Thursday, September 25, 2008

Economic Mess

With everyone giving their opinion on this mess, I thought it would only be appropriate for me to chime in as well.

First, a little disclaimer: I do not know all of the facts of this mess.

Now, on to the fun part (for me)...

The government bail out plan in my opinion is wrong and should not be approved. I hope it gets stalled and dies out. I am sick of the fear tactics used to convince taxpayers that this needs to be done. If it took more than 10 years for us to get into this mess, why does the solution have to be found within 5 days? Why such a rush to fix this thing? It is too complex for a couple weeks of brainstorming to fix. We need a more slow, deliberate, and well thought out plan (more thought out that the current plan is). University professors and economic experts should have some say in the plan. WE SHOULD NOT RUSH INTO A FIX!

Second, I do not like having to pay for others peoples screw ups. The people who are squirming the most, are people who have a serious chunk of money in the financial markets. That would include 401k's, IRA's, Mutual Funds, Stocks, Bonds, etc. Most Americans these days have some kind of retirement fund and/or other money market funds. If the current "crisis" continues, these people stand to loose a significant chunk of their funds. So the common line I hear is, "I don't like that I, as a tax payer, have to bail out wall street, but I guess a couple of grand in extra taxes is better than losing $250,000 in retirement money..."

I do not like that people feel as if they are "held hostage" in this mess. They are forced to choose between losing a little money or a lot of money. What a load of c**p that has been dumped on these people. (I keep referring to "these" or "those" people not including myself in this group because I don't have any money in the money market. I pulled it all out several months ago before the huge wall street crash, and I stand to lose nothing if this mess continues). But I have a news flash for the "average American taxpayer with money market funds", YOU CHOOSE TO PUT YOUR MONEY INTO A FUND WITH RISKS!! It is a gamble you took, well thought out or not, and you must live with the consequences of those risks. The average person could not foresee this (otherwise they would not have invested the money), but ignorance is not excuse in my opinion.

I say let the wave ride out. Let the "bad things" happen. Let the bubble continue to deflate. Too many people got rich in this big mess, and most of their money is in the money market. Let the market decline and stall, and all those people lose. Of course there may be some "innocent people" who lose as well, but that was part the risk they took by putting money in the money markets.

The system will repair itself in time. Let it ride out and fix itself - no government meddling can help, it can only hurt everyone equally. But I don't want equality, I want the wealthy to pay, not everyone equally.

Monday, September 15, 2008

More election candidate musings

A few more thoughts supplemented by the book "The Leadership Challenge", copyright 2007 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., published by Jossey-Bass.

The top 4 attributes looked for in leaders: (in this order)
  1. Honest
  2. Forward-looking
  3. Inspiring
  4. Competent

The order that people look for these attributes in presidential candidates (in my opinion):

  1. Inspiring
  2. Forward-looking
  3. Competent
  4. Honest

Honesty: This is by far the attribute looked for most often by people when selecting a leader to follow. "We want our leaders to be honest because their honesty is also a reflection upon our own honesty." "Honesty is tied to values and ethics. We appreciate people who know where they stand on important principles."

The reason Honesty is last in presidential candidates is because honesty is tied to values and ethics, which it seems that the candidates try hard to keep out of the campaign. Currently, it is popular opinion that values and ethics are deeply personal and should not be forced on others. The general population knows there is an ethical division in this country and neither side wants the beliefs of the other side forced upon them, so they get downplayed in the election campaigns. Additionally, honesty is not what most politicians are known for. Many of them (if not all) often promise things to get elected that they do not/cannot follow through with when in office. The general population is somewhat used to the lies and boasting of politicians and we know that not everything they promise will come to pass.

Forward-looking: "[Leaders need] to have a point of view about the future envisioned for [the country], and they need to be able to connect that point of view to the hopes and dreams of their constituents." "Expecting leaders to be forward-looking doesn't mean constituents want their leaders to set out on a solitary vision quest; people want to be engaged in the search for a meaningful future."

It is difficult for each of the candidates to connect their vision of the future for this country when the voters are sharply divided in their hopes and dreams. The best they can do is pick a set of hopes and dreams and hope that a majority of the people buy into them. But will either of the candidates engage the people in helping form this future, or are the candidates set in their vision and unwilling to change and adapt it because of their "party line" or "promises"? Who will be bi-partisan in the end? Both? Neither?

Competent: "[The consituents] must see the leader as having relevant experience and sound judgement." "Leadership competence refers to the leader's track record and the ability to get things done."

