Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Lesson from History

In the Spring of 1783, the British had asked for negotiations for a peace treaty to end the Revolutionary War and the men of the Continental Army were starting to look forward to their return to their homes and families. When they signed up for battle, they had been promised pay and 100 acres of land so they began thinking about how they would use the land and spend the money. However, the word started getting out that Congress had no money or land to pay them and they were likely to go home with neither. The Continental Congress had no taxing authority to raise money and they did not own any land. They relied on the States to provide the money and land to provide the Army and the States had not provided that for various reasons. This was complicated by the fact that each State had their own currency which was for the most part worthless. People generally bartered goods or traded in British pounds. Most States and the Federal Government were near total bankruptcy.

Men were obviously agitated and there were some who were using this sense of frustration to encourage a mutiny. Some were calling for the States to grant additional powers to the Continental Congress to put down any disputes among the various factions. Others were calling for revolt, a march on Philadelphia and Congress, secession from the Union, or a military coup to take control of the Congress. Tensions were high and the country that had just won their independence was on the brink of total chaos and anarchy. In the midst of this growing anger and frustration, a meeting was organized by Horatio Gates and attended by several officers. In the meeting, 2 documents were handed out that were planned to be delivered to Congress. They demanded that Congress fulfill its promises to the soldiers or the Army would take control of the government or leave the Union altogether and leave the United States defenseless. A second meeting was scheduled where they invited all officers and hoped to gain the backing of the Continental Army for their pursuits.

George Washington learned of these plans and requested that the meeting be postponed a few days so he could attend. He asked that those behind the plans be in charge of the meeting but to allow him to speak. The organizers thought that Washington was sympathetic to their cause and gladly accommodated his request. At the meeting, Washington stepped to the lectern and calmly but forcefully spoke out against any plans that would break the fragile republic, urged calm and patience with Congress, and pleaded with the officers to not lose the gains they had sacrificed so dearly to achieve. After he sat down, a hush fell on the crowd of officers and a motion was made for a vote of confidence in General Washington which was passed unanimously. That speech by Washington and the resulting reaction of the officers likely saved the new Union.

There are several lessons we can learn from this incident. First, we need to act with patience and restraint when dealing with the weighty matters of this country. Congress had some very difficult issues to resolve and they needed time to resolve them in a deliberative manner. The only crisis that requires haste is when lives are in immediate danger. Second, we should be very wary of granting government additional powers in a crisis. Washington resisted any calls to use this crisis to have the States grant additional powers to the Federal Government. He understood that when we grant government additional power, it is difficult to get that power back. The power should be in the hands of the people. Third, Washington was able to quell the frustration and anger of these men because each member of the Continental Army implicitly trusted him. They had come to know him, his character, and his dedication to the cause of liberty. Above all else, we need to have trust in our elected representatives. When that trust is broken by corruption, spin, empty promises, or backroom deals, we are in danger. Our Congress and leaders today need to be most focused on regaining the trust of the American people. Trust cannot be gained in an instant or through a single speech. George Washington was able to change the course of our history with a single speech but that was backed by several years of honest actions. We the people should demand that our elected officials act with honesty and integrity worthy of our trust.

We have weighty issues today that require attention but they are not the first. We can learn much from our Founding Fathers in how to deal with a crisis. Do not act in haste, be wary of any attempt to grant additional powers to the government, and in all things, act with honesty and integrity.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Where It All Began

I was discussing the current healthcare debate with a relative while hiking in the beautiful Olympic Mountains this past week. He was asking how we even got to this point of considering universal health care. As we discussed that, we came to the conclusion that we started down this path by having our employers provide health insurance to the employees. With that, we have become dependent on someone else for our needs so it is an easier transition to consider shifting that now to the government. Would you ever consider a single payer system for auto insurance? Probably not but you might consider it if your employer provided you with auto insurance and you had little choice and no direct view of the expenses. If you lost your auto insurance when you lost your job, you might opt for this.

