problem. The worst that can happen is that, in the process, we will leave the remaining oil and gas in the ground as a kind of strategic reserve for when environmental conditions change again. Either way, applying technology is the best response to the climate challenge we are facing.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


My thanksgiving is perpetual…                                                                   
For my wealth is not possession but enjoyment.

Henry David Thoreau

Tell you the truth, I’m tempted to skip this year and move directly to Thanksgiving 2016, because by then the presidential election will finally be behind us. But then I realize that I better be careful what I wish for, because if the election were to be held right now it would likely be a contest between Hillary and Donald and who would wish that on the nation?

So, we will suffer through another whole year of insufferable posturing and deception in the hope that some worthy contender may surface from the process. Was this really what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they set up our system of government?

I am thankful but not complacent. I crave for a government that earns the respect of the civilized world by being true to the principles on which this nation was founded, by being willing to share its richness with the less fortunate and persecuted and by accepting the limitations of its reach, power and ambition. I crave for a small but effective government that is not handcuffed by money interests nor held back by extreme polarization and purely partisan considerations. I crave for a government that sees its role more as an enabler than the perpetrator and the ultimate authority. And I crave for courageous leadership in the White House and Congress, guided by what needs to be done rather than by what the campaign donors want them to do.

I give thanks regardless this Thursday. Because life and America have been good to me and I'm grateful for the blessings bestowed upon me. It would feel better though if we had not burdened the coming generations with mounds of debt and allowed our infrastructure to degrade. And it would feel better if the blessings of America were more evenly bestowed upon all of its deserving people so that, as a nation, regardless of creed, color, social status or political conviction, we could all observe Thanksgiving not just as another day off, but as a moment to pause and reflect on how exceptionally privileged it is to live in America and be free.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


The world must be watching in disbelief! Paris burns and America takes another year to debate if one incompetent or another will take over the White House from Barack Obama. It defies logic that while ISIS attacks Russia in the air over Egypt and France in its capital, while Putin moves into Syria and China lays claim to disputed parts of the South China sea, while our national debt is creeping towards the $ 19 trillion mark and inequality of opportunity threatens the very fundament the nation was built on, America is preoccupied with meaningless TV debates between pretenders for the throne that for more than a year will still be occupied by the same guy who has resided there for the last seven years.

As if it is not bad enough that we parade a retirement age retread, a self-avowed socialist, an egomaniacal lunatic and an ultra-right wing neurosurgeon as front runners for their parties’ nomination across our TV screens—for the whole word, friend and foe, to see—we are essentially putting governance of the nation on hold until the elections are behind us and the new king or queen has been crowned. No wonder our nemeses are seeing a window of opportunity also comforted by the knowledge that the American people are tired of getting their military involved in no win situations.

The endlessly protracted process of American presidential elections is one of the worst aspects of a political system that is less and less capable of addressing the nation’s urgent needs and challenges. It puts just about everything on hold. Every politician is campaigning rather than governing and this will not change until we have changed the constitution to give the President only one (extended) term of six or seven years. Because without such constitutional amendment the next president will again only have about two years to govern before he/she goes back in election mode with the rest of the political class. Many voters watch this spectacle with approval: the ones who loudly proclaim that less government is good government. I am an advocate of small government myself, but one that is agile, smart and effective and always at work to make the nation and the world a better place. Not one that is disengaged from serving the people half of the time, while being engaged in fundraising for the next election all of the time.

Paris is burning, the Middle East is blowing up, radical Islam is spreading nearly unopposed and we are watching Hillary Clinton debating Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump ridiculing Ben Carson. Whatever happened to American exceptionalism and leadership?

Our elections are, like our military, by far and many multiples the most expensive in the world. Are we getting our money’s worth? That—of course—is a rhetorical question.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


“If I am fortunate enough to get your vote and you elect me to be the next President of the United States, I will……”

How often have we heard this? And what unrealistic claims have followed this mother of all campaign promises:
·         Forever eradicate racial discrimination in this country
·         Make these illegal immigrants go back to where they came from and stand in line for a chance to enter this country legally
·         Lower your taxes by closing all the loopholes and making sure that everyone pays their fair share of taxes
·         Make China and Russia respect us again for what we are, the leading military and economic force in the world
·         Eliminate the IRS, the department of Education, the Department of Commerce
·         Put an end to the influx of illegal drugs into this country
·         Put up a wall between us and Mexico and I make Mexico pay for it
·         Deal with radical Islam like we have dealt with the Nazi’s, defeat them
·         Grow the economy enough to allow us to lower taxes, begin to pay off our debt and eliminate unemployment for anyone willing and able to work

The Romans already had an expression for this abuse of peoples’ wish to hear what they want to believe: “Mundus vult decipi, decipiatur ergo” which translates into “the world wants to be deceived, so let’s deceive her”.

