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Merriam-Webster defines offend as: “to cause (a person or group) to feel hurt, angry, or upset by something said or done”.  Over the past few months, you saw stories of Christmas being “banned” from a variety of public places – Christmas trees being re-labeled as Holiday trees, and many stores and businesses afraid to even say Merry Christmas.  All of this in the name of being sensitive to others – not to offend people.  What is it specifically about Christmas that hurts someone, makes someone feel angry, or upsets them?  Does the celebration or observance of the “birth” of a historical figure upset you, hurt you, make you feel angry?  Is it the deeper meaning of what this observance stands for – that a large number of people believe this historical figure is the Son of God?  Merriam-Webster goes on to further define offend as:  “to be unpleasant to (someone or something)”.  Could all the decorations that have become a tradition of Christmas be unpleasant?  Or could it be this alternative meaning: “to do wrong : to be against what people believe is acceptable or proper”.  I’m certain this version might apply – that someone who does not believe in what Christmas stands for finds all of this celebrating unacceptable or improper.

One of the fabulous things about America is our freedom – our ability to live our lives as we choose, believe what we want to.  OK – but there is some framework around this freedom – the laws that a free society agrees upon to keep order – like not stealing , killing, etc.  For the most part, these laws follow from a set of morals passed on by tradition.  Our Bill of Rights outlines what our founding fathers found important enough, creating this document to support our freedom.  Freedom allows us to believe in and celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or nothing.  I choose to be a Christian (Episcopalian) and celebrate Christmas (and other religious “feast” days).  I celebrate in private or with a congregation – and I may decorate my home with lights in December.  I do this because I live in a country that provides me the  freedom to do so.  I do NOT do this to hurt, anger, or upset anyone.  If someone is hurt, angered, or upset by this, then they have chosen to be upset – yes, chosen to be.  Now – if you  attempt to ban some celebration because someone is choosing to be offended – then you are interfering in my right to free expression of religion – you are suppressing freedom!

Oh – but what about separation of Church and state – you can’t celebrate Christmas in a public school – or in a public square…. Lawyers and legal scholars will argue what our first amendment really intended – and the lawyer who can explain this in the most elegant manner might convince us this really means you really shouldn’t pray before a local government meeting, or the ten commandments shouldn’t be posted in a school – but if you read the words:

From Wikipedia:  “The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. It was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights.”

Prohibits the making of any law – either respecting an establishment of religion – or – impeding the free exercise of religion.  How does a prayer said before a government meeting violate this?  What law was made?  The founding fathers did not want a repeat of the control the Church of England had over the government.  It also provides all of us the right to be free to exercise our religious beliefs.

America – as a melting pot of many cultures should rise above the fray and embrace ALL of the richness we as a country are blessed with.  I personally enjoy learning about other cultures, religions and the traditions that accompany them.  I am not offended by someone who embraces a different belief – it expands me as a human being to learn about other traditions and beliefs – it does not offend me.  It also doesn’t change what I believe. I imagine that many people who are either for or against Christmas celebrations even understand how these traditions came about – about the origins of Christmas celebrations – or even about how our current celebrations were “created” in America.  For the curious – here’s a link to a relatively brief history lesson on Christmas.

I am offended when someone purposefully tries to hurt me – physically –  in the name of their religion or belief, as we all should be.  However,  people who are quick to choose being “offended” by a Christmas song should instead, try this, (Merriam-Webster helps out again): Respect, “to act in a way which shows that you are aware of (someone’s rights, wishes, etc.)”  Let’s respect others beliefs – but not at the sacrifice of our own.  Let us embrace the richness of our diversity and celebrate our freedom.  Let us share our cultures and traditions – not to change, but to understand.  Let us be open and learn – especially with our children – and not shut them out – don’t make understanding others beliefs taboo.

Let’s make 2014 the year of Respect!

