Clippings: Ambition can be for greater good

2011 probably won’t go down as a banner year here or worldwide.
Water provided many memories, and not many of them pleasant. One of 2011’s first images that seared itself on my consciousness came from msnbc.com. I logged on one morning and was stunned to see for the first time a picture of Japan’s east coast after the devastating tsunami.
A later image that lingers is the video of Bartonsville’s covered bridge collapsing into Irene’s surging waters.
In between fell spring’s seemingly unceasing rain.
At least we can be sure the tsunami wasn’t our fault, although we can certainly debate the merits and safety track record of the particular nuclear reactor at the Fukushima plant and our species’ collective wisdom of insisting on continuing to use them. Same one at Vermont Yankee, BTW.
But many of the rest of our problems seem to be of our own making. Ah, yes, it was Walt Kelly’s Pogo who first said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
Severe, record-setting weather not only here, but around the planet? Greetings, global warming.
The worst economic climate since the Great Depression? Insider trading, illegal speculating, packaging and selling of underperforming subprime mortgage loans as valuable investment vehicles, market regulators looking the other way or even giving high ratings to obviously risky assets, and the continued devaluing of the buying power of all but the wealthiest.
Political stagnation? Politicians of all stripes more concerned with electability, power and donations than finding answers.
What are the common threads there? Shortsightedness and greed.
Now, to an extent, this is understandable. It’s easier to think about immediate, concrete needs than those of an uncertain, unknowable future. And it’s human nature to be selfish.
Meanwhile, the solutions to our problems require collective will and action. Global warming, which even long-term skeptics now admit exists? No to short-term oil and profits and yes to long-term energy efficiency and conservation and renewable energy sources.
The economy? Yes to public infrastructure investment, a fair tax code and effective regulation on Wall Street.
And, yes, we need higher taxes on the 1 percent, and don’t tell me about taxing the “job creators.” According to MSN Money, in 1965 the ratio of CEO-to-worker pay stood at 24-to-1, and in 1995 it had grown to 100-1. Tax rates were higher at both those junctures. That ratio, according to several sources, now tops 300-1. One wonders how those poor CEOs ever created a job back in those dark days.
Political gridlock? Yes to the politicians’ will to agree to those moves and say no to the 1 percent donors who want to preserve their incomes at the nation’s expense.
See, it’s not complicated, except by human nature.
But I’m not ready to give up on human nature yet.
People do have a way of uniting when times get tough. Vermont showed the world this year what can happen when citizens work together to overcome a crisis.
And our system, blending democracy and capitalism, remains the best available because it — if allowed to work fairly — encourages creativity and the free exchange of ideas, and rewards effort and risk.
So the question going forward is to what ends are we going to apply our ideas and energy.
Are we going to continue to be shortsighted?
Or are we going to think what might be best for all as well?
Earlier this month my daughter was completing a high school health class project in which she had to create a personal mission statement. She asked me to help, and told me what she had, essentially to be kind, generous, thoughtful, respectful.
“How about ambitious,” I said.
“Yeah,” she said. “That’s a good one.”
Sounds like a fine blend.
So, what will our New Year’s Ambitions be?

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