It is obvious that this is the area in which McCain is attacking Obama. In the end, they are BOTH competent, but in different ways. Neither has run a country, but both have been in office and have a track record to look at. It seems that "sound judgement" is a reletive term, so both of them and their followers claim that they have sound judgement and the other one does not. I guess it is up to the voter to decide what "sound judgement" is (hopefully we will not rely on the media to define this for us, because the media is incapable of unbiased reporting.)

That's a good chunk of stuff to chew on for a while...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Leadership and the Elections

I am currently taking a class in leadership. It is very interesting and very applicable to the upcoming election in Nov 08 and the candidates. Some thoughts:

One of the books I am reading (The Leadership Challenge, copyright 2007 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., published by Jossey-Bass) claims that all great leaders engage in 5 practices:
  • Model the Way - "To effectively model the behavior they expect of others, leaders must first be clear about guiding principles." They express their values through actions and words (usually in story form). The book also says that "leaders must forge agreement around common principles and common ideals." Perhaps the most poignant sentence is, "Modeling the way is about earning the right and the respect to lead through direct involvement and action. People follow first the person, then the plan." Another part talks about leadership as action, not personality. I disagree and claim that leadership requires both action AND personality.

Some questions I ask myself (and you can ask yourself) about the candidates regarding "Model the Way" are: Have both Obama and McCain clearly expressed their guiding principles? Clearly enough for both supporters AND opposition to understand? (can YOU articulate the principles and ideals of each candidate?) How do they express their values and principles? Have they both forged agreement around common principles and common ideals? Who/What group of people share these principles and ideals? (does everyone?) What direct involvement and action has each candidate taken toward their common principles and ideals? Who do people want to follow (we follow the person first, then the plan)? Plans aside, based only on personality, who would you follow?

  • Inspire a Shared Vision - Leaders have visions and dreams about what could be, along with total personal belief in those dreams. Besides having a vision, the leader must effectively communicate that vision to others. "To enlist people in a vision, leaders must know their constituents and speak their language. People must believe that leaders understand their needs and have their interests at heart." Leaders must have enthusiasm for their vision and pass that on to others.

Have both Obama and McCain clearly expressed their vision of the future, their hopes and dreams about this country? Who are their constituents [ALL Americans]? Do both/either of them "speak the language" of the citizens? How effective have they both been in passing on enthusiasm?

  • Challenge the Process - "Leaders are pioneers ... but [they] aren't the only creators of new [ideas]. In fact, it's more likely that they're not: innovation comes more from listening than from telling." "Leaders know well that innovation and change involve experimenting and taking risks." "Leaders are learners. They learn from their failures as well as their successes, and they make it possible for others to do the same."

How has both Obama and McCain shown that they are pioneers, risk takers? How well has each candidate listened to what the people were saying and took those ideas and tried to make them reality as senators? How has each candidate shown that they are learners? Have they admitted mistakes and failures and shown how they have learned and changed from them? Do they make it possible for/help others to learn and grow from their failures?

  • Enable Others to Act - "Grand dreams don't become significant realities through the actions of a single person. It requires a team effort. It requires solid trust and strong relationships. It requires a deep competence and a cool confidence. It requires group collaboration and individual accountability." "We", is the magic word of leaders, not "I." "Leaders foster collaboration and build trust. This sense of teamwork goes far beyond a few direct reports or close confidants. They engage all those who must make the project work - and in some way, all who must live with the results." "Leaders enable other to act not by hoarding power they have but by giving it away." "Authentic leadership is founded on trust, and the more people trust their leader, and each other, the more they take risks, make changes, and keep movements alive."

Who are the strong relationships of each candidate with? What are the core competencies of each candidate? Do both candidate show cool confidence? Do they express group collaboration and individual accountability? How many times in a speech do they use the word "I" vs. "We?" Has each candidate built trust with people? Which people? Who is on the "team" of each candidate? Does each candidate include EVERYONE in America (because we all have to live the results)? Has either/both Obama McCain shown that they will hoard power, or will they "give it way?"

  • Encourage the Heart - "Leaders encourage the heart of their constituents to carry on" when times get tough. "Genuine acts of caring uplift the spirits and draw people forward." "It's part of the leaders job to show appreciation for people's contributions and to create a culture of celebrating values and victories."

Which candidate do you want to follow when times get tough? Will you blame economic or other problems on the winner, or will you let the winner encourage you? How has either/both Obama and McCain shown acts of caring and uplifting of spirits? How has each of them shown appreciation for others? How do they celebrate values and victories?