Presidential candidates should really be judged by the credibility and the feasibility of the promises they make while campaigning and they should be disqualified if they make promises, like the ones cited above, that are either completely unrealistic or outside of the presidential authority. Unfortunately our voting public is immensely gullible and loath to ask the follow-up question “and how are you going to deliver on your promise”?

Don’t we get evidence time and again that Presidents, on their own, can only do so much? Particularly, but not only, when the opposition controls the Congress. That is no afterthought. The framers of the Constitution were as afraid of unbridled power of the President as they were of the tyranny of the unsophisticated and uneducated masses (which is why voting rights were so restricted in the early republic).
Furthermore, in their zeal to get elected, presidential candidates are willing to promise much more than they ever intend to deliver. This is particularly true for today’s Republican candidates for the presidency who will have to appeal to many fringe constituencies just to come out on top in the primary process.

Don’t we also see that it takes two to tango? That the mere fact that the U.S. President may want to project American power and dominance does in no way guarantee that other world leaders and other forces like ISIS or Al Qaeda will step in line. Probably more the contrary, when the U.S. says “A”, countries like China, Russia and Iran are more likely to say “B”. The USA represents four and a half percent of the world population and the question needs to be asked why it should have the aspiration to dominate world affairs.

The phenomenon of false prophets is not new and it is not uniquely American. Through the ages of democracy and all over the world candidates for elective office have been willing to say just about anything that helped them getting elected. Once in office, they have been able to invoke unforeseen external circumstances and an uncooperative opposition to excuse them from not delivering on their promises. 
Or they have just accepted that after their day in the sun they would fade into the background, but be richer and better connected for having made it to the top. But when candidates for the White House make these outrageous and irresponsible representations in this day and age when the whole world is listening in, it takes a different dimension. These are the people that believe that they, better than anyone else, can lead the free world to a better, safer and more predictable future. And the voters will propel one of them into the highest office in the nation and the world. Based on false and undeliverable promises?

Let the voting public be forewarned that electing someone for what he/she promises to deliver, like ‘real change’, is a recipe for later disappointment and a disservice to a nation in need of firm leadership. For the highest office in the nation voters would be well advised to go by a proven and unblemished record, an appealing vision, high credibility, unassailable character, positive attitude and prime age (if a candidate with such profile can be found.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


In business we learn that looking at other industries and companies, what they do, how they do it and what tools and processes they use, can provide inspiration and stimulus for improving the performance of your company. This does not require industrial espionage. Companies that find ways to ‘do it just right’ attract the spotlight and get written up, their top executives are getting interviewed and invited to business forums and seminars. Many of them are proud of their contribution to business development and are willing to share the ingredients of success with others, particularly if the others are non-competitors. The term for this process is ‘best practices sharing’. The thought behind it is that we don’t necessarily have to reinvent the wheel all the time in order to find the path to durable success. Sometimes the solutions to our challenges are hiding in plain view.

You would think that what is good for the goose is also good for the gander and that our public sector would look at the private sector to find better ways to run the business of the people. But if that happens at all, it happens far too rarely and not at all when it comes to big ticket issues. Case in point the U.S. taxation system. The U.S. has in one generation’s time (my lifetime) accumulated a national debt of more than 18 trillion dollars, which is more than the size of the total American economy. This has happened, because year in and year out the federal government has spent more than it has collected in taxes. If the U.S. public sector was a business it would be bankrupt many times over. But, also, if it was a business it would have never gotten to this point.

In the public sector we are willing to put the cart before the horse. Rather than first deciding what needs to get done, then calculating what it is going to cost and determining how to pay for it, the federal government just seems to run its operations and programs and if the bill for all that exceeds the income, the deficit gets added to the national debt. This is in part because we have made a mockery of our budgeting system with the two parties so far apart on national priorities that we can never agree on what needs to get done (or get done differently) and always end up just doing more of the same. And because raising taxes (or changing the tax system) has become the third rail of American politics that nobody wants to touch. It is mind boggling to me that Washington fails to investigate if it is not primarily the inefficiency with which taxes get levied and collected that causes the revenue side of the ledger to continuously fall short. Are we taxing the right transactions and activities? Are we taxing the right entities (people and companies) at the right (fair, equitable) rate? And are we collecting the taxes we are owed? The answer in each case is no, but our public sector is doing nothing about it.

Most Americans hang on to the belief that running perpetual deficits is ‘the other party’s’ doing and that a resounding electoral defeat is required to solve the problem. The record proves otherwise: deficit creation is practiced on both sides of the aisle, by the Democrats mostly through spending increases and by the Republicans mostly through tax cuts. It has a momentum of its own and is virtually immune to changes in the balance of power in Washington.

If politicians had the courage (and the free reins from their campaign donors) to break with deleterious precedents and traditions and take their cue from best practices in the private sector, they would be giving up on the current practices in public finance and be pushing for two new constitutional amendments:
1.       Calling for the adoption of a national strategy that sets priorities to be achieved along a five and ten year time horizon and that would transcend administrations.
2.       Calling for the passing by Congress and the President of multi-year balanced budgets that are in compliance with the implementation of the adopted national strategy.

