Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Year End Inventory


As 2012 comes to a close, it’s always fun to look back on what I partook in.  I keep a pretty thorough calendar, so the following is culled from glancing through my records of the past 12 months (this is what consumes time on a boring flight across the country).  Here’s a sampling of what I was involved with this year…

WORK (It’s not so much a job as it is “a calling”):

7,130 needy third world children sponsored through 32 radio campaigns our
                     Radio Department at Compassion International organized
Represents approximately $16.4 million over the next 5 years for good health, education,
                    nutrition, clothing, Spiritual encouragement, and opportunities for these kids
13 radio marathons hosted in different cities
4 additional radio interviews regarding Compassion’s outreach
5 conventions/retreats
4 overseas trips where I was group leader (Bangladesh, Haiti, Guatemala, and Colombia)
105 conference calls

TRAVEL:

78 (including my 1,800th) flights going through 31 different airports covering 81,650
               miles.
45 cities in 18 states and 9 countries
4 new countries visited (Bangladesh, Palestine, Israel, Jordan), for a lifetime total of 54.
26 different rental vehicles
27 different hotels
4,055 road miles while on the job/vacation
107 days on the road

WRITING:

65% finished with manuscript of my second book, tentatively titled, Riff Rock:
                 Confessions of a Not-So-Holy Roller
54 blogs for MarkAHollingsworth.com, Blogger, Facebook, MySpace
Over 5,000 e-mails/social networking posts

READING:

I read 36 books this year.  Here are my faves…

Falling Upward, Richard Rohr
Blood Brothers, Elias Chacour
Israel/Palestine: A Christian Response, Craig Michael Nellsen
Which Jesus? Choosing Between Power and Love, Tony Campolo
Across the Wire, Luis Alberto Urrea
Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, Ross Douthat
Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris
It’s All About God: How Isam, Atheism, and Judaism Made Me a Better Christian, Samir
            Selmanovic
Into the Beautiful North, Luis Alberto Urrea
The Poverty and Justice Bible (at least 48 different authors) *

*re-read

Also read…

Over 300 newspapers
Over 100 magazines
Over 150 articles on-line (research for book)
Over 200 Facebook Profiles
Over 7,000 e-mails/social networking messages

FILM:

I saw 81 films in theaters and on DVD in ’12.  Here are my faves….

Tinker, Tailor, Sailor, Spy
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
The Artist
Blue Like Jazz
Prometheus
Looking for a Friend at the End of the World
Moonrise Kingdom
Bernie
The Dark Knight Rises
Beasts of the Southern Wild
Hellbound
Looper
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Life of Pi
Argo
Samsara
Searching for Sugarman
Celebration Day: Led Zeppelin
Lincoln
The Sessions
Les Miserables
Chasing Ice
With God on Our Side

MUSIC:

I purchased 26 CD’s and listened to hundreds more albums. Here are my new faves from ‘12

Flying Colors, Flying Colors
Ralston Bowles, Little Miracles
Ian Anderson, Thick as a Brick, Part 2
Phil Madeira and Friends, Mercyland: Hymns for the Rest of Us
Phil Keaggy, Live at Kegworth
Rush, Clockwork Angels
Neal Morse, Momentum
Hands, Hands
Keith Emerson Band, Live in Moscow
Steve Hackett, Genesis Revisited II

I saw 67 concerts/speaking engagements…here are the most memorable:

Dave Perkins and Friends, 3rd and Lindsley, Nashville, TN
Glass Harp, Two Old Hippies, Nashville, TN
Bob Roberts, Christ at Checkpoint Conference, Bethlehem, Palestine
Sami Awad, Christ at Checkpoint Conference, Bethlehem, Palestine
Gary Burge, Christ at Checkpoint Conference, Bethlehem, Palestine
Sang Bok David Kim, Christ at Checkpoint Conference, Bethlehem, Palestine
Stephen Sizer, Christ at Checkpoint Conference, Bethlehem, Palestine
Salim Munayer, Christ at Checkpoint Conference, Bethlehem, Palestine
David Crowder Band, Friend Fest, Nappanee, IN
Neal Morse Band, Rocketown, Nashville, TN
Tony Campolo, First Presbyterian Church, Nashville, TN
Ian Anderson Band. Ryman Aud., Nashville, TN
Shaun Groves, Life Church, Canton, MI
Phil Madeira and Friends, Downtown Presbyterian, Nashville, TN
Shane Claiborne, Massey Hall, Belmont Univ., Nashville, TN