Government Out of Control

The ACA Healthcare.org site roll out is an excellent example of why the government is not equipped to manage projects of this nature.  It also is a clear example of mis-management at multiple levels all the way to the top – a result of an inexperienced manager at the helm of our country.  Let’s not argue about the merits of the ACA, or even the lies perpetuated by this administration about keeping your plan – Let’s look at the hard-earned tax dollars wasted in a system that had to be redesigned and reworked because it wasn’t managed properly.  This is why many Americans are so angry, so frustrated with the government’s addiction to spending money the government does not have.  It’s not just the debacle of the ACA, but there are all sorts of wasted activities within the federal government – perpetuated by both democrats and republicans.  This lack of fiscal responsibility led to the birth of the Tea Party – which is seen as so far to the right they are viewed as radicals.  The United States Government MUST stop spending beyond its means.  My biggest frustration and my biggest concern is with the scale of money being spent, the associated waste is significant.

So – let’s consider this – can we all agree that regardless if we believe in a larger government serving more social needs, or smaller less intrusive government that this government should run efficiently and effectively?  I’m sure when you spend your money, you don’t want to waste it on poor quality goods, or receive shoddy services.  You typically are careful when and where you spend your money, and plan out larger expenditures.  You borrow occasionally, but strive to reduce your outstanding debt.

When our government grows to the point where it gets too large, it becomes extremely difficult to keep waste in check.  This just snowballs to the point of continually feeding the monster with more money.  Cuts no longer mean less, they mean just not as much more.  Our government – through decades of mismanagement has become increasingly less efficient.  Regardless of your social and political beliefs, even a larger government should still run efficiently.  The government is so dysfunctional today, is there any hope?

To truly turn this country around, to get people back to work, to improve our education system, to reduce poverty levels, to raise our standing in the world – we need to get our house in order (House, Senate, and 1600 Pennsylvania Ave).  There is no need to tax more (need to tax less), there is no need to create massive government programs – what we need to do is cut waste, refine government programs, and improve efficiency.  I’m convinced that if we pooled our business intelligence, and applied simple process improvement tools, the government could operate with significantly less money while performing the same level of services it does today.  What we need today is a leader who challenges those who were elected and work for us to improve how government operates so it can do more with less.  And we need politicians to STOP promising what they can not deliver – to STOP promising “free lunches”, and challenge the people of this great country to take charge of there lives – government can be there to give them a hand up – not just a perpetual hand out!

Cuts – Really?

Tis but thy name that is my enemy; Thou art thyself, though not a Cut. What’s Cut? it is nor increase, nor growth,  nor upsurge, nor intensification, nor any other part belonging to a government. O, be some other name!  What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet; So Sequester would, were he not Sequester call’d, Retain that dear perfection which he owes without that title. Sequester, doff thy name, and for that name which is no part of thee tax all myself.

Alas, I’m so confused – numbers are being thrown around, tours being cancelled, parks closed, furloughs promised, carriers docked.  I see “stuff” being cancelled and blamed on the sequester, but what are the realities here?  A cut of say $200,000,000, from what?  A 5% cut in this program – from what?  I have a current program that is currently operating, delivering services for $1000 – now, my next fiscal budget is going to be $1100 (10% increase), this increase is to cover expanded/new services, as well as additional costs to operate – but this nasty sequester cuts my proposed increase to only 5%.  Does that mean I now stop everything I’ve been doing because I’ve had this 5% “cut” in spending?  Or does it mean I postpone incorporating new services, or look at ways to improve the efficiency of my service?

The politics of our government is distorting the real issues we face – and this is dangerous.  Creating fear through misinformation confuses everyone and makes it difficult to have a real debate on the issues at hand.  It would be nice to have a real understanding, a picture that honestly describes what is being actually cut, and cut from exactly what – and is it a cut if it still is increased, just increased less? Come on – we can handle the truth!  In business, when revenues dip, we make decisions to reduce spending – we start by reducing overtime, or by curtailing travel – we look for waste in processes – we find ways of continuing to improve services with less.  Let’s just say, If the President wanted to, he could have eliminated just one trip on Air Force 1 and saved enough money to leave the White House tours to continue without interruption – pure politics.

The Campaign is Over!

