Notes to Barack Obama on the eve of his inauguration, December 2008

Hope does require considerable audacity in the face of the last 8 years. My father sent me your book when it was published, but the title put me off. Now that you've won, I'm reading it. Thank you for that, and for the courage to hope.

America is, as you must have noticed, broken. Since you are undertaking at least some of the changes necessary to fix our nation, I feel challenged to pull together my views on the matter and present them to you. Here below, they are.

Too often we confine our thinking to what is "realistic". That is a trap I have resisted all my life. We need to see our goals clearly, so as not to defeat ourselves before beginning. So I have purposely avoided any concern with political feasibility. As a politician, compromise is your job. I am trying to present an ideal position on what America needs, purified of any doubts, uncompromised by my sense of reality. It is all possible though.

EDUCATION ___________________________________________________
Stop teaching to test. Focus on learning, kids, parents, adaptability. See Ken Robinson's TED talk. at . . We have no idea what kids will need to know in 20 years, so teach them how to learn and adapt, and critical thinking, and history. The rest is baloney.

ENVIRONMENT ___________________________________________________
Buy back the commonwealth. Stop clear cutting. Discard the "multiple use" concept from forestry. See Charles Bowden's Afterword in "Frog Mountain Blues".

Forests are a community, not a cash crop. See my "Forests are a Community" at .

Establish some more marine reserves on our coastlines to let fish recover from commercial abuse. See Australia's lobster permitting scheme.

Save the American West from oil and gas drilling abuse. See "High Country News" at .

Focus on biodiesel use and real-time algal oil production. See "Fuel" the documentary, at .

Facilitate wind farming nationally, as they do in Texas.

Make investments in Solar R&D. See use of Ruthenium for chlorophyll-like action. Invest in solar roofing.
See "1366 Technologies" at for near-term technology improvements.

Decentralize energy production down to neighborhood levels.

Revive OTEC, especially for use in the Carribean where ocean surface temperatures are driving those hurricanes. OTEC = ocean thermal energy conversion - basically an underwater chimney with a huge turbine. Besides producing power, OTEC draws cold clean water from deep ocean layers, exerting a homogenizing influence on water temperature.
For example, in Hawaii, see . You probably know of this.

MANUFACTURING ___________________________________________________
Much consumer product manufacturing can move into the home, or garage, or small biz. Design information can be sold and distributed globally. Local materials can be used to make products locally. Both production and recycling become more local. Transportation volume is lowered. Transportation costs reduced. Carbon emissions reduced. Designs can be tailored to local needs. Small runs feasible.

BUSINESS ___________________________________________________
Triple bottom line - cash, community, environment. New collaborative emphasis in business structures is leading the way. See Interface Carpets (Ray Anderson) for a sustainability initiative in a large corporation, at ...and similar. Cisco (John Chambers) in 'Wired' 17.1, shows shift away from top-down innovation, that makes intensive use of all the brains in the company. If it works, it will be a good answer to the "Dilbert problem". See Google, et al. for leading trends in collaboration in the mainstream business world.

Promote social enterprise. See Mark Pomerantz'
...and see also Social Enterprise Alliance -- (not Mark's)

THE CONSTITUTION ___________________________________________________
Uphold it.
Defend it. Prosecute past offenders just enough to repair the damage, then stop. The offenders of the last 8 years must not be let off the hook; future bad actors must see the consequences of un-constitutional behavior. See Harper's Magazine "Justice After Bush", by Scott Horton at for a level-headed analysis of our best response to this challenge.

Establish national voting system specifications which local and state elections must implement. Not specific technologies, but generic requirements of traceability, accuracy, freedom from partisan manipulation, etc. Again, see Australia for an electronic voting system that works. It is open source software. Anyone can examine it and run it on their own Linux PC. (I have.) It is traceable. Or see There are solutions. Do not specify the technology; specify the performance of the system. While we're at it let's dump the electoral college; what an anachronism!

Shut down 'K' street. Get business out of DC. Make DC a city free of lobbying. What a relief! Get private money out of Congressmen's pockets too. What a challenge that one is.

Establish separation of --
church and state!
state and business!
business and church!

ECONOMY/FINANCE/MARKETS ___________________________________________________
Finance is not the economy.
The stock market is not the economy.
Advertising is not the economy either.

The economy is the production, sale, use, and recycling of goods and services necessary and/or desired by the people. If American businesses were running on their own cash flow, the crash of financial institutions would have a small effect on the real economy except for the temporary loss of customers worrying about the flood of bad news. We can now see that confidence is the foundation of robust trade and its attendant prosperity. And guess what? That's all in our heads. cf. the famous FDR quote. Clearly our borrowed money culture is at fault here; let's start living on the cash at hand. What a new concept! (not)

Finance must become transparent. Fraud must be severely punished. Give SEC more teeth. Investigate the newer financial instruments too complex for even the professionals to assess. Create a test - if it can not be valued correctly by a dozen financial wizards, it is illegal.