SUNDRY:

17 Nashville Predator hockey games
31 gatherings of Curious Souls support group
88 business and/or friendship lunches
12th year as member of Servant Leadership Council for The Village Chapel
9 days in hospital for urinary tract infection, heart palpitations, coronary ablation surgery
8 pieces of property researched in Guatemala
7 parties/picnics
2nd year as member of the board for Touchstone Youth Services
1 new roof on house
1 new siding on house (and still red velvet paint)
1 new sewer line running under back yard
I  reseeding of back yard grass

Sunday, December 23, 2012

No Room!


Adapted from a chapter in Tony Campolo’s book, Let Me Tell You a Story: Life Lessons from unexpected Places and Unlikely People:

A schoolteacher served students from several grades in a small one room schoolhouse in upstate New York, including one child who was euphemistically referred to as “special.”  That particular little boy was what we might call “slow.”

When Christmas season came, the teacher decided to put on a Christmas pageant, and the special needs boy wanted to have a part in it.  He didn’t just want to stand around on the stage; he wanted to have a speaking part.  Part of the presentation was a dramatic interpretation of the birth of Christ in Bethlehem. They all knew that he could not remember lines very well, but they came up with what seemed like a viable solution to the problem.  They told him that he could be in innkeeper.  When Mary and Joseph knocked on the door of the inn, he was to open it and say, “No room!”  Mary would then plead with him further, and when she finished her lines he was to say again, “No room!” and close the door.

They thought he could handle this, but just to make sure, they appointed someone to stand near him behind the door and poke him at the proper time and whisper the right words in his ear, should he forget them.  Rehearsals went fine, and all were excited about a good presentation.

The night of the Christmas pageant all seemed to be moving well until Mary and Joseph got to the inn door.  Mary knocked.  When our little friend opened the door he said what was expected of him: “No room!” 

Mary responded, “But , sir, it’s cold.  Have you no place at all where we can stay?  It’s freezing and I am sick.  I’m going to have a baby, and unless you help us, my baby will be born in the cold, cold night.”

The boy just stood there and said nothing.  Mary looked at him and nodded her head as if to say Go ahead, it’s your turn.  There was another long pause.  The prompter nudged him and whispered, “No room!  Say ‘No room!’”

The little guy then turned to the prompter and said, “I know what I’m supposed to say…but I’ve been thinking.”  He then looked at Mary and said “…she can have my room,” and then he opened the door wide for her and Joseph.

To some, loving comes easily and almost without thinking. The rest of us must be more deliberate.  Let us pray that we are open to the leading of the spirit by being more responsive to the needs of others as they come to us.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Israel's actions should make U.S. question support