As I began to write this post – I found myself writing an open letter to the President – here’s what I’d say:

Mr. President, your campaign is over.  You ran a well run campaign, demonized a good man, fired up your supporters, and won an election some might say was against the odds, given your record.  Some might even say your supporters went a bit overboard (as in the Hamilton County, Ohio voter who was proud to get to vote for you multiple times).  You received significantly more votes than did Mitt Romney, but it was not a landslide (you really only received about 29% of the vote based on the total eligible voters – not just those who came out to cast a ballot).   But you did win, and you now are the people’s President – including mine.  As an American, I appreciate the differences in this vast land that builds our character – who we are.  There are many views that mix all together and make this country great.  But I have a problem Mr. President – I’m concerned that there is much hard work to do to help make this country remain the exceptional nation it has always been – and yet you choose to continue campaigning, rather than lead.

Remember Mr. President – you were elected as the President of the United States, serving the people of these United States – NOT, as it seems of recent, just those who voted for you (remember, only 29% of the country).  While I’m perfectly fine with your need to rile up support from your party in an attempt to win an election, now that you have won, it is time to serve ALL the people.  Of course this is not an easy thing to do – you must listen to others views, thoughtfully consider these, and weave them into how you lead the nation.  It means rolling up your sleeves, facilitating rigorous discussion, and compromising on your views, considering your ideas might not be the best approach.  Leading this nation based on fear and one-sided thinking is hurting our country – one we both love and care for.  Always placing blame on others is not leadership – it is “victimship”.

The Sequestration was an idea you pushed for – thinking these indiscriminate cuts would drive both parties to work hard to avoid them – Congress bought into the idea – sure it was the “easy” thing to do – pass a bill saying if we can’t figure this out over the next 12 or so months, these nasty tax hikes and cuts will automatically go into effect – kind of like MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction).  But what did YOU do to help drive a solution that would solve this problem – well, OK  you were busy getting reelected.  When it was time for America to go over the “fiscal  cliff”, everyone kicked the can down the road a few more months.  You already won the election, so it was your time to lead the country – to take republican and democratic leaders and bring them together (why not a great week at Camp David).  Facilitate a discussion to identify common ground, compromise on certain principles, and develop a solution that addresses ALL American views.  Do this hard work to reform tax code, reform entitlements, find ways to make the government operate more efficiently – do even more with less (it can be done).

As my President, that is what I expect you to do.  Under NO circumstances do I want you to take a partisan approach to solving our nations problems, and then spend my money to run around in perpetual campaign mode, trying to convince those you’ve pushed away that it’s your way, or the world collapses.  If you want the government to take a bigger role then its supposed to do – then find ways to do it that will reduce our spending.  As my President, I expect you to bring this country together to solve our problems, to protect our interests, and to be a good steward of OUR money.

Mr. President, I’m disappointed in your leadership skills, your ability to understand our economy, your lack of business skills, your lack of concern about the views of a significant portion of this country that you should be listening to, and your inability to bring congress together to solve the challenges we face.  In the remaining years of your last term, I pray you find the wisdom to correct your shortcomings and the strength to face the tough challenges head on.  Creating and environment of fear, and then blaming someone else for this fear is simply immoral.

Best regards,

A Concerned American

The State of the Union was last night – this is a great American tradition, where the President gets to address both chambers of congress and tout successes in the previous year and layout plans for the future.  The current President, Barack, took his turn to fulfill this legal requirement.  Barack is definitely one who can deliver a smooth oration.  He comes across well in this environment.  But I’m not sure he has any comprehension of reality.  Let’s start at the beginning, with a slight distortion – 6.1 millions jobs created – counted starting after the peak of job losses (Feb 2010) – If you consider during his entire watch, only about 1.9 million jobs have been added.  Obama talked about gas mileage in cars having doubled – well, not yet – won’t happen for another 17 years.  But, lets’ not worry about this spin.  What is more troubling is  all of the new programs the President proposed – oh and it’s not going to add a single dime to the deficit.  What about reducing the deficit – why are trillion plus dollar deficits not worth having a serious discussion on?  We must begin to take a comprehensive look at everything the government spends money on – EVERY THING – including “entitlements”.  We can not sustain continued deficits and ever rising debt ceiling.  The sequester – the President’s idea –  is a childish way to have the government do what the people expect it to do.  Obama and the Senate have failed for 4 straight years to produce a responsible budget – any budget at all.  It’s time to stop spending any more money – proposing any new programs and figure out what truly is and isn’t working.  The word CUT needs to truly mean cut and not just reduce the growth rate.  It is possible to actually improve some programs at the same time you are reducing the cost of the program.  Focus on reducing waste, duplication, and fraud in government programs and we’ll find ways to bring down the deficit.  Yes – some of the issues we face today are due to a sluggish economy and the drop in tax revenue that brings – but let’s encourage the private sector to get things revved up.  Accelerating private sector growth will drive revenue to help in deficit reduction.  Increasing tax rates is counter productive – although some tax reform is in order.