The rationale for these two constitutional amendments is that, together, they would provide the political shield required to have our federal government (congress and the President) put the horse back before the cart by mandating a complete restructuring of the U.S. tax system to the effect that the national priorities can be achieved and financed without increasing the national debt.

If politicians have a vision of what needs to get done at the federal level they should also have the courage to make sure that enough tax is getting collected to pay for it. It is high time that through a combination of adjustable consumption taxes, user fees, income taxes and franchise taxes the federal government creates a new age revenue collection system allowing Washington to make certain that the national objectives are achieved and the bills get paid without printing new money.

It is time to move the horse in position to pull the cart and establish a simple public finance rule that the federal government first determines what its priorities are, what needs to get done over what time period, then calculates the cost and ultimately set taxes at a scope and a level required to cover the cost of running the people’s business. That’s how the private sector operates and there is no shame in best practices sharing and borrowing a chapter from someone else’s book.

Monday, October 19, 2015

NOVEMBER 9, 2016

Popular dissatisfaction with the way our existing political system works—or, rather, does not work— explains the traction that political outsiders like Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson get in the campaign for the 2016 White House election. It has to be evident to any student of civil studies, as it is to the people who are at the receiving end of the political process, that the current system is fatally flawed in spite of the fact that it is built upon the revered fundament of the U.S. Constitution and its amendments. It simply does not produce the results that the nation needs in the competitive race for global leadership and that its people are looking for and deserve.

I wrote about this in my book ‘NEITHER HERE NOR THERE, A First Generation Immigrant in Search of American Exceptionalism’. Unfortunately the book has drawn no attention from the national media or the political establishment.

Given the level and breadth of the dissatisfaction with Washington, it should come as no surprise that initiatives to drive for change in the political system pop up everywhere. They all have something in common in that they pick a limited focus on one aspect of malfunction that for their constituency epitomizes the problem. Examples of such initiatives are the drive for open, nonpartisan, primaries; electoral districting reform; campaigns to root out corrupting influence of big money in politics; automatic voter registration; and easier and unfettered access to the polls. All of these initiatives have merits and potential to contribute to a better working political machinery but they all are limited in scope and purpose.

Organizations like ‘No-Labels’, the ‘Independent Voter Network’, the ‘Bipartisan Policy Center’, ‘Common Good’ and ‘Third Way’ all contribute to the presentation of proposals for implementation of these  improvements of the political system, but it all seems to be piece-meal and presented from a narrow single focus perspective on what’s wrong. I will argue that a comprehensive approach to the problem requires the identification of all of the flaws in the existing system, the building of a consensus on how to eliminate these flaws, a prioritization of the steps to be taken in the amelioration process, and a plan for implementation of the chosen solutions.

The current American culture of instant gratification works against an orderly process of dealing with the shortcomings. Our election cycles are very short and if something cannot be achieved before the next election, it is unlikely to get a lot of effort. Yet, to turn the battleship around will require cooperation of every institution of our political system and—consequently— a lot of time. There clearly is no single silver bullet. The way our political system functions has been built, on the fundament of the Constitution, over centuries by tradition and regulation and is not easily reversed or undone.

The flaws that I detect in our current political system all fall into one of four broad categories:
1.       The influence of ‘big money’ and ‘special interest groups’ in politics
2.       The two party system
3.       The election system
4.       The absence of a ‘national strategy’ requirement in the Constitution
In my book I elaborate on each of these four categories and I propose solutions for each of the perceived shortcomings. The space provided in this column does not allow me to repeat these here. I refer you to my book.

One thing is clear: the campaign for the White House that has now been the topic of the day in the media for about as long as we can remember, with more than a year to go before it will be decided, will not resolve any of the systematic problems. The President of the USA simply does not have the powers he/or she would require to tackle any of the systematic problems. So, if the supporters of Bernie Sanders think that his election would make a decisive difference, they will be sorely disappointed if he, against all odds, would make it into the White House. And so will the supporters of Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina or Ted Cruz.

I will admit that it makes a difference for many of us who will be the next occupant of the White House, but the difference will mostly be in how we feel about the President, not in what we can expect from the President when it comes to unshackling and reviving the American political system. As long as we have only two parties who pretty much cancel each other out and are both supported and kept in power by big money; as long as we keep sending our elected officials back on the campaign trail as soon as they have been elected; as long as we don’t have term limits, open primaries and a constitutional requirement for a national strategy; we can only expect tinkering at the margin, no breakthrough change in effectiveness of federal governance.

Someone will emerge triumphant from the 2016 national elections on November 8, but when the flag waiving will have subsided and the confetti has been swept up from the floor, the winner and his/her supporters will quickly find themselves frustrated by the intransigency of the existing political system.  