The book sums up saying that "Leadership is a relationship between those who aspire to lead and those who choose to follow." Both Obama and McCain aspire to lead, and they both have followers. But in the end, only one of them can become president. If the winner is not your choice, what will you do? Will you choose to follow, remain neutral, or create dissension?

I do not envy either candidate, because no matter what they say or do, this is a deeply divided country. I believe that we are a country in the midst of a silent civil war, a war being carried out by the votes and money of the citizens. This silent civil war is between conservative and liberal citizens, each of whom want the country to go in VERY different directions. Regardless of who wins, there will be one very upset/angry group who I believe will NOT follow the president no matter what he does. This is disheartening, but reality. We are a split nation with a double personality. In the end, we must all decide what is most important to us, and make our vote.

My most important issue is the respect for life, from conception to natural death. I wish both candidates were fighting for my view, but then some of the population would have no one to represent their beliefs. Sad but true.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Personal and Public Bias

I am biased. You are biased. We all are biased. This is because EVERYONE has beliefs, convictions and opinions.

What does it mean to be biased? IS it the same thing as "having an opinion," or "believing in something?"
From Wikipedia: "Bias is a term used to describe a tendency or preference towards a particular perspective, ideology or result, especially when the tendency interferes with the ability to be impartial, unprejudiced, or objective. [1] The term biased is used to describe an action, judgment, or other outcome influenced by bias, and it is also used to refer to a person or body of people whose actions or judgments exhibit bias."
From 2. a particular tendency or inclination, esp. one that prevents unprejudiced consideration of a question; prejudice.

When does bias come into play? It comes into play when someone is supposed to give an objective / unprejudiced opinion/fact about something but doesn't. aka. Bringing personal beliefs, perspectives, or ideologies into the telling of the story. Bias usually comes in the form of speculation about the details and motives behind events or other facts. Any way it comes, it shows favoritism.

Can you tell which people are biased? What is the difference between a talk show host who rips on the democratic party and a television news station that says essentially the same thing? The answer is that the talk show is all about opinions and beliefs and is thus not "biased" because the host is never intending to tell the story from an objective perspective, where as the tv new station is supposed to be objective and unbiased, so they are guilty of delivering biased news and in my opinion they should be stripped of their credibility. But then we would have no (or almost no) tv news stations anymore because the majority of them are biased.

Since it seems to be a fact of life that new is biased, what are we to do about it? Well, we can't close them all down, we can't (or shouldn't) cut news out of our life altogether, we can't get them to change (at least not unless you have a lot of money and power). So it looks like our only option is to live with it. We can figure out what stations and reporters are biased and how. But in the end what good is that? Do we only listen / watch the stations and reporters that share our own personal beliefs and convictions? If so, how do we conpensate for the fact that we will be hearing one side of the story? Do we listen to two different stations that report from different biases in order to get the whole picture?

I speculate that most people listen and watch only the stations and programs that fit their own personal beliefs and convictions. I have observed that most people get angry, spiteful, and defensive when watching news delivered from a bias other than their own. Instead of attacking the source of the bias, they usually attack the subject of the news and anyone who shares that same belief and conviction.

There are a lot of angry, spiteful and defensive people out there. The only way to appease them it to surround them with people of their own opinions (and sometimes that is not even enough - hence angry protestors - they must let EVERYONE know of their opinions, beliefs, and convictions as if they are the only right ones to have - they are right, everyone else is simply wrong and stupid if they do not change their mind).

I suggest listening / watching BBC news sometime. It is refreshing to see unbiased news (they are not perfect either, but they are much better than the American news media).

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Out of Control Media

I do not know what is worse: the fact that the media is power hungry and trying (successfully) to run this country, or that people actually buy into the crap that spews forth from the foul media mouth.

a) The media currently has unprecedented power. No previous time in our American history has the media exerted as much control as they now have. If you take an honest look at things, the media is basically choosing the next president. How, you may ask? Well, answer a few short questions and you will come to the answer that lies in plain sight.

How do citizens decide who to vote on? Most people would like to vote a president into office that share their own convictions and beliefs. That seems normal and reasonable.
But how do you know what a candidate believes? Most people ask other people they trust as well as getting information from THE MEDIA.
How does the trusted friend get information about the candidates? THE MEDIA (unless the trusted friend personally knows the candidate or the candidates friends - but then that friend would be biased).
Where does the media get their information? Most of them do research, but some of them rely on the research of OTHER reporters in THE MEDIA.
How does the media decide what information to give the public? Ahhhhh, here is the crux of the problem...

