Posts filed under Contemporary Visionmakers

Contemporary Visionmakers-President Obama

Tonight's State of the Union address by the President of the United States is being billed as Obama's chance to regain his footing. He has "misunderstood the public anger, set far too ambitious an agenda,and is out of touch with Main Street and Wall Street," say the pundits.


I predicted his honeymoon would be a short one just before the inauguration. Here's part of what I said in my post entitled How We Can:


"When we pin our hopes on just one man to deliver us from a collective mess, we avoid the personal leadership required to do our part to solve the issues of the day, and set him up to fail. What the Obama Presidency requires is leadership at all levels of society... with the courage to do things differently.


The recovery that we seek is likely going to take time. I wonder if we have the collective patience to give President-elect Obama the time and ongoing support required for change to happen. Watching someone lead is not personal engagement and involvement. It is passivity that leads to breakdown."


I am afraid I was right. The public lack of patience for the overhaul that is required on multiple fronts reveals a lack of foresight that endangers not only the stability of the United States but also the global community.


President Obama has accomplished a tremendous amount in a short time in an imperfect political system. People seem to forget the crisis that threatened to overcome the world economy. They also seem to forget that the Republican administration was steering the ship of state into treacherous waters for two terms.


Now, there is an expectation that a fix can be accomplished in one year? That's magical thinking.


Barack Obama is not Superman. He is a gifted individual with fine aspirations and big challenges on his hands. He deserves support, time and high engagement from leaders within the United States and around the world.


The problems that America faces threaten us all. It's time to row together.


Posted on January 27, 2010 and filed under Contemporary Visionmakers.


"For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the dream shall never die."


Ted Kennedy is a contemporary Visionmaker. I use the verb "is" because it is in keeping with his famous declaration quoted above. He endures. It also speaks to the endurance of his legacy of service to Americans and anyone else interested in compassionate governance, no matter where they live.


I waited a few days after Ted Kennedy's passing to reflect on what I wanted to say to our community of Visionmakers about this heroic, flawed man. In many ways, Teddy was both the light and the dark of the visionary leader.


He was the author of 2,500 bills, of which several hundred were passed into law. He was a champion of health care reform; a pioneer in supporting HIV/AIDS treatment and care; an advocate for the the care of the elderly, women and children; a champion of biomedical research; an advocate for tobacco legislative reform; a consumer protectionist for enhanced food and drug safety; a leader in mental health care; a minority health champion; an advocate for civil rights and voting rights in the United States; and a sponsor of fair immigration policies and citizenship for immigrants and refugees. 


He also battled his personal demons, often publicly. To this, one can say that despite the lapses and setbacks, Teddy pursued the dream and legacy of the Kennedy family publicly and privately. He served despite personal tragedy and misadventure.


Ted Kennedy was a man who walked in many worlds. His journey in this world has ended but his spirit of service survives.

Posted on September 2, 2009 and filed under Contemporary Visionmakers.

Contemporary Visionmakers - Seymour Melman

Seymour Melman is professor emeritus, Columbia University. Since the late 1960's, he has championed "the conversion project." The conversion project envisions the day that the world economy is converted from a military to a civilian economy.  

Melman suggests that the conventional wisdom that military spending is good economics may be running its course. He suggests that they are forces at work that have created a "less durable" war economy.


"As a war economy deindustrializes, part of the work goes into more military stuff, but the major part of the deindustrialization is simply the shutdown of civilian work in this country and its transfer elsewhere, mainly to countries that pay low wages and, very importantly, discourage the formation and operation of trade unions. The militarization of the economy then has two sides: the continuation and the expansion of the militarization in the U.S. and the cessation of all manner of civilian work and its transfer of the investments for this work, especially to China."


He suggests that there is massive damage being done to the American economy, damage that will become even more visible over time. Melman's solution?  As Bruce Mau and his collaborators report in a brilliant book called Massive Change, "go civilian or go broke."


