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This has been a very good week for America – a week in which the rights and dignity of all people have been upheld.
In just a week, what progress we have made! Recall:
- The Supreme Court upheld the legal right of all people to marriage, overcoming centuries of discrimination against same sex couples.
- The Court also affirmed the Affordable Care Act that offers health care to most Americans – ensuring the millions now covered by health insurance will continue to receive coverage.
- Republican leaders in the Senate and House worked with President Obama to give the president the ability to ratify free trade agreements, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
- The President spoke for all Americans as he preached on grace, then captured a unifying moment in Charleston and across the country as he sang “Amazing Grace” at Emanuel AME church.
- Americans banded together to ask that the Confederate flag be taken down – 150 years after the end of the Civil War.
- The Gates Foundation announced it will invest $2 billion in breakthrough renewable energy projects.
For socially progressive, fiscally conservative people like myself, these are signs of genuine progress that our country is getting back on the right track, attempting to heal some of our historic wounds and bring the country together, so we can focus on growth and opportunities for all Americans to live healthy and prosperous lives.
In each case, leaders made the difference by acting with courage and listening to their conscience. Kudos to:
- Justice Anthony Kennedy who wrote the majority opinion on marriage equality.
- Chief Justice John Roberts who wrote the majority opinion upholding the Affordable Care Act.
- Speaker John Boehner, Leader Mitch McConnell, and President Obama for uniting forces against the Democrats and labor unions to bring the benefits of free trade to all Americans.
- South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, four living former South Carolina governors, and the South Carolina congressional delegation who unified to urge the Confederate flag be removed from the South Carolina statehouse.
- Bill Gates for his focused philanthropy and for encouraging others to join him and Warren Buffett in The Giving Pledge to give away 50% or more of their net worth.
It is pioneering leaders like these and many others who are making the difference in our country, in large ways and small.
Finally, on a personal note, at a gathering in Minneapolis, Hillary Clinton praised the George Family Foundation for the work of its Catalyst Initiative to address “toxic stress” in underprivileged communities through mind-body approaches to health. My wife Penny George’s visionary leadership in integrative health is enabling people to achieve health in mind, body, and spirit. Penny continues to inspire and amaze me.
I held back from the 2012 election, in part through taking the Howard Schultz pledge not to give money to any candidate until Washington decides to focus on America’s issues rather than partisan politics. No one noticed my absence except those dozens of robo-callers who learned that “William and Ann don’t live here.” Penny and I instead gave the money to our family foundation where we decided it would do a lot more good – in health care, leadership, spirituality and our community.
I grew up in a Republican family when it was a privilege to be part of a respectable group of people who believed in fiscal conservatism (i.e., living within your means) and social progressivism (i.e., accepting people for who they are, regardless of their differences from me). In recent years moderates like me have nowhere to go.
The political architects of the modern Republican party, like Karl Rove, have built a coalition that emphasizes social conservatism at the expense of fiscal moderation (reasonable tax policy and reasonable expenditures). In this party, there is no room for moderate Republicans – decent leaders like my friends Sen. David Durenberger, Prof. David Gergen, Tad Piper, Sec. John Whitehead, Rep. Jim Ramstad, Gov. Al Quie and Gov. Arnie Carlson. Even my Grand Rapids neighbor President Jerry Ford would not have passed the ideological purity test of today’s Republican primaries. President Ford told my wife shortly before his death that if he were to run for office, he would have to run as a Democrat. So I became an independent who voted for George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and supported President Obama’s 2008 message of hope.
Having lived through twelve years of Presidents who are fiscal liberals, I agonize as I see my generation bequeathing a mountain of debt to our children and grandchildren with entitlements so large they will bury all reasonable government programs. In the end, I voted for Obama – largely to keep the extremists in Romney’s party out of power. After all, who could affiliate with Senate candidates like Todd Akin who spoke of “legitimate rape” and Richard Murdoch who said that women are raped because “God intended it”?
I now find myself part of a dying breed: an over-45, white, heterosexual, Protestant male college graduate with an income over $50,000. For decades our demographic held most of the leadership roles in this country, but we long ago became the small minority of American voters. Strangely, the Republican Party hasn't yet figured that out. This was the only sub-group of voters that went solidly for Governor Romney, in part reflecting a desire to return to the “good old days.” (The good old days were never as good as we remember.) Meanwhile, I don't want to be identified by this dying breed! I love my friends who are like me in demographic terms, but I also love my friends who are females, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, gays, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and Muslims, and immigrants.