Indeed the media does not give all of the information they find during their research. They give the information that is necessary to make the point they are trying to make. They leave out all (or most) other "non relevant" information. But who decides what information is relevant or not? Yes, THE MEDIA. (aka. the reports themselves, their editors, their executives). The media is so good at spinning, that they can make anyone look good or bad, favorable or unfavorable. If the media doesn't like someone, they can smear the person to try to discredit him/her. If they like someone, they can make the person look like a superhero. (Although too much over the top might cost the media its credibility, so they better say "critical" things occasionally in order to appear unbiased.)

b) People believe most of the stuff that comes out of the media WITHOUT questioning it. It seems that nobody wants to do any research into the media's sources. There are very few people willing to put in the time and work required to "look behind the veil" of the media and see all the information and data to make sure that the media is not being biased.

It is much easier to simply trust that the media has the common good in mind and would not abuse their power and influence people in a biased fashion. who wants to do all that research themselves? Who has the time to do it? Easier to let someone else look into things. There are groups out there that do that, aren't there? Surely they would blow the horn on biased news agencies, right? Yes and No - I wish things were only that simple. In the end, it is easier to just believe the media.

OK, people know that the media is biased. So what? I'll just listen to the stations that share my perspective on things. Then I don't have to listen to people who disagree with me. But then won't I hear only ONE SIDE of the story? Well, let's not talk about that... I don't like those other people and I certainly don't want to hear their opinions (note that my choice stations report "news" and the other stations report "opinions"). So how will you know the whole story? Multiple stations are reporting the same thing, so it must be true and unbiased.

But what if multiple stations (aka the media) is exerting a unified power over the people? Whatever, that can't possibly happen. (can it?)

Friday, August 08, 2008

Financial Market Woes

I cannot describe how sick I am of reading the business section of the paper. It seems that every day, some "financial expert" gives his or her interpretation of the market, and various reasons for explaining how and why it is as bad as it currently is.

The latest chapter is a letter written from a bunch of Chief Risk Officers of some huge financial firms to the Feds. It basically blames this whole nasty situation on unreasonable optimism at the beginning, bad foresight and predicting on how fast things would deteriorate in the middle, and now investor panic at the end. The letter admits that perhaps firms like Bear Sterns, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, are a LITTLE to blame, but then quickly moves on to explain that it is the entire financial market that is to blame for getting us into this, and the investors and general public to blame for panicking when things got rough.

I personally believe that while there IS a little truth in the letter, it is mainly a bunch of finger pointing.

Let me tell you what I think happened (in short form):
A bunch of people got greedy, saw that they could make millions by scamming the everyday guy (and also by scamming other businesses), and so their lust for money and ambition for power blinded them to the fact that in the CLOSED financial system, someone ALWAYS gets hosed when someone else makes a killing. Simply put, each of these people wanted to see a redistribution of money in America - with themselves holding more.

The problem is not lack of foresight or prediction or panic, the problem is that the financial markets are full of greedy bastards who don't care who they step on in their climb to power and riches. There are too many people who are in that market because they heard that they could get rich quick. So without morals or ethics they set forth on their goal, not looking back at the trail of bodies left behind.

It doesn't take a genius to see why we are in this economic mess. Greedy people + no control = bad situation (economy). Did they think the government would just simple print more money and give it to them for free? If not, then when they were getting rich, did they ever think about who was getting poor? Did they not realize how fragile this whole economic system is? You cannot just "get rich" without any consequence! When they went after the average everyday American with a mortgage, they went too far. They didn't care how or where they got their money, even if it was the everyday consumer. And now we all pay. And guess what, the government DID print more money and give it to them for free. What a f-ed up system of bailing out of the financial markets.

When the government did that, they sent a message to everyone: take other peoples money and we'll just make more (thus diluting the value of the dollar and increasing inflation and making everything more expensive so that EVERYONE has to bear the burden of these greedy bastards).

You want to point the finger and blame someone Mr. Chief Risk Officer? Point the finger at yourself and most of your greedy cohorts.

You want to fix our economic problems? Make everyone who got rich off this give the money back! Take away their millions and use it to correct the financial markets. Make the people who got rich off this just as poor as the people who lost their homes due to their greed. I'm sure many of these greedy people have even found ways to avoid paying full taxes on their millions, further aggravating the whole economic situation! That's the solution - punish the greedy people! Make it not worth it to anyone who wants to get rich by crippling our economy.

