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.