Thursday, October 28, 2010

What I Read Today - Thursday October 28, 2010

From: Our Daily Bread

Emergency Kit


Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. —Ephesians 6:13

For a dozen years, I took an auto emergency kit on every long driving trip but never had to use it. It became such a familiar item that on the night we really needed it, I forgot it was there. But fortunately my wife remembered.

After hitting a deer on a dark rural highway, our van was completely disabled. While I fumbled with a small flashlight to assess the damage and call a tow truck, my wife opened the emergency kit, set out a reflective warning marker, then turned on the bright flashlight, much to my surprise. Later we talked about how a crisis can cause us to forget the resources we have, just when we need them most.

Paul urged the Ephesians to “put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:11). This protective covering includes truth, righteousness, readiness, faith, salvation, and prayer (vv.14-18). Although these spiritual resources guard us each day, we need to remember them when disaster strikes and the enemy tries to undermine our confidence in God’s love and care.

Use the kit. “Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (v.13).

When Satan launches his attack,
We must take heart and pray;
If we submit ourselves to God,
He’ll be our strength and stay. —Sper

God provides the armor, but we must put it on.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What I Read Today - Wednesday October 27, 2010

From: The New York Times - Wednesday October 27, 2010

Can’t Keep a Bad Idea Down

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN


I confess, I find it dispiriting to read the polls and see candidates, mostly Republicans, leading in various midterm races while promoting many of the very same ideas that got us into this mess. Am I hearing right?

Let’s have more tax cuts, unlinked to any specific spending cuts and while we’re still fighting two wars — because that worked so well during the Bush years to make our economy strong and our deficit small. Let’s immediately cut government spending, instead of phasing cuts in gradually, while we’re still mired in a recession — because that worked so well in the Great Depression. Let’s roll back financial regulation — because we’ve learned from experience that Wall Street can police itself and average Americans will never have to bail it out.

Let’s have no limits on corporate campaign spending so oil and coal companies can more easily and anonymously strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its powers to limit pollution in the air our kids breathe. Let’s discriminate against gays and lesbians who want to join the military and fight for their country. Let’s restrict immigration, because, after all, we don’t live in a world where America’s most important competitive advantage is its ability to attract the world’s best brains. Let’s repeal our limited health care reform rather than see what works and then fix it. Let’s oppose the free-trade system that made us rich.

Let’s kowtow even more to public service unions so they’ll make even more money than private sector workers, so they’ll give even more money to Democrats who will give them even more generous pensions, so not only California and New York will go bankrupt but every other state too. Let’s pay for more tax cuts by uncovering waste I can’t identify, fraud I haven’t found and abuse that I’ll get back to you on later.

All that’s missing is any realistic diagnosis of where we are as a country and what we need to get back to sustainable growth. Actually, such a diagnosis has been done. A nonpartisan group of America’s most distinguished engineers, scientists, educators and industrialists unveiled just such a study in the midst of this campaign.

Here is the story: In 2005 our National Academies responded to a call from a bipartisan group of senators to recommend 10 actions the federal government could take to enhance science and technology so America could successfully compete in the 21st century. Their response was published in a study, spearheaded by the industrialist Norman Augustine, titled “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future.”

Charles M. Vest, the former M.I.T. president, worked on the study and noted in a speech recently that “Gathering Storm,” together with work by the Council on Competitiveness, led to the America Competes Act of 2007, which increased funding for the basic science research that underlies our industrial economy. Other recommendations, like improving K-12 science education, were not substantively addressed.

So, on Sept. 23, the same group released a follow-up report: “Rising Above the Gathering Storm Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5.” “The subtitle, ‘Rapidly Approaching Category 5,’ says it all,” noted Vest. “The committee’s conclusion is that ‘in spite of the efforts of both those in government and the private sector, the outlook for America to compete for quality jobs has further deteriorated over the past five years.’ ”

But I thought: “We’re number 1!”

“Here is a little dose of reality about where we actually rank today,” says Vest: sixth in global innovation-based competitiveness, but 40th in rate of change over the last decade; 11th among industrialized nations in the fraction of 25- to 34-year-olds who have graduated from high school; 16th in college completion rate; 22nd in broadband Internet access; 24th in life expectancy at birth; 27th among developed nations in the proportion of college students receiving degrees in science or engineering; 48th in quality of K-12 math and science education; and 29th in the number of mobile phones per 100 people.