Alternative energy investment should be considered carefully – while global climate change occurs as part of a cyclic phenomenon, it is unclear how mankind can make significant impact to this cycle.  We should not be pouring in tax dollars chasing a theory.  Instead – get Keystone online, continue to reduce dependency on foreign oil, and make investments that make sense in alternative energy.  I’m just wondering what will happen to all the batteries we’ll need to dispose of on all of these electric vehicles?  More money for preschool education – noble idea, but there are studies that show earlier learning opportunities may not contribute to improvements in the later years – but improvements in our current elementary schools will – but that doesn’t mean spend more money necessarily – make elementary school learning more effective – and hold schools accountable for results.

Stop spending, roll up our sleeves, and do the hard work worthy of a congressman, a senator, a president.  President Obama – you were elected for a second term based on misrepresentations and hollow promises – but you have won.  Stop campaigning and start learning how to be a leader, not just a community organizer – Our country is much bigger than that, and the risk of failure is much greater.  You need to put aside your philosophical approach and get down to real facts and worthy bipartisan solutions.  The State of our Union is NOT strong as you suggest – it is in a state of polarization and the time has come to bring this country together – or, with all due respect,  get out of the way and let someone take over who can.

First of all – Happy New Year!  We survived the end of the world (Dec 21, 2012), and now have been led to the edge of the cliff, had one leg and one arm over it, and then were pulled back.  But did we really?  If you really look at what we’ve accomplished – I’d say it amounts to about nothing, especially when it comes to spending.  The reality of the situation is we actually jumped off the cliff on November 6th.

Much to the false claims of Obama – taxes will be going up on at least 77% of all Americans (not just the 1%.  Obamacare is laden with hidden taxes here and there.  The balanced approach Obama speaks of must mean that for every additional cent he can grab in revenue, he’ll balance that with a cent of increased spending – to hell with the 16 trillion we owe.  Now that he has been re-elected, he can exert his will to accomplish his far left ideology – destroying the country as we know it.

This country has a spending problem – not just a little problem, but an enormous problem.  WE MUST STOP SPENDING!  We can not afford to continue to allow every government program, including entitlements to continue to grow willy nilly. The government – ALL of it, needs to redefine what the word “cut” means, what “balance” means, and what “debt” means.  Reducing the rate of growth in spending is NOT the same as cutting spending.  This madness must stop.

The President has little comprehension of leadership, which has led to the most divisive congress I’ve seen in my lifetime.  The buck stops with him and how he handles leadership.  Our country failed to elect a leader – it instead chose a crafty politician who is putting his own radical ideas into play, rather than providing the leadership this country so desperately needs.  Leadership of all Americans – that means it is important for the President to work diligently to lead both parties to work together – bringing together good ideas from both sides and blending them into solutions that work for all.

We have a spending problem – you fix a spending problem by looking at ways to eliminate waste, refine processes to improve efficiency, and by driving continuous improvements.  That does not mean that services must be eliminated or even reduced – just executed more efficiently.  We have a spending problem – freeze all levels of spending at some baseline rate – be it 2008, or even 2010 levels (and remove unusual one time expenditures – like wars).  Now – do everything possible to maintain or increase the levels of services based on this baseline amount – I guarantee you that waste and other inefficiencies will be found, and more can be done with less.  This is the attitude our entire congress must adopt.  That is what a leader would do – take on the real problem head on – not just add to it.  If our government was a business, the board of directors would have ousted the entire lot and brought in new blood to get the job done.  Unfortunately, emotions and blatant misinformation has led America to already jump off the cliff.