Nothing in life is for free - especially not riches. It's a matter of who loses and how big do they lose. It is time to turn some of these "winners" into losers.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Pondering parenting and such things

I cannot help as a newly married man to occasionally ponder about parenting. While I am not yet expecting, I do not think it is ever to early to think about such eventualities.

Last night I was having a conversation with my wife about this topic because it dawned on me that having and raising children will show me all of my flaws and weaknesses. In more than one way - I will have to confront my selfishness and laziness, but more so, my children will do whatever I do. I will be teaching them what is acceptable or not by how I act - all the time. How I treat my wife, how I treat guests, how I treat anyone. They will be watching and storing all in their little heads. Then when it comes time for them to act, they will be mini-me's doing all the things that I do - good or bad. I will see my flaws and weaknesses come to life - but taken to the extreme - as children are so great at doing. My behavior will be under the microscope of my children.

So what will they learn? What will I teach them? Will I make an effort to act (or not to act) certain ways, or will I just simply "be myself" and let happen whatever happens? Will I make an effort to change for the sake of the kingdom of God, or have I grown to tolerate my own behavior? The scary thing to me, is that I am sure that I am blind to many of my faults and bad behaviors. I do not doubt that my children will shock me as they imitate their father. I'm sure I will find myself asking my wife, "Do I really do that? Do I really say those things? Am I really like that?", followed by, "Heaven help me! Give me the grace to see my faults and the courage to change my ways!"

Ooooh, I can't wait to have kids... (note the dripping sarcasm). Really, I'm sure there is a grace for raising children and for changing my ways. I'm sure the joy of having children will outweigh the pains of dying to my old selfish ways. (I hope).

This bring me to my other point. What is my vision for raising children? I get closer to that answer every day, but I believe that it have something to do with creating a "domestic church." That is, a place where the Trinity is mirrored in all its glory. A place where like the Pope, I am the head of the family and I am responsible for the spiritual (and physical) well-being of everyone under my care. Like the Pope has the cardinals and bishops, I have help carrying out my duties of caring for my flock. I must make sure that my flock receives the Good News about the kingdom. I must make sure that my flock has the opportunity to encounter Christ. I must be Christ to my family - I must, with my wife (since we are really one), be the image of God to my children - showing them God's love and mercy. But I must also, in the appropriate time, respect their free will. I must teach them the boundaries given to us by God and then let them freely choose to love God of their own volition. As God let me stray for a time so that I could be stronger, I must be able to let go of my parenting instincts of protection and pray that I will see my children in heaven.

I have a lot to work on until that day. So let the games begin! My I run the race as if to win!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Marriage and other things

I recently got married and must say first off that it is a huge blessing! It is also a lot of work!

I was commenting to several people that as a single man I thought I was doing fairly well in my walk with God. I have been blessed to have had intense adult formation over the last 12 years and have finally realized what it means to truly be a "Man of God." I thought that I had 'my house' in fairly good order and that I knew what my strengths and weaknesses were. My formal formation had come to an end a few years ago and I thought I had died to my flesh in a great many ways and was well on my way to holiness. Then I married - and I now realize that my young adult formation was a mere stepping stone, a foundation, for my "real" formation which comes through married life. I have realized that I only had a shadow of what it means to truly love someone. I now know that I know very little and have such a long way to go in learning how to love someone as the Lord loves them. I am a mere infant when it comes to love.

My recent reflections as I have begun my permanent vocation have been along these lines: What is married life for? What is the purpose of marriage? Why have I decided to do this? Am I really embracing these ideas and trying to live them out?

Marriage as a vocation is a path to sanctity. It is meant to bring us closer to God by living out a life that mirrors the triune God. Marriage is where we learn to give over our own desires and pursuits in service of the other for the greater glory of God. It is where we learn to love others and God loves us. It is where we have the opportunity to empty ourselves fully so that we may be filled with Christ and where we learn to be true instruments of the Lord. It is where we become what God has made us to become - images of Himself.

I have chosen this vocation? Yes and No. Yes: In freedom I made a conscious act of the will to enter into this covenant. I said "Yes" to my wife and to God. No: God chose this vocation for me before the world began by making me as He did. I was answering the Lord's call. I was made for this vocation, in order to become the man God wants me to become. The vocation chose me, and I likewise chose it as well.

I am trying to live this great calling. It is overwhelming, especially at first, but I am giving it my full attention and effort. I fully understand that this is a journey and not a destination, and I am as prepared as I can be to keep moving forward, even in the face of difficulty and adversity. I do not know how this will all unfold, but I do know that a great price awaits me in the end.