Last week we honored those who died on the beaches of Normandy seventy years ago in the epic attack on Nazi Germany and its demonic leader Adolph Hitler.  Those few surviving participants who attended the memorial in Normandy were often seen crying at the site of the battle and at the gravesites of their fallen brothers in arms.  Some ten thousand Americans are buried there.  The tears those men shed are a chilling reminder of the terrible scars our soldiers receive when they go into the inhuman inferno of war.  Ninety year old men weep uncontrollably at the memory seventy years removed from this one day.   Obviously those of us who have never been through that hellish nightmare cannot begin to understand what it does to a person’s soul.

     And yet.  We have also, in the last week, been subjected to the most ruthless and damning criticism of a deal that the President of the United States made to exchange five individuals who have been held for over a decade in the prisoner camp at Guantanamo Bay for an American soldier who has been held captive in Afghanistan for some five years.  The gist of this criticism was caught in a disgusting cartoon being published in several conservative newspapers that portrayed the President as  a dim-witted kid making a glaringly bad trade of baseball cards.  In other words, the president should have left that soldier to rot in captivity if he could not get a better deal. 

     Worse yet.  Much of this criticism suggests that the captured soldier was not worthy of any exchange, because he may have left his post, a remote and much-attacked outpost in the middle of enemy territory, where he had served for several years.  He is, these critics say, not good enough to be bargained for.  He is not a hero, so we should leave him out there.

     I am told that virtually every soldier who returns from service in this endless conflict has suffered substantial psychological damage and needs lengthy counselling before he or she can return to something like a normal life in America.  I am told that record numbers of soldiers are returning from service with profound effects from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It is more than likely that this young man, standing watch at that lonely outpost, was subjected to stress that we cannot even imagine.  Yet those who have never set foot on a battlefield are vigorously denouncing him.  For what?  As far as I can tell, for nothing more than poltical gain.  Frankly, for such people, there seems to be no other motive for anything they do than sheer political gain. 

     Damn them all.  They are themselves the perfect illustration of a national disease of chronic and all-absorbing self-interest.  They would sacrifice the environment, the economy, even the core values of the American ideal to serve only themselves.  And, in their condemnation of this one man, of whom we asked so very much, they have finally displayed their complete lack of value and the utter vacuousness of their worldview.

     A soldier, who spent five years in captivity, is being returned to his homeland as a part of ending an ill-considered and interminable war.  Have we, in the end, not even the sense of decency to let him return from that living hell without tearing up what little dignity he may have left? 



     Some years ago, a relative of mine who is a highly placed investment banker told me of a visit he made to a Japanese corporation as a part of work he was doing to put together a merger of several companies.  He was allowed to sit in on a meeting of the corporation’s board of directors, and he was stunned to hear them discussing the ongoing success of their one-hundred-year plan.  “Here I am,” he said, “being pounded on all sides to concern myself with the next quarter, and these guys are concentrating on the next century! I farily ran back to my firm and told them we had a few things to learn from the Japanese.”

     Apparently the lessons went unheeded.  There is virtually unanimous agreement among reputable scientists that, if we continue to pollute the environment at our present rate, our world population will face freakishly miserable consequences.  A huge chunk of Florida will be under water.  A goodly part of Manhattan will disappear.  A huge slice of the United States will be unihabitably hot.  Farm fields will be rendered worthless.  Globally, whole islands will disappear, and huge and densely populated parts of India and southeast Asia will be gone.

     This is, absent the cooperation of nations on immediate long-term thinking, planning and execution, guaranteed:  the world we leave to the next generation will be a decidedly worse place to live.  In response, however, those opposed announce that taking that action will adversely affect their bottom line.  We will have to pay for all of this pollution abatement, they say, and it will be expensive, and jobs will be lost, and, of course, the bottom line of fossil-fuel producers will be lessened.

     Well, as youngsters like to say today, Duh!  Right.  Cleaning up the mess we have made will cost us.  Had we all along acted in the long term interests of the country and the world, the problem would not exist.  It does exist, and now we have to pay for it.  More importantly, however, we have to stop making our decisions based upon the next quarter.  Business has to stop defining itself by profit alone and start realizing that, before it is a money machine, it is a vehicle functioning in a community, and it owes that community conduct in accord with that community’s best interests.

     Here is a way to grasp the importance of long-term thinking.  Talk to those who will have to pay for your abuses.  Sit your ten-year-old child or grandchild down and tell her or him the truth.  Say, “Jenny, my company is polluting the atmosphere, and there are steps that we could take now to correct that abuse.  However, it would hurt our bottom line for next quarter, so instead we are going to fight for the right [right!?!?] to continue to pollute, and we are going to let you pay for it in the future.”

     You are never going to have that conversation, because it is so absurdly inhumane and irresponsible.  If you are resisting pollution control now, for any reason, that, is, however, exactly what you are telling those children.

