Right To Ask Why

“I'm convinced that today the majority of Americans want what those first Americans wanted: A better life for themselves and their children; a minimum of government authority. Very simply, they want to be left alone in peace and safety to take care of the family by earning an honest dollar and putting away some savings. This may not sound too exciting, but there is something magnificent about it. On the farm, on the street corner, in the factory and in the kitchen, millions of us ask nothing more, but certainly nothing less than to live our own lives according to our values--at peace with ourselves, our neighbors and the world.”

-- Ronald Reagan

It’s warm and stuffy inside the bank. For some reason, no one has turned on the air conditioning today--or maybe it has malfunctioned. The guy in front of me in line seems to be taking forever. The teller is running back and forth, and he’s standing there--while I wait. Look at his clothes. What a slob. And where did he get that haircut? He probably got a free bowl of soup with that “do.” I hate this guy. If I could, I’d reach over and kick him in the pants, and say, “Get moving!” Suddenly, he turns with a smile and says, “Do you have a pen by any chance?” I’m completely disarmed. I pause, shrug, smile, and give him my pen. “Sorry for the wait,” he says. “Their computers are down.” I smile again, nod furiously, and say, “Oh--I--uh, I’m in no hurry.” He smiles, nods, uses the pen, hands it back, and I stand there--looking away.

What happened there, Mr. Toughguy? I thought I was going to kick this sorry excuse for a human being. Did I wimp out? What’s the matter with me?

It’s been rumored that some people were in the process of being robbed outside the WorldTradeCenter when it was attacked, but when robber and victim found themselves in the same predicament, they helped each other run to safety.

What happened there?

What happened in both cases was that some kind of “jarring event” made people look at something in a new way, and that revised view made the difference.

Gimmicks Breed Skepticism

But some views are harder to revise. Big American car-makers are trying to stay ahead of their Japanese counterparts who are moving up quickly in the market share of new car sales. The Americans are offering $7,000 rebates, but it is not working. Do you know why? We don’t trust them because we’ve been duped by them before. What they hope will persuade us just makes us skeptical. We think the rebate is just window-dressing and they’ll get our money some other way. No trust translates to no sale.

I received a mailer last week stating that if I buy new windows for my house, the company will save me $200 per window. How do I know if that’s true? I assume they raised the prices at some point before they advertised the discount, so that “savings” really isn’t a savings. How do I know what I saved if I don’t know what it once cost? I do think one thing--I think they’re lying.

Diet formulas, bogus exercise equipment, brake jobs (only $20 per wheel, which does not include turning rotors or new brake pads, making it $120 per wheel), a $10 case of water, a $15 one-item pizza--folks, what kinds of messages are being sent?

Let’s glean two facts from the above. First, we have started to accept that unknown, outside factors govern the way things go, and questioning them takes too much work and effort. If someone says it is so, it probably is so. Second, we have been taught to distrust what we are told because there is always a catch--some detail that is beyond our knowledge. We conclude we just don’t know what’s best for us. That’s why we believe we are at the mercy of oil barons and politicians who know so much more about things than we do. The fact is they don’t, but they are empowered by our laziness.

Winning Small Battles Is A Victory

I always laugh when I hear that the coach of a professional sports team was fired because the team did not win the championship. It implies that the team got there by itself, and with just a tweak--like someone else driving the car--it will get there faster. It has been my experience that any coach who gets his team to the playoffs or in the championship game should be lauded as an absolute winner. If a coach has the integrity to get his team to the finals, the rest is up to player execution and good fortune. No coach should be fired unless the players make it clear that they can do more with better management. But we just want to find a culprit.

In the recent primaries, Hillary Clinton garnered 18 million and, despite some strategic flaws, she hung in there--all the way into June. All the press talked about was her “loss.” But what a fighter she was. For weeks after the last primary, people analyzed where it all “unraveled” for her. She was not my favorite candidate, but I think it was a good fight. Does blame always have to be assigned? I don’t think so. She did very well.