My friend, Lynn Basler Grassmeyer, just published this editorial in the Sat. Dec. 15 edition of Nashville's daily newspaper, The Tennessean:
“Help! Pray for us. We won’t make it this time!” Fifteen-year-old Raneen, an International School student in Gaza, said as Israeli “Operation Pillar of Defense” began.
The students’ pleas intensified throughout the eight-day assault, with shelling from air and sea. While Israel claimed retaliation for “an unacceptable security threat,” The New York Times called the attack a “lopsided battle between this impoverished, intensely crowded and hemmed-in enclave and its militarily mighty neighbor to the north.”
Gaza war news, like other news, played out on Facebook as Raneen’s classmates held their thread of communication with the world. Their mentor and former teacher Linda Todd Gharib forwarded the messages to us in Nashville. And as we prayed, miraculous updates came: “Bombs dropped around us, but we are not hit!”
Gaza’s other children weren’t so fortunate. The Gaza Health Minister reports 183 Palestinians killed — 50 percent civilians, including 33 children, and 1,400 were injured — 55 elderly, 220 women and 450 children. Six Israelis died; 219 were injured.
Writer Graham Peebles reports that 1,477 Palestinian children have been killed since 2000, a level of carnage that contradicts Israel’s claims of “millimetric accuracy.”
During “Pillar of Defense,” 30 schools were damaged, including Raneen’s. Homes, mosques and a church were demolished. Raneen’s school was bombed back in 2008 as well. Chemical weapons, including white phosphorus, brought death and destruction to Gaza during “Operation Cast Lead.”
Retired Col. Ann Wright and Kathy Kelly, part of an emergency delegation of peace activists visiting Gaza days after the recent invasion, met the parents of 8-year-old Fares, decapitated by shrapnel as he slept. His father told Kelly, “He was the life of the house.”
Col. Wright notes, “We’ve seen the devastating destructiveness of Israel’s high-tech weaponry, most of it supplied by the U.S. at American taxpayers’ expense.”
The U.N. notes that the Israeli Defense Force sends warnings to civilians ahead of bombings, but “civilian losses are massive.” Most Gazans never receive such “courtesy calls.” If they did, where would they run?
Completely isolated, Gazans have no freedom of movement, even in the West Bank, where they have family. Hanna Massad, pastor of the Gaza Baptist Church, had to choose between his congregation in Gaza and his wife in the West Bank. He gave up his church and cannot return. Once bustling with coastal hotels and cafes, this forlorn strip now hosts bombed-out silhouettes.
While weapons smuggling occupies media attention, the notorious tunnels are Gaza’s lifeline to essential goods that Israel prohibits by normal routes. Two-thirds of consumer goods reach Gaza via tunnels, which also provide scarce jobs. Many workers meet injury or death in collapses, bombings and gassings.
Raneen’s story has meaning for us here in Nashville. When Christian leaders, musicians and politicians claim blind loyalty to Israel despite documented human rights abuses and international law violations, they spread ignorance and do great harm. Recently, 15 outstanding church leaders asked Congress to investigate Israel’s abuses and halt military aid.
As we near Christmas, Bethlehem’s beloved Rev. Alex Awad urges Western churches to cultivate peace and pursue justice, recalling that God’s kingdom is neither racial nor territorial: “When the angels in the sky over Bethlehem declared ‘peace on Earth,’ they were not far from Jerusalem or Gaza City. ... When we draw near to these places with compassion and understanding, there will be peace.”
Lynn Grassmeyer is a local realty agent and humanitarian with Semitic roots.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Big Sky Country


Montana is called “Big Sky Country” and it is quite apt for that state and the rest of the rambling Great Plains of the U.S. and Canada.  Without the distractions of gleaming buildings, cell towers, high tension power lines, blaring signage, and swarming arteries jammed with garish SUV’s and hulking trucks cluttering my immediate view at ground level it’s much easier to be overtaken with the immensity of what is above me.

How I enjoy traversing out to an obscure spot on the map, scaling an unnamed hump, and soaking in a 360 degree unobstructed view.  But it’s usually not the terrestrial that wows me—it’s the ever-changing terra firma that dominates the scene.

And if you hear the wind blow
The breeze can catch your eye
And if you feel the sunlight
Straight from the sky
Away from the noise and the madness
All you have to do is pray

(Glass Harp, “Look in the Sky,” Glass Harp, 1970)

Early on a summer day in remote Nebraska the horizons are an opaque blue that grow to deeper azure as your eyes ascend higher. It is so gradual and yet so obvious.  Lying still on my back, I watch patiently as time progresses.  Early on, the canopy is crystal clear, but as the day unfolds the moisture begins to accumulate, and wisps evolve into clouds, and then often dissipate for no discernable reason.  It’s as if an invisible artist moistens a canvas then decides to wipe clean what was just painted.

These ever-changing puffs seem to move at a relaxed pace in the morning.  One the size of a small county takes the shape of a hand, with fingers extending for miles.  But within 20 minutes it simply evaporates into nothingness, except for the tip of the ring finger.  From whence do they come…and where do they go?

The immensity of it is so very good for my soul. Contrary to what I would often think, being made to feel small by the sweep of God’s workmanship—even the most temporal—gives me much needed perspective.

