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It is possible to solve our nation's problems
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Forsyth County News
No, I am not running for the office of president.


But I have thought that it might be simple to achieve. In today’s environment, it might take little more than getting placed on the ballot and a name change — to “Nonov Theabove.”


In January 1930, during the Great Depression, excavation began in New York for a building that had been designed over a two-week period, using plans for another building in Ohio that was less than half its size.


Construction began on March 17 of that year. On May 1, 1931, only 410 days later, the ribbon cutting ceremony took place and tenants started moving into the Empire State Building.


In 1939, the U.S. Army consisted of fewer than 200,000 men; the Navy, 125,000; and the Marine Corps, 20,000. Production of war materials was so scant that troops were training with broomstick rifles and using jeeps as substitutes for tanks.


Although some mobilization began before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941, marked the turning point. A year and a half later, in 1943, millions were serving in the armed forces; tanks, planes, fighting and merchant ships, guns and munitions were being produced in unprecedented quantities. And all the facilities to move, feed and house these troops were largely in place.


In 1938, to combat the scourge of polio, a citizen organization was formed to raise money for research and the care of victims — commonly known as “The March of Dimes,” for its January fundraising campaign. It functioned in this mode for 17 years until 1955 when the vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk, an effort which it had partially funded, was declared safe and effective.


In May 1961, President John F. Kennedy presented a proposal to Congress to place a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Congress funded the effort, primarily as a challenge to the Soviet Union.


It was a reaction to the prior month’s debacle at the Bay of Pigs and in response to Russia’s space successes, in 1957 (with the successful launch of the first manmade satellite, Sputnik) and then, a month earlier (with the world’s first successful manned space flight when Yuri Gagarin orbited the earth in the space ship Vostok).


Eight years later, on July 20, 1969, NASA’s incredible efforts allowed Neil Armstrong, commander of Apollo 11, to step out onto the lunar surface. Over the next three years, 12 more astronauts made it to the moon,


Each of these illustrations provides powerful lessons that can serve us well today.


1: I look at ongoing road construction all over the country, taking interminable time (and enormous budget overruns) for completion, and sometimes feel that if these crews were working on the Empire State Building, it would still only be four stories high.


2: The American Petroleum Institute estimates that even if off-shore drilling bans were lifted now, it would take the oil industry more than a decade to get the new oil to market. If those responsible for World War II mobilization efforts followed their timetable, a frightening thought, we’d probably be a part of the Third Reich today.


3: The enormous involvement of millions of people contributing their dimes to fight polio kept the effort at the forefront, whereas reliance solely on someone else to do things for us (namely government) leads, at best, to much slower progress rates.


4: NASA’s effort to put a man on the moon gives some feel for the potential that a well-organized effort, utilizing existing technology and inventing new technologies to fill the gap, can have in conquering the almost-impossible.


But the issue is complex. There are numerous obstacles to allowing us to solve problems, even when all the necessary knowledge and technology are in place. Special interest groups that have vested interests in protecting the past tend to fight progress that is not to their benefit.


The cost of political campaigns allows organizations that can offer substantial funding to wield undue influence. The degeneration of our two-party system into feuding forces, each trying to shove its views down the other’s throats, is another formidable barrier to progress. It is almost impossible to have reasoned discourse, considering the pros and cons and looking at issues dispassionately.


The media and the Internet provide confused signals, often lacking any veracity. And the fact that we lack clear national priorities leaves us like a ship in a storm, without a rudder.


We seem to try to deal with all issues at once (fueled by the desire to satisfy various funding and voting blocks). This almost assures that resources will be spread thin, that our attention span will be short and varied, and that little will happen of a positive nature in a reasonable time frame.


We go from one unsolved problem to another and back again, despite the fact that, if we looked hard enough, we probably have the know-how and the resources to make an impact on many if not most of them. Despite our large national resource base, we can take on only a portion of the challenges at one time.


But, as individuals, we are not willing to wait, if our issue(s) is not given top priority, resulting in enormous pressures on the system to pay lip service to all and to do little of substance with most.


I am convinced that virtually all of the problems we face at home are solvable, and in reasonable time frames. A major obstacle cited for inability to deal with the immigration problem is the inability of government to set up a working database to keep track of people entering and leaving the country and to establish a rational worker permit program.

This is an incredibly weak excuse for a nation that can put men on the moon when it wants to, or that can gear up not only to fight a world war but to help all of its allies to do so.
Are we no longer that same nation?


The “energy crisis” is solvable. In the short run, we must increase domestic oil production and reduce consumption. The first is technical in nature. The second is a function of the will of the people — people who, for example, during World War II submitted to rationing and changed their ways of life to support the war effort.


Longer range solutions (and they may not be so far off) lie with alternative energy sources. But here again we face groups that accept only their own points of view and will neither listen to other viewpoints or accept compromise; organizations that fight any change that challenges their current economic well-being; and lack of focus to martial resources (e.g. a NASA-like effort to find ways to deactivate radioactive nuclear wastes). But most of all, we seem to lack leadership.


We could go on through the entire inventory of domestic problems — health care provision and disease cures, crime and drugs, poverty, declining educational standards, false advertising, and on and on.


There are solutions to each. In each case, it requires leadership to deal with the various publics and establish priorities. It requires leadership to set up forums so that all sides and aspects of an issue are heard and that the best thinking (and technology) can be brought to bear.


It requires leadership to build the public will to move forward.


It requires leadership to organize the effort to tackle the problem.


And then it requires leadership to know when the solutions to the current set of problems are far enough along that it’s time to move on to the next. Each of us holds a piece of the solution in our hands in that we select candidates for office and we create the messages to which they respond. But even more importantly, how we behave — and what we are willing to do or to sacrifice — sets the real stage for the future.


Most of the problems we face are solvable. We just have to go at them with a will and a willingness to enter into dialog and compromise.


Dr. Melvyn Copen lives in both Georgia and Arizona. He is an educator and businessman who has worked and lived in many foreign countries and provides consulting services throughout the world. E-mail him at melcopen@hotmail.com.