Fiscal Cliff High Dive

I’m not sure what has been going on around Washington DC of late, especially in the back rooms were all the heavy negotiation is going on, but it’s clear what President Obama wants.  Obama does not seem to be seriously negotiating for anything.  He has been dangling offers here and there, attempting to portray he wants to compromise – but there is no indication he’s negotiating seriously.  But Why?  He doesn’t want the country to drive off the cliff – does he?  Let’s think about this – hmmmm, significant cuts in defense spending, tax increases for all – more revenue to spend…AND, he can blame the Republicans for the mess it creates.  Democrats have wanted to reduce defense spending for years, and think of what they could do with all the additional revenue – more programs to deploy to get more Americans dependent on the government.  But what about a second recession?  Well, first, it’s all the republicans fault anyway – and it’ll run its course before the next election cycle, doing no harm to democrats in office.  This is the democrats best chance to cut defense and have the blame fall on the republicans.

It is clear there is little interest at this point to solve the economic crisis we face – the crisis is government spending.  The crisis is also related to the beliefs in congress of the meaning of the word “cut”.  Merriam-Webster defines “cut” as “reduce amount”.  In congress, this really means, “reduce growth”.  BUT, then, Pelosi goes out and claims these so-called “cuts” are now going to take food out of children’s mouths…UUGGHHHH!  We have a bunch of spending addicts in Washington – and no one who knows what work must be done to reduce spending, improve efficiencies, reduce waste, and drive economic expansion.

When will the political posturing end!

What is Wrong With US?

What has happened to America’s values?  Why do we have such divisive political campaigns, why do Union members physically attack other Americans who have different views, why is there so much hate in people’s hearts.  I know the love is there though – I see it when America is tested – after 9/11, after the shootings at Virginia Tech, and again now after Newtown.  Americans are a good lot, but for some reason, we keep it hidden.  I feel part of what this country has lost is an identity – Political Correctness has led us to be oversensitive of our beliefs.  We have become afraid to just be Americans – as it may offend someone…  Constructive debate is healthy, having fun is healthy, winning is a good thing, competition drives excellence.  So – we have little league teams that don’t count the score, we rarely have actual debates where complex issues are argued in more than just sound bites, we vilify the successful.  More importantly – we have failed each other when we are not well – mentally. Our evening entertainment on most networks has turned into nothing but trash, our electronic world is filled with ultra realistic killing games.  It’s not all bad news, there are shining examples of virtuous, tasteful, and clever entertainment.  What has happened to our value system, our identity as an exceptional nation.  I thought I might take the Boy Scout Law and identify what America needs to do to get back on track…

Trustworthy – Always seek and speak the truth, the whole truth – don’t hide the truth, or act unless the whole truth is understood.

Loyal – Stand up for your friends and allies – but being loyal goes two ways – don’t let you friends and allies down.

Helpful – Help those who can not help themselves – or need a hand to lift them back up, be generous with that help.

Friendly – Embrace others, their culture, their uniqueness, while sharing your own.

Courteous – Open a door for a stranger, thank someone, say please.

Kind – Care for each other, including our animal friends.

Obedient – Abide by the laws, but also be disciplined in your values.

Cheerful – Laugh, smile, help others to laugh and enjoy life.

Thrifty – Use your resources wisely – Money, time, talent.

Brave – Stand up for your values, don’t be afraid to take up the gauntlet and do what needs to be done.

Clean – Keep yourself clean – physically and mentally.  Keep your environment clean.

Reverent – Have faith – Have humility.  While this is a personal choice, I chose to believe in God.

What if we all would abide by this law – we seem bent on throwing out the 10 Commandments.  America needs to stand up and again establish an identity – through how we conduct our foreign affairs, with our own resources, with how we entertain and enjoy life.  All American should consider this simple law and take up the responsibility to follow it.  America needs to allow itself to dream again – to invent the future, a bright future.

So, are you with US?