Sadly, I anticipate four more years of political gridlock in Washington. Even if we escape the fiscal cliff, there will soon be yet another politically-motivated game of “Chicken.” Rather than spend wasted hours endlessly debating federal politics, I recommend following the sage advice of Robert F. Kennedy, who said in 1966, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”
This generation can have the greatest impact by making a difference in our own environment: our communities, companies, non-profit organizations, churches and synagogues, and local governments. Rather than playing politics, these organizations focus on the big problems troubling us: poverty, homelessness, global peace, education, job creation, the environment and healthy living.
The future belongs to those who would unite us as one people, because of not in spite of our differences, and who are willing to work together to solve intractable problems. They are the real leaders.
MUNICH, GERMANY - The United States seems in awe of China's economic miracle, but rather disdainful of Europe, especially Germany. To the contrary, there is great wisdom in the German economic model from which Minnesotans can learn.
Germany is a jobs machine. Its unemployment is just over 5 percent vs. 8.5 percent in the United States. In Munich unemployment is only 2.2 percent. Germany exports four times as much as the United States with only 30 percent of the population. It has a positive $200 billion trade balance, compared with negative $700 billion for America, and favorable trade balances with China, India and Japan, as well all European countries.
Germans are well-paid, have excellent health care and pension benefits, and save 11 percent of their income. Yet German health care costs only 9 percent of GDP compared with 17 percent in the U.S.
Politically, the country operates like a grand coalition, with narrow differences between moderates on both sides. Politicians put the country's interests ahead of their parties. A decade ago the government went through a restructuring that moderated the cost of wages and benefits to be competitive with Asian countries. Germany is fiscally responsible: inflation is just over 1 percent, and deficits are 3.3 percent of GDP compared with 11 percent for the U.S.
German industrial strategy focuses on sectors where its technology and highly skilled workforce provide competitive advantage: machine tools, automobiles and auto parts, chemicals, electrical equipment and construction. Its financial sector finances German industry at home and around the world. It operates with conservative ratios that enabled most German banks to escape the 2008 financial meltdown.
Leading German companies like Siemens, BMW, Volkswagen, Daimler, BASF, and Thyssen-Krupp are flourishing these days. But there are deeper reasons for Germany's success: relationships between labor and management; its apprentice system, and the Mittelstand -- small and medium-size privately held enterprises.
Labor-management relations. German unions have long practiced "co-determination" with management on corporate boards, but their approach differs dramatically from American counterparts. They are committed to ensuring that their companies do well, produce superior products, and are cost-competitive. Work rules are flexible. Strikes are rare. They focus on collaborative relationships to make their enterprises competitive on a world scale.
Apprentice system: German education utilizes a rigorous system of preparing students for jobs and careers. Students are divided into those who enter gymnasium (high school) to prepare for university education and others who are better suited for careers in skilled positions in 342 recognized trades. They complete their education prepared for a career suited to their talents; dropouts are rare. Those in skilled-labor tracks move into three-year apprenticeships where they learn specific skills, such as computer programming or operating complex computer-controlled machinery. Educators work closely with industrial counterparts to understand skills required for future jobs. Heinrich Heimbold, CEO of Thyssen-Krupp, the world's second-largest steel company, believes labor relationships and apprentices have given his company advantage over U.S. and Asian competitors.
Mittelstand companies. These small and medium-sized firms are export-oriented and focus on high-value manufactured products utilizing skilled apprentices. Typically, they are rural and privately owned and occupy worldwide niche market leadership positions. Mittelstand companies combine long-term approaches with modern management practices like lean manufacturing and total quality management. They work closely with universities and researchers and cluster around large manufacturers. Owner-managers often rub shoulders with workers.
Steven Rosenstone, the new chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, believes in the German approach to education and industrial competitiveness. "It's a painful reality that many of the 215,000 Minnesotans without jobs don't have the education needed for the new economy," he said. "By 2018, 78 percent of all Minnesota jobs will require some post-secondary education." Rosenstone is restructuring MnSCU to train people for future needs, and also creating custom retraining programs for existing employees.