Saturday, September 26, 2015


These thoughts are inspired by Pope Francis’ address to the joint session of Congress on 9/24/15. How neat would it be if our grandchildren could spend their lives living in an America that would look like this?

I’m excited. Tomorrow is Election Day, the day when we decide on who will be our President for the next eight years. We will all be able to go to the polls, because Congress finally decided to make Election Day an official national holiday after eliminating Labor Day as an anachronistic remnant of a bygone era. The expectation is that this action by Congress will boost turnout by at least twenty-five percent. It will make the election outcome more reflective of the popular sentiment.

This will end the intense three months campaign by the candidates of the three national parties, the Democrats, the Republicans and the Centrists. People will have a clear choice: left, right or center and chances are that none of the three parties will get enough votes to forge a majority in the House of Representatives or the Senate. But only one of them will get the main prize: the White House.

I can still remember the days, not too long ago, that Presidential election campaigns started two years before the next election. How disruptive was this process at the time that Presidents could run twice for four year terms! They were barely in office before they had to go back on the campaign trail. I can’t tell you what a relief I feel that by banning private funding of election campaigns, we have eliminated the influence of special interests and pressure groups over the outcome of the election process and by doing so we have restored the unfettered relationship between the voters and their elected representatives. Yes, we are paying the members of Congress handsomely, but we have closed any avenue for members of Congress to accept money of any kind from outside sources, for as long as they are in office. And, given the term limits imposed on them, we will pay each of our elected officials only for a limited time.

We can now confidently declare that these changes in our political system were not made simply for the sake of change, but they are producing the results the American people were looking for but not getting:
·         First, our administrations are now bound by a new constitutional amendment, the 28th, that calls for a National Strategy that sets priorities to be achieved along a five and ten year time horizon. Congress no longer has to wonder what to work on, the priorities have been set. How to implement the strategies is left to be decided by Congress with the outcome largely depending on the balance of power in the executive and legislative branches.
·         No less liberating are the changes made in the budgeting process. The White House, because of the balanced budget requirement, will no longer have to do the best it can with a given revenue stream, but is now required to first propose a plan for the implementation of the National Strategy and budget the expense required for the implementation, followed by a tax plan that provides the path towards strategy achievement within the balanced budget imperative. Continuity in fiscal policy is achieved by making the budget process a rolling three year, rather than a year to year, discipline. We are now first stating what we want to achieve and then figuring out how to pay for it. By doing so we have been able to bring the National Debt back from more than 100% of GDP to 72% of GDP and we have brought our entitlement programs on a sustainable footing in the process. Yes, we now pay a VAT consumption tax, but we are getting real value in return from a streamlined and much reduced bureaucracy and our personal income tax rates have been slashed. We make ends meet by making sure that everyone, individuals and corporations, pay their fair share.
·         We have finally put our partisan debate over healthcare to rest by keeping the good and tossing out the bad from Obamacare. The reconstituted Health and Human Services Administration now has the authority to negotiate drug- and medical services pricing directly with the manufacturers/providers and copays or deductibles for preventative health care are things of the past. Smokers, alcoholics and drug users are now forced to pay huge premium surcharges for their health insurance.
·         We have retaken control of immigration into the USA by requiring from every legal resident to carry a forge proof biometric identity card and by streamlining and broadening the legal immigration process. We are now welcoming people from all over the world who are willing and able to contribute to the growth and prosperity of America, with special privileges to foreign students who completed their studies at American universities. We have accommodated foreign workers who had entered the country illegally by giving them guest worker status and we are providing their children a path towards citizenship.
·         By decriminalizing the use of recreational and medical marijuana, focusing on rehabilitation rather than penalization and by abolishing the death penalty we have made some major changes in our criminal justice system. We have also succeeded in making it color blind. Our prisons and jails hold less than half the number of prisoners we had just twenty years ago and convicts who have served their time are helped to reintegrate with society and become productive citizens again. Everyone gets a second chance.
·         By thorough educational reforms we now live in a country where the best and the brightest, regardless of parental income or social status, have unfettered access to higher education at our top universities and colleges at a cost that is commensurate with their (or their parents’) capacity to pay. America has become a true meritocracy and the social mobility that had gone AWOL at the turn of the century has been restored in full force and effect.

I look forward to tomorrow when we get to rebalance our democracy. We now have a renewed, world class, infrastructure. America is at peace and it is the envy of the world but it does not get complacent nor does it abandon its core democratic values. It feels good to be American!

Friday, September 11, 2015


In my previous column titled ‘INNER STRENGTH’, I reviewed Ian Bremmer’s book ‘Superpower, Three Choices for America’s Role in the World’ and I endorsed his pick of foreign affairs strategy for the United States, a strategy Bremmer called the ‘Independent America’.
In this strategy America declares its independence from the responsibility to solve other people’s problems and turns its attention to putting its own house in order so that it can build inner strength and lead the world by example, as a truly exceptional nation, rather than solely by economic and military supremacy.