The sunshine in mountains sometimes lost
the river can disregard the cost
and melt in the sky warmth when you die
were we ever warmer on that day a million miles away
we seemed from all of eternity

(Yes, “South Side of the Sky,” Fragile, 1973)

I recall in South Dakota seeing every type of cloud imaginable in just one scene.  Hazy billows to the north with little broods of baby puffs in tow. To the east were celestial saucers interspersed with serrated cotton-like feathers that were becoming heavy and gray on their underside.  To the southeast was a heavenly sea of rippling waves moving towards some undetermined shore.  Beneath, it cast shadows that skimmed across the vast fields like gossamer sheets.

To the south was a mass that resembled the underside of a gaseous crab treading water…snuggling low as if trying to hatch. I saw a quarter of a rainbow glistening beneath an already misting cloud.  It was that time late in each day where the rain often falls in violent displays.

To the northwest were pulsating amoeba-like globules with a singular orb glowing from within.  The sun works in concert with these heavenly hordes to create the most amazing non-stop dramas over our heads if we would just take the time to look up. As I craned my neck backwards I saw cotton tufts dashing by whose bottoms were flattened evenly across an unseen barometric glass ceiling less than a mile above me.

But it was to the west where the real show was beginning.  Aeriform battalions were marshalling forces for a late-afternoon siege…seemingly in ordered cadence and on the march.  They were going to clash with a Gibraltar-like thunderhead mushrooming in the southwest. Between the two combatants the open air was being closed off, with sunlight smearing the edges.  Virgas were beginning to sweep downward like tentacles from a jellyfish. Lightning shards crackled in the distance.

The clouds prepare for battle
In the dark and brooding silence
Bruised and sullen storm clouds
Have the light of day obscured
Looming low and ominous
In twilight premature
Thunderheads are rumbling
In a distant overture...

Just when it appeared that they had completely smothered any solar intervention, suddenly spectacular radiating pillars perhaps forty miles long burst through a crevasse creating a Jacob’s Ladder that would put even the most powerful photon torpedoes in Gene Rodenberry’s imagination to shame. 

All at once, the clouds are parted
Light streams down in bright unbroken beams...
Follow men's eyes as they look to the skies
The shifting shafts of shining weave the fabric of their dreams...

(Rush, “Jacob’s Ladder,” Permanent Waves, 1981)

But those late day melees with all the accompanying salvos rolling and reverberating across the flatlands are often swept away in mere moments…and after the rain dampens the heat that has built throughout the day, all that atmospheric bombast disperses before me over the course of the next hour.  The sky is once again cleansed…and so is my cluttered heart.

It’s all so lofty, in the truest sense of the word.  It’s ethereal…and yet deeply resonates within me.  In all the non-stop energy of the wild blue yonder, I sense a profound purposefulness.  Practicality is addressed through the cycles of wind, rain, and sun.  But the soul is also replenished by the vaporous vitality of it all…and the sneak peak at what’s to come once I’m finally on the other side. 

You made the climb up to the crest
Seeing it all ahead of the rest
And your expression showed the wonder of the place
Looking westward with the sunlight on your face

In the wide-open sweet someday
Climbing over the ridge top to finally see the view
All of us go there alone
Crossing over to home
In the vista
The wide-open sweet someday
The wide open vista

(David Wilcox, “Vista,” Vista, 2006)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Tony Campolo and other writers reflect on my book, Embracing the Gray


Along with all of the enthusiastic feedback from readers on Amazon.com about my book, Embracing the Gray: A Wing, A Prayer, and A Doubter’s Resolve, there have also been many positive reviews from other writers.  Here are some of those reflections…

Embracing the Gray provides a description of someone who has shied away from simplistic Christianity. Mark Hollingsworth carries us through his spiritual highs and lows as he relates his journey towards a mature faith and lifestyle. Those of us who know next to nothing about the contemporary music scene can learn much about the messages of what a younger generation devours. Mark understands this world, and artists he has known and been influenced by help give poetic weight as we read through this memoir. He is an excellent storyteller, but the reader should not think that Mark’s stories are only told to entertain. They have layered meanings and lead to thoughtful reflections. Embracing the Gray gets two enthusiastic thumbs up from me.
-Tony Campolo (author of 37 books, world-renowned speaker)