Minnesota's CEOs are recognizing the importance of Minnesota's skilled workforce. Cargill CEO Greg Page is leading a task force to address these education issues. Ecolab CEO Doug Baker Jr., who chairs Greater MSP, said: "Ultimately, the education and skills of the workforce is MSP's competitive advantage."
In my view, Minnesota gave up too soon on manufacturing competitiveness to focus on the service sector. It's time to refocus on manufacturing advanced technology products, using skilled labor to enable Minnesota companies to compete globally and restore full employment. It's not too late.
Originially Posted in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on January 7, 2012
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Leadership Kudos this week go to John Hope Bryant, founder, chairman and CEO of Operation Hope, the nation's leading non-profit organization committed to financial literacy. Since founding Operation Hope in 1992, Bryant has raised more than $500 million to help the poor achieve financial literacy. He is vice chair of the President's Advisory Council on Financial Literacy, appointed by former President George W. Bush and reappointed by President Barack Obama. Bryant is a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum and author of Love Leadership. With HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and Finnish philosopher Pekka Himanen, Bryant founded Global Dignity Day, which has had global impact in restoring dignity for all people of the world. Most recently, Bryant started the Silver Rights Movement to help all people achieve financial literacy and 5MK - or Five Million Kids - to help children become financially literate. He is a remarkable leader: compassionate, passionate, and focused on helping the poor around the world.
Leadership Gaffes go to Corporate Lobbyists for their attempts to water down the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). While some clarifications in definitions may be necessary, we shouldn’t lose sight that FCPA has been an important force for the integrity of U.S. corporations in doing business overseas, setting a higher standard than those practiced by many other nations. The act has given the United States more than the moral high ground, it has also given American companies a competitive advantage. By taking a higher road of ethical standards and focusing on product and service superiority, rather than paying bribes, U.S. companies outmatch non-U.S. companies in terms of real value creation. Indirectly, FCPA is having the impact of encouraging other nations also to set high standards of business practice. Reducing the U.S. standards for integrity would be a major mistake.
The fate of the fiscal stability of the United States was sealed on the weekend of December 4-5, 2010. The previous Thursday President Obama received the long-awaited report of his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, co-chaired by Democrat Erskine Bowles and Republican Alan Simpson. The report of the commission received a favorable vote with an 11-7 majority, but fell short of the 14 votes required for a mandatory "up-or-down" vote by Congress.
The commissioners delivered a balanced report that reduced U.S. deficits by $4 trillion over ten years - $3 trillion from spending cuts and $1 trillion from revenue increases. It received favorable consideration from both Republicans and Democrats on the commission. President Obama had the perfect opportunity to restore stability to U.S. finances by endorsing the plan and sending it to Congress.
For the President it was the perfect political setup, complete with "air cover." He appointed a bipartisan commission. It had delivered a bipartisan proposal. Surely, he could rally the country behind it by going directly to the American people. While the deficit reduction plan would have faced opposition from the extreme right and extreme left, President Obama had the opportunity to demonstrate his leadership and garner the support of fiscal conservatives, moderates and independents around the country.
What did the President do? Nothing.
The silence from the White House was deafening. The President ignored the commission's report entirely. He chose the politically expedient route and, in so doing, failed to lead the country by improving its long-run fiscal health.
Actually, what he did was worse than nothing. Over that weekend, the President negotiated with Republican congressional leaders a $4 trillion increase in the nation's deficits over ten years ($858 billion for the first two years, with the remaining $3.2 trillion projected over the next eight years). The added deficits came from a combination of tax cuts and spending increases - just the opposite of what the Bowles-Simpson commission recommended.
This new deal was passed by Congress over the objections of Democratic congressional leaders, who felt left out in the cold. On December 18, 2010 the President signed the deal into law, thereby killing any hope of deficit reductions coming from the Bowles-Simpson recommendations.
In one weekend our nation's leaders swung from a plan to reduce the deficit $4 trillion to actions that increased it $4 trillion – an $8 trillion unfavorable swing. This proves the old political adage that it is easier to cut taxes and raise spending that it is to demonstrate fiscal responsibility, as long as you've got a plan to get out of town before the sheriff comes.