Following this strategy would require from our political decision makers an extraordinary effort to extract America from the role of the global policeman charged with making sure that every nation in the world plays nice and observes the rules that we set for good behavior in the global sand box. It would also require super human discipline to stay on strategy if other players on the scene don’t play by our rules.

As much as I advocate with Ian Bremmer the strategy of an ‘Independent America’, I make myself no illusion that the decision makers in Washington DC will agree with this pick. After all, what is more tempting than showing what you are made of on the international stage? We are a Superpower and should assert and reassert our claim to global leadership and dominance at every turn in the road by sitting at every negotiating table and intervening in every conflict. But, assume for a moment that the improbable happens and the Beltway decides to concentrate all of its muscle strength on the domestic scene. How far would that go and how would that change America’s involvement in world affairs?

While we ponder these questions, let’s remember that the U.S. tried very long and very hard to stay out of the two big wars of the twentieth century, World Wars I and II. Woodrow Wilson did not enter the First World War until 1917, after it had been going on for almost three years and then only because Germany torpedoed the Lusitania in the Irish Sea, causing the death of 1,195 passengers, including 123 Americans.

Similarly, it took the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor for the U.S. to enter the Second World War in 1942, while the war had been going on for well over two years. While we now think of the Republicans as the most hawkish, belligerent, party, it befell on a Democrat to get Congress to declare war both in 1917 and in 1941. Given the gravity of the transgressions of the Germans and their allies in both World Wars, this reluctance on the part of America to get involved stands in sharp contrast with America’s willingness to use its military might in more recent times when, by just about any yardstick, the world order was threatened to a much lesser extent.

The evidence shows that in the first half of the twentieth century, America looked at the use of its military might as the very last resort to end conflicts and—other than under Theodore Roosevelt’s reign— it consistently stayed away from interventionist adventures in foreign affairs.

The twentieth century is now commonly called ‘the American Century’ in spite of, or—maybe—just because of this hesitancy to pull the coals out of the fire for other nations. Especially in the second half of the twentieth century America climbed to the pinnacle of world dominance as it decided the outcome of the Second World War and also prevailed in the Cold War that followed. So, apparently, America can prosper and grow without being the policeman of the world. But memory is short and, particularly come election time (which in the U.S. is almost permanent), Republicans and Democrats outdo each other in talking tough about perceived adversaries like China, Russia and Iran. In the current campaign for the White House, only the Independent Bernie Sanders comes close to underwriting the strategy for an ‘Independent America’.

For the reasons explained in my previous column ‘INNER STRENGTH’, I believe that America’s best course of action going forward is to focus laser-like on making America strong again from the inside out and resolve to use its military might only when the security of its borders and its people is directly threatened and then only as a matter of last resort after all other efforts have been exhausted.
The one question I cannot resolve in my own mind (and I have asked Ian Bremmer to address and answer) is if adopting the strategy for an Independent America would automatically have to lead to the annulment of the security commitments it has made to protect its allies like Israel, South Korea, Japan and the member countries of NATO against attacks on their territories and people. How should and will the ‘Independent America’ respond if North Korea invades South Korea, Iran attacks Israel, China takes over Taiwan or Russia occupies Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia?

That is the hardest question. When is America’s security interest directly involved? What criteria should be in place to decide these life or death questions? Does it matter if only conventional weapons are used or aggressors resort to the use of weapons of mass destruction? Development of a foreign affairs strategy requires that these questions are asked and answered in advance rather than in the heat and emotion of the moment when they are forced upon us. The answers should, of course, be kept secret and kept under lock and key as much as the key to the nuclear button. Whatever strategy America embarks on, it should never signal to the world that whatever happens outside of the U.S. borders is of no concern to America and will never trigger a military response. The military option can never be taken off the table, whatever foreign affairs strategy America choses, but it should only be used in the very last resort.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


It is now little more than a year ago that I published my book ‘NEITHER HERE NOR THERE, A First Generation Immigrant in Search of American Exceptionalism’ in which I argued for the need to overhaul the American political system, including the need for a constitutional requirement to develop and maintain a national strategy transcending administrations and providing a compass for public policy direction.

Now, that argument has been picked up and elaborated upon in a recently published, excellent, book by Ian Bremmer, titled ‘Superpower, Three choices for America’s Role in the World’. Ian Bremmer has a PhD in political science from Stanford University, is President and Founder of Eurasia Group, a leading global political risk research and consulting firm, and a foreign affairs columnist and editor-at-large for Times magazine.

Bremmer’s focus in his book is—not surprisingly— on foreign policy and he chastises U.S. policy makers since the end of the Cold War for not choosing and sticking with a clear cut foreign relations strategy, but instead stumbling from one crisis to another without a clear compass on where they want to see America go and what role they want to see America play in the world.