I have known Mark for quite a few years now and his interest and sensitivity have always impressed me. However, Embracing the Gray goes much deeper into the waters of this brave heart. Mark has a communicational style that is both conversational and poetic; a union of the heart and mind that is at once compelling, challenging and inspirational. I highly recommend the book and the man. 
-Neal Morse (Author of Testimony, recording artist, song writer, producer of 11 solo albums, and 12 others with Spocks’ Beard, Transatlantic, and Flying Colors)

Check out the book, Embracing the Gray, by long-time friend Mark Hollingsworth—all-around world-saver and critical figure in the history of spiritual music. We traveled some of the same spiritual search together. I highly endorse it.
-Kerry Livgren (Author of Seeds of Change, primary songwriter, guiatrist, and keyboardist for Kansas)

Listening and Telling. We all have a story; but not all of us have paid much care or attention to it. Mark Hollingsworth has listened to his story well, and he has given us the gift of sharing what he's heard. Humorous. Poignant. Hopeful. Riddled with sorrow in some places and drenching with joy in others, Embracing the Gray is well worth your time. 
-Winn Collier (author of Holy Curiosity, Restless Faith, Deeper Walk, and regular contributor to Relevant Magazine)

The glorious paradox of no-nonsense faith. Anyone who has spent a few hours around Mark Hollingsworth knows his conversational references to culture, politics, the Good Book and the good fight span a really broad horizon. Hollingsworth has also led a truly fascinating life, and has the wit and word-smithing at his disposal to make his journey into a really entertaining read. Embracing the Gray is a delightful, sometimes dizzying account of Mark's adventures that demonstrates his gifts as a cultural commentator and a writer worth reading. Hollingsworth pulls no punches as he rolls through episodes of his life in the music industry and ministry to the poor, rubbing shoulders with rock royalty and desperately at-risk children, and coming of age between Vietnam and Van Halen. Having said all that, I've barely scratched the surface of the remarkable range of subjects Hollingsworth addresses with unflinching honesty-- and then draws a beeline to his faith, and how all that experience helped develop him into a truly authentic, thoughtful Jesus-follower. As pastor of a rowdy bunch of mostly Millennials (roughly 18-30 years of age), I am highly recommending Embracing the Gray to them because it provides them a wonderful tool: an example of how to think about faith, as opposed to simply what to think about faith. And to my Boomer contemporaries? Buy it for yourself. If you're a fan of Jesus, contemporary music, social action, Petra, Rush (the group; maybe not Limbaugh for this book), or needing to know that someone else has been through the pain of helping their parents shed the mortal coil with love and dignity, read this book. Then do your grown kids a favor and give it to them to read. (If you're sensitive to salty language, be warned that it makes an occasional appearance in this book. Thus the encouragement to make it available to your "grown children." But please, put some U2 on in the background and read it anyway. You really won't regret it.)
-Steve Wamberg (author of Pinocchio Nation, Surviving a Prodigal, and more)

Simply stunning. Honestly, Mark's life runs parallel to the film "Almost Famous," only it's more exciting. I won't ruin any of the surprises, but I guarantee you'll have several moments where you say to yourself "I can't believe all this happened to one person."  The only book I've ever read with a meeting with U2, and an incident with a drunken, suicidal gunman live just pages apart. And both are true. Loved it!           
-Seth Hurd (author of Hip Hope and Jr. College, What Becky Didn’t Want, and A Grammatical Corrector)

The most engaging, hilarious, gut-wrenching, and inspiring book I've read in a long time. Thanks!
-Zach Bevill (songwriter, lead singer, guitarist for The Farewell Drifters)

What a wonderful piece of writing!  You are a GREAT writer, Bro!  Funny, inspiring, thought provoking, challenging...these are all words I would use to describe this book. I feel enriched after reading it. I laughed out loud on a few of those stories! I hope this is just the first of many. I think it will sell a ton.  Thank you!
                        -Bob Hartman (primary songwriter, and lead guitarist for Petra)
  
I have known Mark for a few years and have read his blog regularly in that time. I have seen and experienced first hand his own willingness to live his faith in an open, honest way, including not just the good times, but the hard questions and difficult circumstances. If you are looking for happy-go-lucky, pat on the back, feel-good themed book, you may want to pick up one of those fluff books. If, however, you want a book that will affirm your own struggles, is easy to read, and at the same time challenges you to take seriously the concepts of God, spirituality and help you in times where you may feel all alone, I couldn't recommend anything as much as Embracing the Gray. Mark writes from a place of honesty that many of us could learn from; his life has been an example; his words will inspire and challenge.
-Mike Furches (author of The Keystone Kid, and columnist for HollywoodJesus.com)