This should be a lesson to us all. When we give up our choices to someone else whether it be our employer or the government, we eventually will lose our freedom. It may all sound very attractive at first, but it will slowly erode our liberty. We should look at where this can lead us rather than what this will do for us now. We need to get back to more individual responsibility and accountability.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Health Care Solutions

There was an excellent article this week in the Wall Street Journal by John Mackey who is the CEO of Whole Foods, Inc. You can read his article at:

John Mackey Article

He presents several things that we can do now to improve our health care system including many things he has implemented in his company.

Politicians keep pointing to the success of Medicare and Social Security to push for a similar system for the rest of us. Yes, our senior citizens have come to rely on these programs but that does not mean they are good programs. They are both running out of money and cannot be sustained at the current benefit levels. Instead of modeling our health care systems after programs that are unsustainable, let's try some ideas that have actually worked. John Mackey has found some solutions that work for his company and his employees. We should listen to his ideas.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Art of Listening

I have been in sales and business development roles for most of my career. Many years ago, I would spend lots of time preparing PowerPoint presentations and rehearsing a software demo. I would go into the meeting with the idea of impressing the audience with my presentation and demo. I rarely do that anymore preferring to go in with some information in a binder that I can refer to if needed and then just having a conversation. What I want is for the individual or group to let me know their problems, what they would like to do better in their business, and what is giving them a particular challenge right now. I then can discuss ways in which my company may be able to help them solve their problems and help them be more efficient.

I'm afraid many of our politicians are very good with a prepared speech and a quick soundbite to the reporter but not very good at listening. Town Hall meetings are supposed to be a discussion, correct? It is an opportunity for the politician to listen to their constituents, find out what is not working for them, their challenges, and discuss potential solutions with them. It is supposed to be a dialog. It appears that the congressmen and women have gone into these meetings like I used to go into sales meetings early in my career - prepared to "wow" us with their speech and knowledge. The issues of today are complex with many opinions and potential solutions. Congress needs a lesson in the art of listening to the voters. If they want to stay in office, they better start listening to the real frustration that is out there. People want their voices heard.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Scout Camp

I spent the last part of the week at Scout Camp with my Son. It was a beautiful setting on Silver Lake near the Canadian Border. The camp staff were great and the boys learned a lot of new skills including working alone on a difficult task and working together as a team. It was a great week well worth the expense and time away from work.

Lord Baden Powell started the Boy Scout program because he saw a need - a need to help boys grow up to be men with honor, a good work ethic, and skills to help them in life. The scouting program today is largely carried out by volunteers, men and women who devote their time to help these boys. There are a few paid staff but it is not a career for those who want to make a lot of money. There were several teenager boys and girls who basically ran the camp for the week teaching the merit badge classes, putting on the campfires, acting as guides for the troops, and serving the meals. They put in long hours for very little pay but had opportunities to develop leadership and management skills that will serve them well in the future.

I reflected on the great achievements of the scouting program with a relatively small budget. What would have happened if Lord Baden Powell would have decided that the best way to accomplish his desires was to have a government program that would help all boys? I'm sure in this day and age he would have found listening ears in the halls of Congress but if we left this up to Congress, I'm sure the results of the program would be far different. The program would be inefficient. would be bogged down by endless regulations, and would blame any failures on an inadequate budget.

The Scouting program is successful because it is run by people who have a sincere desire to help others. Unfortunately, most government programs, although often well intentioned, end up being vehicles for government to gain greater power and control. Our founders warned against this and established a system of limited government with checks and balances to make sure government did not become too big or wield too much power. I'm afraid we have drifted ever farther away from that ideal.

Our society has problems and if we let individuals and groups solve those problems, they will develop efficient methods and organizations to accomplish great things. We have come to rely on government too much to solve every problem in society. The danger with this is that many people do not step up to solve the problems because they expect government to do it. We also end up with solutions that are often worse than the original problems because they are inefficient and drift away from actually helping the people they were intended to assist. The programs simply become means for government to yield more power and influence. If government can get out of the way, American generosity and creativity will step up to solve our problems in innovative and efficient ways. Let's get back to limited government with limited powers and unleash the American spirit again to accomplish great things.