“This is not a pretty picture, and it cannot be wished away,” said Vest. The study recommended a series of steps — some that President Obama has already initiated, some that still need Congress’s support — designed to increase America’s talent pool by vastly improving K-12 science and mathematics education, to reinforce long-term basic research, and to create the right tax and policy incentives so we can develop, recruit and retain the best and brightest students, scientists and engineers in the world. The goal is to make America the premier place to innovate and invest in innovation to create high-paying jobs.

You’ll have to Google it, though. The report hasn’t received 1/100th of the attention given to Juan Williams’s remarks on Muslims.

A dysfunctional political system is one that knows the right answers but can’t even discuss them rationally, let alone act on them, and one that devotes vastly more attention to cable TV preachers than to recommendations by its best scientists and engineers.

Monday, October 25, 2010

What I Read Today - Monday October 25, 2010

From: The New York Times

October 23, 2010


The Election That Wasn’t

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

In the past two weeks, I’ve taken the Amtrak Acela to the Philadelphia and New York stations. In both places there were signs on the train platforms boasting that new construction work there was being paid for by “the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009,” that is, the $787 billion stimulus. And what was that work? New “lighting” — so now you can see even better just how disgustingly decayed, undersized and outdated are the rail platforms and infrastructure in two of our biggest cities.

If we were a serious country, this is what the midterms would be about: How do we generate the jobs needed to sustain our middle class and pay for new infrastructure? It would require a different kind of politics — one that doesn’t conform to either party’s platform. We will have to raise some taxes to generate revenue, like on energy or maybe a value-added tax, and lower others, on payrolls to stimulate work, and on multinational corporations to get them to bring the trillion dollars they have offshore back to the U.S. for investment. We will have to adjust some services, like Social Security, while we invest in new infrastructure, like high-speed rail and Internet bandwidth; the U.S. ranks 22nd in the world in average connection speed. And, most of all, we will have to have an honest discussion about how we got in this rut.

How we got into this rut is no secret. We compensated for years of stagnating middle-class wages the easy way. Just as baseball players in the ’90s injected themselves with steroids to artificially build muscle to hit more home runs — instead of doing real bodybuilding — our two parties injected steroids, cheap credit, into Wall Street so it could go gambling and into Main Street so it could go home-buying. They both started hitting home runs, artificially — until the steroids ran dry. Now we have to rebuild America’s muscles the old-fashioned way.

How? In the short run, we’ll probably need more stimulus to get the economy moving again so people have the confidence to buy and invest. Ultimately, though, good jobs at scale come only when we create more products and services that make people’s lives more healthy, more productive, more secure, more comfortable or more entertained — and then sell them to more people around the world. And in a global economy, we have to create those products and services with a work force that is so well trained and productive that it can leverage modern technology so that one American can do the work of 20 Chinese and, therefore, get paid the same as 20 Chinese. There is no other way.

Sure, more countries can now compete with us. But that’s good. It means they’re also spawning new jobs, customers, ideas and industries where well-trained Americans can also compete. Fifteen years ago, there were no industries around Google “search” or “iPhone applications.” Today, both are a source of good jobs. More will be invented next year. There is no fixed number of jobs. We just have to make sure there is no fixed number of Americans to fill them — aided by good U.S. infrastructure and smart government incentives to attract these new industries to our shores.

But not everyone can write iPhone apps. What about your nurse, barber or waiter? Here I think Lawrence Katz, the Harvard University labor economist, has it right. Everyone today, he says, needs to think of himself as an “artisan” — the term used before mass manufacturing to apply to people who made things or provided services with a distinctive touch in which they took personal pride. Everyone today has to be an artisan and bring something extra to their jobs.

For instance, says Katz, the baby boomers are aging, which will spawn many health care jobs. Those jobs can be done in a low-skilled way by cheap foreign workers and less-educated Americans or they can be done by skilled labor that is trained to give the elderly a better physical and psychological quality of life. The first will earn McWages. The second will be in high demand. The same is true for the salesperson who combines passion with a deep knowledge of fashion trends, the photo-store clerk who can teach you new tricks with your digital camera while the machine prints your film, and the pharmacist who doesn’t just sell pills but learns to relate to customer health needs in more compassionate and informative ways. They will all do fine.