Consequences

So this is what we get – this is what America chose – What were we thinking?  The election is over and the business of running the country is at hand.  However, the consequence of choosing a professional campaigner is now leading us to the edge of the “fiscal cliff”.  The problem is simple, the decisions that need to be made are difficult, and it takes a real leader to be able to pull this together in a way that will bring us back from the brink.  Negotiating by being completely intransient is, well, just obtuse.  So Obama sends his lap dog Geithner into negotiate with Boehner and delivers a proposal which in essence is dead on arrival, a plan similar to what not a single democrat in the House or Senate would approve – but OK – a starting point.  Boehner then submits a counter offer, which is a more reasonable offer with some compromises on the revenue side – but the President quickly rejects and stands pat on the position of increasing tax rates on the wealthy.  Not that anyone expected Obama to accept with open arms. So what does Obama do – CAMPAIGN (see previous post – President or Perpetual Campaigner).  First a photo-op with Mitt (see I’m reaching out), then a Twitter feed (tell us how a $2000 tax increase will hurt your family), then a campaign stop at a toy factory (wait – I thought the campaign was over) – Are ads next?  That is NOT leadership.  This country is not in very good fiscal shape and we needed a leader who would use his skills and talent to bring both democrat and republican to the table – to hash out ideas, figure out a solution both sides could work with.  Make the hard decisions to accept compromise, even on fundamental campaign promises.

So here are a few suggestions Mr. President.  First – bring together key leadership from the House and Senate, from both parties.  Go to Camp David, or other suitable quiet location, with zero press corps, take away cell phones, and limit contact to the outside world (meaning  lobbyists).  Second – spend the first two days developing a clear problem statement (no discussion of solutions).  It might go something like this – Government is spending too much money, government has efficiency issues, the government has specific obligations it must uphold…something along those lines.  Third – invite  several successful businessmen or women (try to keep a good mix of political affiliations) to the party to participate in identifying some clear goals.  Keep them high level – like… need to generate x billion in revenue, reduce spending by y billion – put time limits on it.  NOW, brainstorm on ideas – again, reject nothing – spend a day on this – keep the ideas in categories – revenue ideas, spending reduction ideas.  Assign values to the ideas.  Use the business folks to run some sanity checks on the ideas and the values assigned.

OK – we are about 4 days into this process.  Next comes the fun part – separate into mixed teams of 6 or 7 (democrats, republicans, businessmen on each team)  Give them 24 hours to take all of the ideas presented, with the values agreed and develop a proposal they will have to defend as a team.  Pick enough from the revenue column, and spending savings column to equal the agreed goal numbers.  I’m assuming you might have three or four teams.  At the end of the 24 hour period, they come back together and present the solution to the entire group.  Then everyone gets to, by secret ballot,  force rank these solutions – then choose the highest ranked solution.  Bring this back to the full House and Senate and hash out details, put into lawyer speak – crisis averted.

What is that – one week?  Please tell me WHY that approach wouldn’t work?  Think about it…

America’s Loss

Well, it’s over – the incessant negative ads, the robo-calls, the debates and all of the spin.  All said and done, Barack Obama pulled off a win by playing a politically savvy ground game.  I’m disappointed  to say the least, as I really believe our country just got it wrong.  It seems as though the country was just to lazy to make the tough choice and move in a direction where hard decisions and hard work would bring back America’s greatness.  In essence, the country was left in a condition on November 7th it was in on November 5th.  A divided congress and a community organizer in control.  I guess that was just the easy choice?  Barack took the job of Commander-in-Chief four years ago with little to no experience in business, foreign policy, or leadership.  Four years later, well, you can see what lack of experience gives you as the days and weeks after the election bear the fruit of our choice.  The hidden scandals, the Benghazi story of the week, the mess in Egypt and the Middle East, and it goes on and on…

Do I sound bitter?  Maybe, but my biggest disappointment of all is the missed opportunity America had within its grasp to have a genuine leader in the White House.  Was Mitt the most slick politician? The most skillful debater? Was he the one with the all the best solutions?  I think we could agree the answers to those questions are probably a no.  The thing is, Mitt has been successful as a businessman, a governor, a leader, and a great man.  He’s quietly helped many people in his life, through his time and talents, and yes, his success as a businessman.  America lost a shot at having someone with an exemplary character actual lead this nation to become something it hasn’t been for a while.  Our experiment with socialism has pushed us closer to a country of entitlements, high taxes, and a business suffocating government bent on redistributing wealth at the expense of our country’s greatness.

What would have been so bad if we had tried, even just for four years, to have a true leader help drive us back towards greatness?  America lost on November 6th.  Mitt is truly a great father, husband, and leader who cared passionately for this country – who wanted a shot at helping America turn around – and who would have worked hard to make it happen.  America lost.