     Bottom line:  Business is every bit as much a moral activity as it is a profit making activity.  You owe those kids much more than you owe your shareholders.  Take that, Carl Icahn.


     The press and various political figures have had a field day recently attacking the VA, primarily on the grounds that several VA officials have, in various locations, covered up their failure to provide sufficiently prompt service to needy vets.  The allegations are apparently true, and the criticism is apparently valid.

     There is, however, a danger that we might be left with the impression that the VA hospitals are generally failing to provide any decent service at all.  If you have been left with that impression, I invite you to visit a VA center.  You will undoubtedly find it a beehive of activity.  The VA centers are filled to capacity with patients, and they are equally filled with the highest quality and most highly committed medical professionals in the business.  The demands on those professionals are endless, and yet, when I recently paid a visit to my local VA hospital, I was greeted warmly by every VA employee I encountered, and I was given all the time and all the information I asked for.  The man I went to see had some very serious health problems, and he was being given excellent care and he was being treated with the utmost respect and kindness. 

     This is, of course, as it should be.  We call upon our service men and women to engage in the most patently horrific acts imaginable, acts that, in civil life, would send them to prison or execution.  We ask them to kill, and we ask them to watch their fellow soldiers bleed and die.  We ask them to witness all the horrors of war.  and then we demand that they come back and resume their civilian lives as if nothing happened.  We owe them, in return, the assurance that they will receive the very best medical care available.  The VA centers are, by my own personal observation, providing just that.

     As I said, the allegations made are likely true.  Let us remember, however, that these are failings of bureaucrats, not medical professionals.  The doctors and nurses and technicians and aides and orderlies and all those who work at VA centers who provide those marvelous services have nothing to do with those bureaucratic blunders and misdeeds.  They work tirelessly, and they deserve nothing but praise and thanks for that.  Make a political football out of the bureaucratic misconduct if you wish, but give those who provide care to our veterans all the credit and praise they so richly deserve.


     I recently had a conversation with a very bright and very observant man.  Let’s call him Brad.  Brad is, I suspect, of a considerably more conservative bent than I.  What that likely means is that Brad is more likely than I to believe that, where a task needs doing on behalf of the community, a private enterprise would probably do a better job of it than a bureaucracy.  So, as regards the implementation of  a national health program, Brad would likely favor having that program administered by a system of private enterprise rather than by a federal or state bureaucracy.

     Here, however, is the amazing thing.  Brad and I had a conversation about the subject.  We did not shout at each other.  We did not curse each other out.  We did not belittle each other or in any way mischaracterize each other’s views.  In other words, we had a real, honest-to-god conversation.  He spoke and I listened.  When he had finished, I asked questions and made observations.  We identified common goals, and we reasoned together about the viability of various means to achieve those common goals.  Brad is, besides being very bright and observant, also brutally honest.  It would be the grossest of understatements to say that he does not tolerate fools well.  He has, in addition, developed strong opinions, and he has developed those opinions based, not upon prejudice or political or religious fervor, but on solid information and sound reasoning.  Yet he and I had a conversation, and in that conversation we exchanged ideas.

     I say that is amazing, and I say that because the present political, and religious, atmosphere is such as to not simply avoid, but to absolutely forbid rational discourse.  What has replaced the rational exchange of ideas is the irrational, and even anti-rational, railings against positions that are straw men, dishonest mischaracterizations of the thoughts and proposals of those whom we oppose.  The left says the right wants to impoverish the middle class and deny them health care and education.  The right says the left wants to socialize wealth and hand over the management of our lives to the government.  The left are Communists.  The right are Fascists.  Blah, blah, blah.  And the problems get worse, and nothing gets done, and we all suffer the more for it.

     So let’s start over.  We do, or should have, the same goals, all of us Americans.  To be an American is to accept as unquestionably true that all humans are created equal, and each human is endowed by his or her Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  This we hold true, and if you do not, you are not an American.  Now, here comes the big ending, the major conclusion:  ALL THE REST IS A MEANS TO THESE ENDS.  The only thing left to discuss, once we admit these as our ends, is the best means to achieve that equality, that life, that liberty, that pursuit of happiness.  And the discussion of the best means to an end is, by its very nature, a RATIONAL discussion. 

     We are in need of a program of universal health care.  Point out to me the best means to achieve it.  Let us reason about it.  Let us not say it must be thrown out because a liberal put it in place rather than a conservative.  It makes no sense to endorse the Romney health plan in Massachusetts and oppose the Obama health plan for the nation; at least it makes no sense on the simple basis that it was Romney who did the one and Obama who did the other.

     We are creating a global problem in the environment, and we need to to identify and pursue the means to solve it.  If we do not, we will leave our children a planet that is verging on uninhabitable.  We need to discuss this honestly.

     The list goes on and on.  Jobs, highways, crime, drugs, etc.  Refusing to reason is actually a refusal to solve any problem, and in the end it is in fact a refusal to pursue those ends that define us as Americans.  Left and right alike are killing us.  Let us reason together.