In another example, is a 20-year marriage that ends in divorce a total mistake? What if the divorce was amicable, the children were young adults before it happened, and everyone was provided for? It is sad, but you can’t call all 20 years a mistake. Good people were created and educated. Real estate was bought and sold. Life lessons were learned. Was it a total victory? Perhaps not. Was it a total loss? I don’t think so. Our willingness to accept this black and white labeling is a terrible habit that we must change.

A Voice Of Reason

Think of all you’ve been told about energy and oil and how Americans are under the thumb of other countries. This is right. This is wrong. This is too expensive. This is too complicated. It’s all we hear. How about listening to this statement from Jack Fisher, Executive Vice President of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation?. In the July/August issue of “Our Ohio,” Mr. Fisher notes:

“Today, 10.4 billion barrels of oil sit untapped in a tiny piece of the Artic National Wildlife Refuge. Eighty-six billion barrels lie untouched off our coasts. One trillion barrels of shale oil go unused in our western states. Our reserves are three times those of Saudia Arabia, yet we are content spending $500 billion a year to import foreign supplies.

“American coal, of which we have a 200-year supply, can be liquefied into fuel that’s competitive with $54 oil. When burned to make electricity, coal is 70 percent cleaner than it was 30 years ago. Still we’re happy to obstruct mining and combustion.

“Nuclear, arguably the most efficient and green source of energy, is held captive to needless fears. Even Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore says we’ve mistakenly lumped energy with weapons, ’as if all things nuclear were evil.’ Safety concerns were answered when Hurricane Katrina plowed through three reactors, causing no harm. But despite its economic, environmental and safety attributes, nuclear accounts for only about 25 percent of our electricity because we won’t build new generation plants.

“Even our newest power sources aren’t immune to impediments. Next-generation energy--which can help wean us from fossil fuels--isn’t maximized because grain-based fuels wrongly receive the brunt of the blame for rising food prices, or wind turbines are stymied because they might bother someone’s view.

“Remarkable isn’t it, that these vast energy supplies are in our grasp, yet go unused. More remarkable is that these resources are rendered useless because we said it’s OK to squander them.

“We don’t drill, we don’t mine, we don’t build, and we don’t develop because of laws and regulations that keep our immense energy stockpiles and promising new sources on the shelf. In other words, our energy afflictions are largely self-inflicted.

“We are strangely tolerant of what I believe is poor public policy. While other nations exploit every BTU they can lay their hands on, we handcuff ourselves. America, in my thinking the nation most capable of conscientious capitalism, refuses to adopt policies that bring balance to the energy-environment equation. Somehow it’s become popular to believe that using something equates to destroying it. That line of thinking may have been affordable at two bucks a gallon, but not anymore. Today’s world requires a commitment to stewardship--where we manage resources in a wise, sustainable fashion, but also use them for our benefit. We have the knowledge, skills and technology to cope with energy challenges without ruining the planet. And we have responsibilities to demand policies that act on this truth.”

Be A Leader

That is pretty good stuff. So what are you going to do? Are you just going to shake your head and say it’s all too bad, and we’re too far down the line to change or fix anything? I have an idea. What if we demand more from the people we elect to represent us in these key areas? What if we get involved to the point where we write, e-mail, and call them and ask where they stand on these issues? What if they begin to feel the pressure of an informed constituency? You make sure that insurance and mortgages are paid to have something to hand your children when you die, so how about handing off a self-sustainable, stalwart nation, whose stewardship is unparalleled? Isn’t it time we identified what is in the way and what can move us forward?

In 1976 I was mesmerized by the movie “All the President’s Men.” One great line during that Woodward and Bernstein roller coaster was the one uttered by the undercover source named “Deep Throat.” Woodward’s character asks about the Watergate mistakes and “Deep Throat” chuckles and replies, “Forget the myths the media’s created about the White House. The truth is, these are not very bright guys, and things got out of hand.”

That revelation has haunted me ever since, and in light of these energy issues where public perception plays a key role, it rings in my ears constantly.

Ron Ciancutti is the Purchasing Manager for Cleveland Metroparks. He can be reached via e-mail rdc@clevelandmetroparks.com