I recommend the book. It should be required reading for the contestants in the 2016 race for the White House. I like the book, in the first place because it convincingly makes the case for the need for a comprehensive foreign relations strategy. I also like the book for—after careful analyzing and weighing the alternatives—coming down on the choice for what Ian Bremmer terms the ‘Independent America’.

In essence, the book offers a continuation of the age old debate about the role America should play in the foreign affairs arena. Ian Bremmer wants future administrations to make a choice between three strategies in dealing with foreign affairs.
1.       In the case of the ‘Indispensable America’, the strategy is based on the belief that, in the interconnected world of today, America has no choice but to be actively involved in directing or influencing the outcome of developments outside of its borders. The idea is that only America can defend the values on which global stability increasingly depends.
2.       In the case of ‘Moneyball America’, the strategy is for America only to get involved in global affairs if U.S. interests are at risk or opportunities arise to strengthen America’s hand in global positioning.
3.       In the case of ‘Independent America’, the strategy is for America to stay out of the role of the policeman of the world and turn down the responsibility to solve other people’s problems. In this view America’s strategy should be to lead by example by building and exhibiting exceptional cohesiveness and inner strength at home.
Bremmer’s three forked road only makes sense if one accepts that building inner strength and an interventionist foreign policy role are mutually exclusive. People will argue, like so many administrations have done, that America is powerful and rich enough to play first fiddle both on the national and the international stage. But what evidence can we bring to the table to support that point of view? Given the build-up of an $18+ Trillion national debt in the post-Cold War era and lack of measurable progress on issues of national importance, it is probably fair to conclude that a hard choice needs to be made. Failed or inconclusive interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan have largely contributed to our indebtedness, kept us from addressing urgent policy matters at home and undermined our reputation abroad.

I do believe that America’s global standing would be greatly enhanced if it embarked on a strategy—and kept it in place even as the White House changes hands—that set out to offer in one generation an outlook on an America where:
·         What can be achieved in life no longer closely correlates with where you were born, who your parents are, who you know or what gender or race you belong to;
·         Immigrants who obey the law and bring talent, skills and drive with them are welcome and respected;
·         The level of education one gets no longer closely correlates with the social status and the financial capacity of the student or parents;
·         The level of health care one gets no longer closely correlates with the location and the financial capacity of the patient;
·         The corrupting influence of money has been eliminated from the election process;
·         The national debt is kept under a limit expressed as a percentage of GDP (in a range from 50-70%) and each administration has an obligation to balance its budget;
·         Levying taxes is no longer a dirty word or a political suicide, but wasting money on causes that do not support the larger national strategy is;
·         An effective safety net is in place for those (and only for those) who are too young, too old or too incapacitated to provide for themselves and—temporarily—for those who are involuntarily unemployed;
·         The infrastructure is the envy of the world.

America has tried and failed time and again to reshape the world in its own image by intervention, diplomatically, militarily and economically. The American people no longer support an adventurous and costly interventionist policy. It is time to change tack and build the inner strength required to lead by example. If America focuses for a generation on being the best it can be while protecting its people and its borders, it is hard to imagine a nation that can surpass it in global standing, strength and durability. It will take extraordinary willpower and discipline to learn not to get distracted from this strategy by events and provocations that will undoubtedly come up, but that too is part of building inner strength.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


Should we laugh or should we cry? We came back from a five week summer vacation in the Netherlands and what do you know: Donald Trump has consolidated his lead in the polls on the GOP side for the 2016 White House elections. Of course, at 15 months away from the voting booths, this means as much as the Cleveland Browns winning a pre-season game, but I still have to rub my eyes in disbelief. Are we really that alienated, frustrated and stupid?

Speaking of Cleveland, that is where, in about a year from now (July 18-21, 2016), the Republican convention will crown its contender for the White House. Who will carry the day there? The convention will not know who the Democratic nominee is going to be, since the Democratic convention in Philadelphia will come a week after the GOP gathering. The party will, by the process of elimination, have to find that person that can put the White House back in Republican hands, without knowing (for sure) who the Democratic opponent is going to be. The scenario will be most interesting if the democrats, somehow, avoid turning their convention into a crowning ceremony for the next Clinton.

I don’t think it will be Donald Trump coming out as the winner, for only one reason: Cleveland does not give him a large enough platform to display his ego. For the emperor of Manhattan to be contending with mere mortals is bad enough, to have to do it at ‘the mistake at the lake’ is outright demeaning. This may exactly be why the party bosses (about the only Americans not infatuated with Mr. Trump) have picked the city at the confluence of the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie as the site for their convention. I am in good company in believing that the 69 year old caricature of an American capitalist will not carry the day, because a good number of political pundits, including New York Times columnists Ross Douthat and David Brooks, categorically assure us that Trump will not be president or even the Republican nominee.