Melman is passionate about the necessity of transforming the war economy to a civilian economy as soon as possible and in a planned and orderly way: 


"I don't see the prospect of a permanent war economy going on indefinitely.  I think the damage that is now in process to the American economy is very considerable, and is going to be more visible all the time. I see a prospect, though I can't put a timetable on it, for the idea of economic conversion and thereby not only the occupational transformation but also, very importantly, the industrial economic transformation."


Consider this spending comparison:


                           Military       or      Civilian


$5.3 Trillion: Cost of creating U.S. Nuclear Weapon Overkill Capacity... or ...more than twice the net value of the plant and equipment in U.S. manufacturing industries.


$99 Billion: F-22 Raptor Advanced Fighter program...or ...3,500 miles of Maglev train lines, running at         266 miles per hour.


$80 Billion: Navy SSN 774 Virginia Class Submarine program ($71 Billlion) and Navy Advanced Amphibious Assault Vehicle program ($8.7 Billion)... or... Investment needed to provide 20% of U.S. electricity supply from renewable and clean resources.


$59 Billion: Army Comanche Helicopter program ($48.1 Billion) and Navy Joint Standoff Weapon program ($11.2 Billion)...or... Cost of building housing for the 600,000 homeless families in the U.S.


$11 Billion: Total cost of the Navy's "Future Surface Combatant" program ...or... Annual shortfall to meet federal safe drinking water standards and replace aging facilities.


$11 Billion: Amphibious Assault Ship program...or ... Research program to develop zero emissions, coal gasification power plants.


$10 Billion: Two Navy CVN6-B Aircraft Carriers...or... Annual cost to provide sanitary water to 2.4 billion people worldwide.


$9.1 Billion: E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System program...or... Five years of funding for a global tuberculosis program.


$210 Million: One Global Hawk Unmanned Drone...or... Electrification of 50 miles of mainline railroad.


$7.9 Million: One "upgraded" Abrams Tank...or...Annual cost to enroll 1,100 children in Head Start preschool programs.*


As the world changes, our values must change as well. We have an opportunity to take advantage of Visionmaking to remake the world we want rather than uphold the world we inherited. Seymour Melman, along with others, provides a provocative vision for economic transformation.


We are up to the challenge.


* Massive Change, Bruce Mau and the Institute Without Borders,pg. 176


©Patrick O’Neill 2009. All rights reserved.

Posted on June 15, 2009 and filed under Contemporary Visionmakers, Crisis.

Contemporary Visionmakers - Hernando de Soto

With almost half of the world’s population surviving on less than two dollars a day and one fifth on less than one dollar, global progress in the fight against poverty in developing countries is declining


Hernando de Soto, a Peruvian economist, has recognized that one important cause of third world impoverishment is the absence of deeded property.  De Soto’s quest is to help the poor acquire legal rights to the property they live on. In a New York Times Magazine story by Mathew Miller, de Soto said:


“Imagine a country… where nobody can identify who owns what, addresses cannot be verified and the rules that govern property vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, or even from street to street."


This is what life is like, he says, for 80 percent of the people in the developing world and the former Communist Countries. Through ‘extra-legal’ businesses and home building, de Soto reckons, the world’s poor have accumulated assets worth $9 trillion – 20 times the direct foreign investment in the third world since the Berlin Wall fell and more than 46 times as much as the World Bank has lent in the last three decades.”


Because these assets are not legally titled, they cannot function as capital. Hernando de Soto’s proposition is simple: the legal ratification of ownership creating collateral.  Hernando de Soto contends that such formalization would effectively “turn ‘dead capital’ into fuel for growth.” 


Governments of Mexico, Egypt, the Philippines, Haiti, and other public and private sector leaders, are exploring how de Soto’s vision could be applied locally. On the problem of determining property lines where no formal systems of titling exist, de Soto’s solution is as pragmatic as it is visionary:


“You know when you have crossed onto someone else’s property in Bali because – a different dog barks.  The dogs know.”


One man’s simple idea… an idea that could change the world. Extraordinary challenges require extraordinary leadership. That leadership must come from each of us.


© Patrick O’Neill 2009. All rights reserved.



Posted on June 3, 2009 and filed under Contemporary Visionmakers.