This book is some very beautiful fruit from some very tough seasons in Hollingsworth’s life. 
                        -Kim Thomas (author of Living in the Sacred Now, Finding Your Way
                        Through Grief, and Even God Rested)

A soulful memoir. This is a bold first hand account of the life (thus far!) of Christian music manager and non-profit marketing luminary Mark Hollingsworth. His 3+ decades traveling the globe with performers, friends, and even a few strangers leave a wake of wild stories and one-of-a-kind exchanges. Each chapter explores the soul of a man wrestling with deep doubts, yet also gnawing convictions. In particular, his account of time spent with the young U2 harmonizes book-long themes of tattered, yet intact faith, parsed against diamond-splitting honesty. A read that will inspire thought, and be a reminder of grace. 
                        -Geoff Little (author of Summers)

Mark and I both kind of march to the beat of our own funky drum kit--which is why I'm excited to promote his new book: Embracing the Gray. Mark is one of those admirable, honest Christians who thinks with his heart and his funny bone both engaged and he's one heck of a great writer! You don't wanna miss this one!
                        -Paul Johnson (Dove Award winning composer, producer, artist)

I read Embracing the Gray and what a lovely trip the read turned out to be!  Not only is Mark a keen observer of every person he has ever met, but with great honesty he opens himself up to observation, too. Mark's insightful use of the lyrics of songs to which this seventy- something lady had never paid attention opened a window into the realm of 'young' music and to a place that happened long after I was grown up.   Finally, I've always known that my world was too black and white (just ask my kids!) and I am very grateful for this sometimes painful yet often joyously lighthearted reminder to embrace, not just tolerate what is, and may well remain, quite gray. I very much loved Embracing the Gray.
-Peggy Campolo (contributor for Sojourners, Youthworker Journal, Wittenburg Door, and more)

Mark Hollingsworth has written an awesome book titled Embracing the Gray. It's got wonderful stories about his meetings with U2, Kerry Livgren (Kansas) and his life's journey. Honestly, I couldn't put it down and I highly recommend it.
                        -Rick Altizer (songwriter, recording artist, producer)

On a lazy American Thanksgiving I read through Mark Hollingsworth's EMBRACING THE GRAY and was compelled by the frank honesty that he brought to both his writing and his spiritual journey. There is something wonderfully liberating in coming to grips with our humanness while we still attempt to connect with the Almighty. I resonated most fully with
Mark on this point, that somewhere in his early twenties he found it necessary to lay aside all pretense and simply be honest about his faith (or, at times, lack thereof). I read somewhere that stories are equipment for living, and I am appreciative that Mark has laid out some of his here. Everyone's life contains scripture, a sacred text of their interaction with the Almighty, whether they be conscious of it or not. And Mark's story recounts the full embrace of life's experiences up against the backdrop of a searching soul desperate to make sense of the sometimes elusive fingerprints of grace. 
-David Disabitino (screenwriter, director of Frisbie, The Outlaw Larry Norman)

Amazing stories from one of my true heroes.
                        -John Thompson (author of Raised by Wolves, and editor of True
                        Tunes magazine)

I read the whole book in one sitting. It is fabulous. Meaty stuff. Funny stuff. Encouraging stuff. Mark openly wrestles with so many things that are common to one seeking a relationship with the Creator. My take away was to stay in the Eternal Now with the Ever Present One.
-Pam Mark Hall (songwriter, recording artist)

Love this book! Mark has written a touching and at times hysterical memoir. In particular though, the account of his brother's troubled relationship with his family was quite moving. These are stories of love, faith, loss, and joy that only a writer as adept and honest as Mark could make so three dimensional as to jump off the page. Well worth your time!
-Rick Elias (songwriter, recording artist, producer)


I continue to be humbled by the response the book is generating.  If you have read it and wish to correspond with me, I always interact with any communiqu├ęs.   You can also peruse many reader reviews (97% are Five Stars) at:


Embracing the Gray is still available for a limited time as a 99 cent Kindle download at that same link, or as a free PDF download at my website (donations accepted):


Sunday, November 25, 2012

My Meager Attempt to Solve the Federal Budget Crisis


As a self described radical moderate, I have to navigate some choppy waters out in the middle of the raging river.  Yes, I know, that means that I am “all wet” much of the time.  ; )  I may tend to lean to the left on social issues that I feel need to be addressed for the poor and justice.  But I lean right in my concern about fiscal issues that need to be managed for the financial solvency of the nation currently, as well as for future generations.