But just doing your job in an average way — in this integrated and automated global economy — will lead to below-average wages. Sadly, average is over. We’re in the age of “extra,” and everyone has to figure out what extra they can add to their work to justify being paid more than a computer, a Chinese worker or a day laborer. “People will always need haircuts and health care,” says Katz, “and you can do that with low-wage labor or with people who acquire a lot of skills and pride and bring their imagination to do creative and customized things.” Their work will be more meaningful and their customers more satisfied.

Government’s job is to help inspire, educate, enable and protect that work force. This election should have been about how.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What I Read Today - Wednesday October 20, 2010

From: The New York Times

Just Knock It Off

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN


Some of Israel’s worst critics are fond of saying that Israel behaves like America’s spoiled child. I’ve always found that analogy excessive. Say what you want about Israel’s obstinacy at times, it remains the only country in the United Nations that another U.N. member, Iran, has openly expressed the hope that it be wiped off the map. And that same country, Iran, is trying to build a nuclear weapon. Israel is the only country I know of in the Middle East that has unilaterally withdrawn from territory conquered in war — in Lebanon and Gaza — only to be greeted with unprovoked rocket attacks in return. Indeed, if you want to talk about spoiled children, there is no group more spoiled by Iran and Syria than Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia. Hezbollah started a war against Israel in 2006 that brought death, injury and destruction to thousands of Lebanese — and Hezbollah’s punishment was to be rewarded with thousands more missiles and millions more dollars to do it again. These are stubborn facts.

And here’s another stubborn fact: Israel today really is behaving like a spoiled child.

Please spare me the nonsense that President Obama is anti-Israel. At a time when the president has made it one of his top priorities to build a global coalition to stop Iran from making a nuclear weapon, he took the very logical view that if he could advance the peace process in the Middle East it would give him much greater leverage to get the Europeans and U.N. behind tougher sanctions on Iran. At the same time, Obama believed — what a majority of Israelis believe — that Israel can’t remain a Jewish democracy in the long run if it continues to control 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank.

On top of it all, while pressing Israel to stop expanding settlements for as little as 60 days, Obama ordered his vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. James E. “Hoss” Cartwright of the Marines, to lead a U.S. team to work with Israel’s military on an unprecedented package of security assistance to enable Israel to maintain its “qualitative edge” over its neighbors. And, for all this, Obama is decried as anti-Israel. What utter nonsense.

Given what Obama has done, and is trying to do, it is hardly an act of hostility for him to ask Israel to continue its now-expired 10-month partial moratorium on settlement-building in the West Bank in order to take away any excuse from the Palestinians to avoid peace talks. Israel’s prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, has been either resisting this request or demanding a payoff from the U.S. for a brief continuation of the freeze. He is wrong on two counts.

First — I know this is a crazy, radical idea — when America asks Israel to do something that in no way touches on its vital security but would actually enhance it, there is only one right answer: “Yes.” It is a measure of how spoiled Israel has become that after billions and billions of dollars in U.S. aid and 300,000 settlers already ensconced in the West Bank, Israel feels no compunction about spurning an American request for a longer settlement freeze — the only purpose of which is to help the United States help Israel reach a secure peace with the Palestinians. Just one time you would like Israel to say, “You know, Mr. President, we’re dubious that a continued settlement freeze will have an impact. But you think it will, so, let’s test it. This one’s for you.”

Yes, I know, Netanyahu says that if he did that then the far right-wingers in his cabinet would walk out. He knows he can’t make peace with some of the lunatics in his cabinet, but he tells the U.S. that he only wants to blow up his cabinet once — for a deal. But we will never get to that stage if he doesn’t blow it up now and construct a centrist coalition that can negotiate a deal.

Second, I have no idea whether the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, has the will and the guts to make peace with Israel. In fact, when you go back and look at what Ehud Olmert, Netanyahu’s predecessor, offered Abbas — a real two-state compromise, including a deal on Jerusalem — and you think that Abbas spurned that offer, and you think that Netanyahu already gave Abbas a 10-month settlement freeze and Abbas only entered serious talks in the ninth month, you have to wonder how committed he is.

But the fact is that the team of Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have built a government that is the best the Palestinians have ever had, and, more importantly, a Palestinian security apparatus that the Israeli military respects and is acting as a real partner. Given this, Israel has an overwhelming interest to really test — that is all we can ask — whether this Palestinian leadership is ready for a fair and mutually secure two-state solution.