In doctoring the economy, ("doing the bailout" sounds like a hip new dance step) we need to keep the public uppermost in all deals. We citizens are paying the tab, for loans, or for investments, or for rescues. Be sure the bankers and corporations are not getting public cash without appropriate contracts involving federal control, payback, schedules, and transparency. Accountability must be the rule. We don't owe them anything; they owe us. Robert Reich said a couple months ago, "If they are 'too big to fail', maybe they are just too big." We should see these companies spinning off their divisions and assets, not merging with other tottering corporations.

Move to green technology now. It is the WPA of the 21st century. You know this.

GLOBAL RELATIONS ___________________________________________________
Commit to international institutions, even - especially - the ones which limit us. The International Criminal Court, the Kyoto Protocol, the U.N., maritime rules, etc....

Stop trying to shape the Muslim world, or whatever it is we have been doing there.

Stop the dominance of oil. Get the our corporate claws out of the Middle East.

Open diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba. See the cover story on the recent New York Times Magazine, "The End of the Revolution". Cuba is not a threat to us. Undermine our image as an enemy.

Pursue the two-state solution with Israel and Palestine. Israel should shorten its gerrymandered borders and tighten access across them, genuinely withdrawing the illegal "settlements", and kicking the reliance on cheap Arab labor. The short term goal should be a Cyprus-like solution.

Recognize that Pakistan has been taking us for a ride. They take the money we offer, put on a shallow show of pursuing the Taliban, then turn their gaze aside as the Taliban goes about its business. Withhold the cash. Period. Let them work it out. Fight the Taliban in Afghanistan only.

ONE-WAY-ISMs ___________________________________________________
[A "one-way-ism" is a belief, usually religious, that your way is the only way and everyone else should adopt it or go to hell.]

Secular humanism promotes peace and prosperity. Support it where possible.

Examine the mega-churches in our nation to ask whether they are deserving of non-profit status. Anything that meets in a stadium or coliseum is suspect.

Let's make proselytization illegal. See the petition to the UN High Commission for Human Rights

Ensure that we as a nation are on the ethical high ground, for many reasons, but not least so we can dispatch bad actors promptly, resolutely, and in good conscience, when they assault Americans, and America. See my for a record of responses to 911 within 60 days of the event, and especially see for my short prescription of the way we should respond to 911, written in November 2001. We still have not come to a balanced response.

MILITARY and SECURITY___________________________________________________
America has not fought a war that could be rationally defended as righteous since WWII. Why is that?

War is obsolete. No positive balance of outcome is foreseeable in the 21st century. The American military must not serve the interests of business; it must serve the nation. That means defending our territorial borders, not launching wars for corporate benefit. We should not be rent-a-cops.

Shut down 90% of U.S. global military bases, especially the 'black' ones. See Chalmers Johnson, "The Sorrows of Empire" .

Restrict covert operations; disallow regime subversion. See the British/American coup against Mosaddeq in Iran for one of the worst examples.

Abolish invasions in all but the most extreme situation. We have not come to that extremity yet. Let's see to it that we don't.

Re-tool the military for the defense of American soil, and for providing support for disasters all over the globe, and at home. Abandon Iraq and Afghanistan as soon as feasible. Stay out of Iran, Venzuela, N. Korea (turn the DMZ over to the blue helmets). Bring the military home. We have no business being there. Iraq will settle its own problems, or it won't.

Although supporting Mr. Karzai in the face of the Taliban may be in order, since we already abandoned them once before (perhaps we owe it to them. See Charlie'e War. ), pursuing Osama may be a waste of resources when we could be providing the sort of assistance that inspires people to gratitude and respect. It is a better investment in security. We should engage with disaster, where positive results may be had, and only where invited.

Example: the U.S. Navy's response to the 2004 December 26 tidal wave in Indonesia was genuinely inspiring, and a model for our global involvement. Too bad the Indonesian governmant took so long to let us in. If we had a better reputation, maybe it would have been quicker. See

Strengthen our coastal and border defenses. And strengthen the defense of critical facilities for energy, water, information, transportation. Protect our nuclear power plants against terrorism.

Stop global nuclear proliferation. Stop building nuclear power plants outside our borders (or inside).

EQUITY ___________________________________________________
Investigate the IMF and World Bank. Reconsider WTO and NAFTA. If we are to participate in these institutions and treaties, we must insist that they meet higher standards of humane relations. And in so doing improve our own behavior. We have to support solutions that allow nations to feed themselves rather than undercutting their farmers with cheap grains and produce. National, regional, and local agricultures make more sense than global supply chains, as we saw recently with rice and corn prices.

See John Perkins, "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man".

Develop and support global health initiatives, like those of Bill G. and Bill C.
See Hans Rosling. and also his own where you can download these tools.

INFORMATION ___________________________________________________
Make existing data available to the public in understandable form. Make it interactive. Again --
Engage us in understanding our world, and involve us in redesigning it.

See my -- for a proposed ecological planning forum. This is an interactive way to leverage academic and professional data to inform the public imagination and make better decisions.

Use everyone to help design solutions. The American people have much to offer. See Tom Atlee's "Cointelligence" work - See Jim Rough's "Wisdom Councils" - See Sweden's "Study Circles" -

Use betting markets to detect probable futures - see James Surowiecki, "The Wisdom of Crowds"

Rhodes Hileman, Seattle, December 2008