I believe that budgets are moral documents that should reflect the intentions of the people that populate a nation. I realize much of what I propose here is rather utopian, and certainly would be open to much debate and tweaking before it would ever be realistically considered.  And honestly, we’ll be lucky if only a quarter of these concepts were to get consideration. Additionally, I really have no idea if these numbers would actually add-up to what needs to be done to reduce the massive debt and runaway spending. But I think they would all be steps in the right direction. So, here is what I feel--in my radically moderate worldview--needs to be done to work on the fiscal issues confronting this country.

Over the next ten years, the following cuts need to be phased-in:

1)   Reduce all entitlement programs by 25%. Primarily accomplished through cost-cutting of overhead, overcharges, etc.
2)   Reduce military spending by 50% (we currently spend more on military than the rest of the world COMBINED).
3)   Reduce foreign aid to advanced nations by 75%.
4)   No more corporate welfare (like tax cuts to oil companies, mega-farms, etc).
5)   Drastically reduce the overlap and redundancy in government programs. This might pocket at least 5% in savings per year.

Over the same time period, phase-in these tax reforms:

1)   Create and enforce a much simpler tax code based primarily on some basic flat rate (probably around 20%) with very few deductions.
2)   Raise the retirement age to 67.
3)   All businesses pay a 25% fixed tax rate.
4)   All non-profits (including churches) begin paying a 10% tax rate on their income as well as annual property taxes.
5)   All investments get taxed at 20% per year on whatever gains they generate in a given year.
6)   Have a ½ of 1% tax levied on every single trade made on Wall Street.  Whether it is a $200 purchase on several shares of stock, or massive multi-million dollar transaction.
7)   No more out-of country tax shelters unless you have exclusive citizenship elsewhere.
8)   Increase tariffs on products imported from overseas that are also manufactured in this country.
9)   The federal government will be required to have a balanced budget each year--if not, all members of congress will be dismissed with no life-long benefits.
10)  After this is implemented, if there is a certain point where the deficit is reduced and there begins to be a surplus, then put to a public vote the idea of universal healthcare.
11)   Also, if the surplus continues to grow, then there will be once-a-year refund checks sent to everyone based on splitting half of that surplus according the amount that they put into the pie in that previous year. For instance, the people who paid the most in taxes would get the largest refund. The people who paid the least would get the smallest refunds. But this only happens when there is a surplus.
12)  If the deficit grows again, no refunds.

While I’m at it, here are a few other areas that need to be addressed:

Election reform:

1)   There will be massive campaign finance reform where candidates will have a preset maximum cap on what they can spend based on the population of their constituencies. 
2)   Citizens United will be repealed, so no outside money allowed to be spent, either. 
3)   Campaign season for general elections will last 6 weeks.  For primaries it will be 4 weeks for each state/district.
4)   If any candidates are found to exceed these boundaries, they will immediately be removed from the ballot, and all remaining campaign monies in their coffers will be seized.

Lobbying reform:

1)   No more lobbyists.
2)   Only private citizens will be allowed to interact with government employees.
3)   No money will be given to government workers outside of their salary for any reasons whatsoever. If they are found to be doing so, they not only forfeit their jobs and pensions, they also go to prison for five years.


OK, feel free to comment.  Please be kind to me and each other.  I am not posting this to create some sort of political firestorm.  I would just like some thoughtful give and take and what our options are moving forward.  Let’s keep things good-natured, open-minded to various concepts, and let’s keep it focused on the items listed above.  The challenges we face should not be defined by political party or persuasion.  We’re all in this boat together, and hopefully we can solve it together.  : )