That test is something the U.S. should not have to beg or bribe Israel to generate. This moment is not about Obama. He’s doing his job. It is about whether the Israeli and Palestinian leaders are up to theirs. Abbas is weak and acts weaker. Netanyahu is strong and acts weak. It is time for both to step it up. And it is time for all the outsiders who spoil them to find another hobby.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What I Read Today - Monday October 18, 2010

From:  The New York Times - Monday October 18, 2010

The Wars That America Forgot About

By TOM BROKAW


McLeod, Mont.

IN what promises to be the most contentious midterm election since 1994, there is no shortage of passion about big issues facing the country: the place and nature of the federal government in America’s future; public debt; jobs; health care; the influence of special interests; and the role of populist movements like the Tea Party.

In nearly every Congressional and Senate race, these are the issues that explode into attack ads, score points in debates and light up cable talk shows. In poll after poll, these are the issues that voters say are most important to them this year.

Notice anything missing on the campaign landscape?

How about war? The United States is now in its ninth year of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the longest wars in American history. Almost 5,000 men and women have been killed. More than 30,000 have been wounded, some so gravely they’re returning home to become, effectively, wards of their families and communities.

In those nine years, the United States has spent more than $1 trillion on combat operations and other parts of the war effort, including foreign aid, reconstruction projects, embassy costs and veterans’ health care. And the end is not in sight.

So why aren’t the wars and their human and economic consequences front and center in this campaign, right up there with jobs and taxes?

The answer is very likely that the vast majority of Americans wake up every day worrying, with good reason, about their economic security, but they can opt out of the call to arms. Unless they are enlisted in the armed services — or have a family member who has stepped forward — nothing much is asked of them in the war effort.

The all-volunteer uniformed services now represent less than 1 percent of the American population, but they’re carrying 100 percent of the battle. It’s not unusual to meet an Army infantryman or Marine who has served multiple tours in Iraq and/or Afghanistan.

Moreover, the majority of those in uniform come from working-class or middle-class backgrounds. The National Guard units and reserve forces that have been called up, some for more than one tour, draw heavily on first responders, as well as farm, factory and service workers.

Their families live in their own war zone. At a recent Minnesota event for military families, I heard Annette Kuyper, the mother of a National Guardsman who had an extended deployment in Iraq, describe how she and other Guard mothers changed their lives while their children were in harm’s way. “We close the blinds on the windows overlooking the driveway,” she said, “so we don’t see the Army vehicle arriving with a chaplain bearing the unbearable news.”

This woman’s son returned safely, but too many do not. As the campaign season careens to an end, military funerals will be held in country burial grounds, big city graveyards and at Arlington National Cemetery. Military families will keep the blinds closed on the windows facing the driveway.

While campaigns trade shouts of witchcraft, socialism, greed, radicalism (on both sides), warriors and their families have a right to ask, “What about us?” If this is an election about a new direction for the country, why doesn’t some candidate speak up for equal sacrifice on the home front as well as the front lines?

This is not just about military families, as important as they are. We all would benefit from a campaign that engaged the vexing question of what happens next in the long and so far unresolved effort to deal with Islamic rage.

No decision is more important than committing a nation to war. It is, as politicians like to say, about our blood and treasure. Surely blood and treasure are worthy of more attention than they’ve been getting in this campaign.

Tom Brokaw, a special correspondent for NBC News, is the author, most recently, of “Boom! Talking About the ’60s.”

Friday, October 15, 2010

What I Read Today - Friday October 15, 2010

From:  Our Daily Bread

Make It Known


God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. —Romans 5:8

Isaiah 45-46; 1 Thessalonians 3I told my doctor who is an agnostic that he should be glad God created us. Seeing a needle in his hands, I wondered, Perhaps I should keep quiet. But I added, “If we are still evolving, then you wouldn’t know the exact spots to place those needles.” He asked, “Do you really believe in God?” I replied, “Of course. Aren’t we intricately made?” I was thankful for this opportunity to begin to witness to my doctor.

In today’s Bible reading, Paul charged Timothy to point people to the Savior. “Preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2) is not addressed only to preachers, however. The word preach means “to make it known.” God’s people can do this over a cup of coffee or in school with friends. We can make known the good news of what God has done for us wherever, whenever, and to anyone who is open and seeking. We can let them know that God loves us and sees our hurts, failures, and weaknesses. Through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, God broke the stranglehold of sin over us. And to all those who will open their heart to the Savior, He will come to live in them.