But, regardless of who the GOP nominee will turn out to be—who knows a lot can happen in the 11 months separating us from the circus coming to Cleveland—it is a distressing thought that for almost a year we will have to witness the charade of all the characters who think that they are just the right candidate for the presidency parading across our TV screens. This spectacle would be impossible if it was not for the billions of dollars floating around looking for a political cause or campaign to support. Money, in this case, is the root of all evil. Isn’t it amazing that Americans will fight tooth and nail to avoid tax increases, but they voluntarily part with billions if it comes to buying lottery tickets or they think it will buy them political influence.

If you think about what the job of President of the United States really is, isn't it surprising that so many Americans are even in this race? Who wants the job? Well, that is clear, Donald Trump really wants it and he is used to getting what he wants and a virtuoso at it. In this case, it is well within his reach, because he is probably the only candidate who can simply buy the presidency.
Jon Lovett, in an August 18, 2015 article for The Atlantic, writes a futuristic piece “Looking backward on the Presidency of Donald Trump”. Of course it is speculative but it is equally foreboding. Is this what the American people want and deserve? Isn’t our political system screwed up enough, that it needs to be thrown further into demise by the election of an egotistical buffoon of the size of Donald Trump?

The American people already have plenty of reasons to be rejecting most of the other announced candidates for one of the following reasons:
·         You don’t allow the forming of a republican form of dynasty, which rules out electing another Bush or Clinton.
·         The baby boomer generation has had its chances to make a difference and wasted them all, so no-one over 60 years old should be nominated.
·         The American Presidency is probably the toughest, most demanding, job in the world so it should not be entrusted to people my age, card carrying AARP members.
·         Candidates capable of only producing soundbites without being able to present a coherent strategic plan for the nation should be disqualified.
·         Candidates intent on building a wall at our borders instead of looking at modern day information technology to keep undesirables out.
·         Candidates who refuse to acknowledge that we are all immigrants, who wrested this territory away from the Native Americans, and can’t differentiate between immigrants and undesirables.

Is anyone left standing if these criteria are applied?

America has now been an independent nation under 44 occupants of the White House. Most Americans cannot name more than a handful of men who have occupied the highest office in the country. They can be excused, because most of them have had a reign that was utterly forgettable or worse. It shows that America’s destiny is not dependent on who occupies the White House. Why then are we getting so worked up, for so long, about will be the 45th President?

Aren’t we better off ignoring this money infused circus and focusing instead on correcting the flaws in our political system? That’s what I advocate in my book “NEITHER HERE NOR THERE, A First Generation Immigrant in Search of American Exceptionalism’. The American people will have a crucial decision to make: Are they going to believe that a single person can make the difference or will they accept that the 45th President will, like his/her recent predecessors, be doomed to failure if the rules of the game do not change?

Wednesday, August 5, 2015


July 31-August 5, 2015

“Berend Botje ging uit varen
Met zijn scheepje naar Zuidlaren
De weg was recht, de weg was krom
Nooit kwam Berend Botje weerom.
Een, twee, drie, vier, vijf, zes, zeven,
Waar is Berend Botje gebleven?
Hij is niet hier, hij is niet daar
Hij ging naar Amerika.”
(Dutch nursery rhyme)

We are finishing up on our pilgrimage back to the home country and it is time to review what we have seen and learned. In my book ‘NEITHER HERE NOR THERE, A First Generation Immigrant in Search of American Exceptionalism’ I compared the conditions I found in America in the early eighties (when we had to decide if we wanted to go back to Europe or immigrate to America, where we had been living for 7 years as ex-expatriates) with the conditions we encounter in modern day America. In this pilgrimage I had the opportunity to compare contemporary life in the Netherlands with contemporary life in America. It had been long since I had taken the time to look around in the Netherlands and interview people living there.

I find the Netherlands more beautiful and better organized than I remember it. Admittedly, I focused on and spent almost all of my time in the areas of natural beauty, which generally equates with low population pressure and unspoiled landscapes, like Zeeland, Brabant, Drenthe, de Achterhoek, de Veluwe, de Utrechtse Heuvelrug, Kockengen, and – most of all – Vlieland. But I also spent considerable time in Rotterdam, my college town, and found it more vibrant, cleaner and more cosmopolitan than it was when I lived there. Rotterdam has had the benefit of a succession of exceptionally competent and ambitious mayors who have propelled the city forward both economically, socially and architecturally.The current mayor of Rotterdam, Ahmed Aboutaleb, was born in Morocco, came as a ten year old boy to the Netherlands, and is of Islamic faith. He acquired world-wide recognition when he addressed his many compatriots and fellow Muslims living in the Netherlands and bluntly told them that if they were unwilling to conform to Dutch culture and laws, they would be well advised to go somewhere else. He is a politician of a caliber we can be envious of in the U.S. This is the type of modern day politician that the world needs more of if it wants to deal effectively with the challenges of globalization and immigration.

We are deeply touched by the welcome we have received from family and friends, most of whom we had not seen in a long time. In almost 5 weeks we have not had to stay one night in a hotel. Our home base in Kockengen, in the heart of the country, was graciously made available to us by a dear old friend, while she was spending her summer at her property in France. In Zeeuws Vlaanderen we stayed at the home of a fellow member of the Round Table, who had moved the family for the month of July to the Belgian coast. We stayed four nights with Christie’s brother Jaap and four days with her brother Kees. We stayed one night with my 84 old brother Wolter and one night with college friends in Ulvenhout, in Brabant. On Vlieland we shared a big rental house in the dunes with Christie’s four siblings. In the process we had ample opportunity to compare notes about living in Holland versus living in America. It seemed that nobody wanted to trade places with us. Hospitality is a sacred tradition also in many areas in the USA and with most ethnic components of its population. But I found the hospitality experienced in Holland of special depth and breadth. Without exception, we found deep and sincere interest in our live-paths, in our points of view and in our family. I had in five weeks more, and more penetrating, conversations about life and its vagaries than I recall having back home in years. I found keen interest in my book and, in many instances, was met with probing and incredulous questions about my view of America today. Holland is a country with a tolerant, middle of the road, tradition and I found little or no understanding for the far left and the far right expressions of American politics. My friends and relatives in the Netherlands are stunned by the paralysis and dysfunction displayed in the American Congress and don’t understand the dynamics behind it. Who does? I get the sense that American leadership – as displayed during the World Wars – is still desired and expected here but found either misdirected or sorely missing.

The Dutch infrastructure, in contrast with America’s, is up to date. Public transportation of all kinds is abundantly available everywhere, and affordable. Combined with the popularity of the bike, the Dutch, are much less dependent on cars than we are. Which is a good thing, because, as it is, traffic jams and long delays are par for the course during rush hours on the highways in the Randstad (the big city region between Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht). Biking’s popularity means that Dutch kids have less trouble to stay in shape than their American peers who get bussed or chauffeured everywhere. I found the Dutch also much more environmentally conscious than Americans, as evidenced by their interest in clean energy, in combating the effects of climate change, in avoidance of car use in favor of public transportation or biking, in rigorous recycling and in deposits on the use of glass and plastic bottles.

The political climate in the Netherlands is very different from what we experience in America. The number of political parties is larger than ten, money influence in politics is, if it exists, undetectable to the naked eye. Of course it helps that, in the parliamentary system, the members of parliament don’t have to run for personal election. Their seat in parliament depends on the percentage of votes the party they belong to collects and on their ranking on the election list of their party. Candidates for parliament campaign for their party rather than for their own seat. They don’t have to hold out their hand at every election and don’t waste time on campaign donor events.Because of the multitude of parties participating in national elections, forming a government is by necessity a matter of building a coalition, which –in turn – means articulating an agenda, a platform from which to govern. The strategic direction for the government is negotiated up-front by the parties participating in the coalition government. National parliamentary elections are held every four years or upon resignation of the ruling coalition, whichever comes first.

Unavoidably, the question came up for me, if, now that I had a chance to give the Netherlands a second look, I find that I made a mistake by emigrating to the USA. It is a moot point. The die has been cast. The Jager family is, and will remain, firmly rooted in American soil. But I doubt if I would have left the Netherlands if, in the early eighties, I could have foreseen how life in the Netherlands and America would develop in very different directions from what I predicted at the time. I have to accept the reality that most of the contemporaries I went to school with, including our siblings, have done equally well or better in their careers than I have in the USA. Nor can I deny that their children are, almost without exception, at least as well educated and successful as ours.

Holland is a pleasant, tolerant and safe living environment. It appears well governed, managed and organized. It is evident that here the taxpayers get something tangible for their admittedly stiff taxes. Its people are enterprising, well-educated and culturally and socially aware. Its natural landscapes are breathtaking and all within 1-2 hours’ car ride from the center of the country. The USA undoubtedly has landscapes of more majesty, but most of them are hard to reach and far apart. It was one of my biggest surprises, that peace and quiet can still be found in Holland, in spite of the population growth from 11 million to over 16 million souls in my lifetime. It is easy to escape the Randstad and the rat-race in the Netherlands by a less than two hour car ride to one of these well protected oases. In Cleveland a two hour car ride gets me to Pittsburgh, Columbus or Detroit. Another surprise is how well the country has preserved its national heritage of centuries’ old buildings, churches, castles, windmills, homes and cityscapes. Anything of historic stature has been preserved and carefully and lovingly renovated or restored. Some of the priciest real estate in Holland is now found in these architectural treasures, notwithstanding the strict regulations protecting the originality and integrity of the objects.

It was a pilgrimage well taken and I am grateful for my heritage. My book is titled NEITHER HERE NOR THERE. It is a reference to the tug of war between my Dutch origins and my American present. In this pilgrimage I found that life in Holland is a life of opportunity for almost everyone with drive, ambition, and a purpose. It is a more equal society than found in America today. The choice between HERE and THERE has only become more complicated since I had to make it.