Let’s not be afraid to make known what God has done for us.

We who rejoice to know You
Renew before Your throne
The solemn pledge we owe You—
To go and make You known. —Houghton

Sharing the gospel is one person telling another good news

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

What I Read Today - Wednesday October 13, 2010

From:  The New York Times

October 12, 2010


Build ’Em and They’ll Come

By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

Kishore Mahbubani, the dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, is over for tea and I am telling him about what I consider to be the most exciting, moon-shot-quality, high-aspiration initiative proposed by President Obama that no one has heard of. It’s a plan to set up eight innovation hubs to solve the eight biggest energy problems in the world. But I explain that the program has not been fully funded yet because Congress, concerned about every dime we spend these days, is reluctant to appropriate the full $25 million for each center, let alone for all eight at once, so only three are moving ahead. But Kishore interrupts me midsentence.

“You mean billion,” he asks? “No,” I say. “We’re talking about $25 million.” “Billion,” he repeats. “No. Million,” I insist.

The Singaporean is aghast. He simply can’t believe that at a time when his little city-state has invested more than a billion dollars to make Singapore a biomedical science hub and attract the world’s best talent, America is debating about spending mere millions on game-changing energy research.

Welcome to Tea Party America. Think small and carry a big ego.

This may seem like a little issue, but it is not. Nations thrive or languish usually not because of one big bad decision, but because of thousands of small bad ones — decisions where priorities get lost and resources misallocated so that the nation’s full potential can’t be nurtured and it ends up being less than the sum of its parts. That is my worry for America.

But none of this is inevitable. So let’s start with the good news: a shout-out for Obama’s energy, science and technology team for thinking big. Soon after taking office, they proposed what Energy Secretary Steven Chu calls “a series of mini-Manhattan projects.” In the fiscal year 2010 budget, the Department of Energy requested financing for “Energy Innovation Hubs” in eight areas: smart grid, solar electricity, carbon capture and storage, extreme materials, batteries and energy storage, energy efficient buildings, nuclear energy, and fuels from sunlight.

In each area, universities, national labs and private industry were invited to put together teams of their best scientists and research ideas to win $25 million a year for five years, to, as Chu put it, “accelerate the normal progress of science and technology for energy research” and thereby “discover and commercialize the energy breakthroughs we need” and thereby spawn new jobs and industries.

So far Congress has appropriated partial funding — “up to $22 million” but probably less — for three of these hubs for one year. So Penn State and two national labs will develop energy efficient building designs. Oak Ridge National Laboratory will lead a team to model new nuclear reactors, and the California Institute of Technology and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory will work on revolutionary ways to generate fuels from sunlight. Chu is now trying to persuade Congress to finance those three again for 2011, as well as at least one more: batteries.

In my view, Congress should be funding all eight right now for five years — $1 billion — so that we not only get graduate students, knowing the research money is there, flocking to these new energy fields but we get the benefit of all these scientists collaborating and cross-fertilizing.

Chu, who holds a Nobel Prize in physics, says he understands and respects that Congress has to make tough budgeting choices today, so I cannot get him to utter one word of criticism about our lawmakers’ spending priorities. But he waxes eloquent about what it would mean for American innovation if we could actually fully pay for this focused moon shot on energy.

The idea behind the hubs, explained Chu, is to “capture the same spirit” that produced radar and the first nuclear bomb. That is, “get Nobel Prize winners in physics working side by side with engineers” — not to produce an academic paper but “to solve a problem in a way that will actually be deployed” and do it much faster than the traditional academic model of everyone working in their own silo.

“We don’t want incremental improvements,” said Chu. “We want real leaps — game-changing” breakthroughs — like a 75 percent reduction in energy used in a commercial building through affordable design and software improvements. “America has shown we can do this,” concluded Chu. “The scientists and engineers see the problem; they see the opportunity; they see what is at stake, and they want to help.” That is why we should fully fund all eight now.

All of this reminds me of my favorite business quote from a consultant who had worked for the German technology giant, Siemens. He said: “If Siemens only knew what Siemens knows, it would be a rich company.” Ditto America. We still have all the right stuff. The president’s instinct to push out the boundaries of energy science is spot on, but Congress has to think big, too, and help unlock and scale everything that America knows. Please, please: Stop lavishing money on repaving old roads and pinching pennies when it comes to pioneering new frontiers.