The sheriff didn't take long to arrive. Realizing this President wasn’t prepared to take tough fiscal actions, Republican leaders next played brinksmanship with appropriations. That brought the federal government to the verge of shutting down at midnight on April 8, 2011. A last minute deal to cut the budget by $38 billion averted the shutdown. President Obama hailed the agreement as "the biggest annual spending cut in history." Hmmm. Seems pretty paltry compared to $4 trillion over ten years.
Republican leaders, seeing blood in the water, attacked again like sharks on a rampage in August, 2011. Demanding more spending cuts with no revenue increases, Republicans held the line against raising the debt ceiling until the August 1st deadline. A last-minute compromise reflected the agreement to disagree. At the 11th hour, the President and congressional leaders passed the Budget Control Act, appointing a Congressional "super committee" with the requirement to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion by November 23, 2011.
Concerned by feckless political behavior, Standard & Poor's took the historic step of reducing the U.S. sovereign debt rating from AAA to AA+. "The political brinksmanship of recent months," the company said, "highlights what we see as America's governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed."
This paved the way for the super-committee's failure on Monday. If committee members were ever serious about compromise, it wasn't evident. Republicans refused to agree to any revenue increases, causing Democrats to back away from spending and entitlement cuts they had offered. Now $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts go into effect next September. Speaking on CNN, political commentator David Gergen called the move "an irresponsible, reckless gamble."
The consequence of this gridlock? The financial troubles of the U.S. get worse, the country's competitiveness continues to slip, and the prospect of a future deal is even further away.
And it all started with an $8 trillion reversal one weekend last December.
Gov. Mark Dayton's jobs summit last month was a remarkable example of the extraordinary collaboration taking place between business leaders and government officials to rebuild Minnesota's jobs machine.
Historically, Minnesota has benefited from diverse industries including agriculture and food products, financial and professional services, health care, education, and high-technology manufacturing that allowed us to offset economic downturns. But after outpacing the nation for 30 years in job creation, Minnesota has fallen behind since 2003.
The 800 business and civic leaders who jammed into the ballroom at the Crowne Plaza in St. Paul engaged in serious discussions about how to stimulate job growth in Minnesota and re-create the Minnesota Miracle. This convergence of business and government leaders was a welcome contrast to the political gridlock that shut down state government in July.
At the summit the governor wasted no time in making his position clear: "It is the task of private enterprise to create jobs and wealth," he said. "The government's role is to create the environment and rules that make that possible." Dayton put substance behind his pledge, announcing a $100 million fund for small business loans, distributed through 300 Minnesota community banks.
These efforts are none too soon. Alarmed by declining job trends, a group of leading CEOs and civic leaders formed the Itasca Jobs Task Force in 2009. Chaired by Ken Powell of General Mills and Marilyn Carlson Nelson of Carlson Companies, their 2010 report highlighted three strategic initiatives to improve the region's competitiveness:
•Address the cost of doing business.
•Develop a vision, strategy, and approach for regional economic development.
•Enhance entrepreneurship and innovation.
To implement the report's recommendations, Itasca formed a team of 60 participants, chaired by HealthPartners CEO Mary Brainerd. "For us, this is the most important thing we have been part of,'' Brainerd said. "The commitment to a thriving community is really extraordinary."
In addition, the Minnesota Business Partnership, which includes the heads of 150 local companies, formed three task forces of its own under the leadership of Ecolab CEO Doug Baker Jr. The partnership made concrete recommendations to the governor and Legislature regarding fiscal policy, health care, and education.
Also last month, 12 large companies joined with local municipalities to launch Greater MSP, with Baker as its chairman. A $2 million budget was established, with 70 percent from the 12 companies and the remainder from government units. Its mission is to recruit out-of-state and international companies to locate in Minnesota and to encourage local companies to expand locally. Michael Langley was hired as executive director, coming from Pittsburgh, where he led a comparable initiative.
These remarkable efforts are a testament to the quality of Minnesota's leaders. Our state is blessed to be home to 20 Fortune 500 companies led by progressive leaders who understand that Minnesota's quality of life and a well-educated workforce are essential to their success -- and necessary to offset negatives like high taxes, high cost of living and weather.
Historically, Minnesota's strength has been the quality of its workforce. Thanks to efforts put in place 50 years ago, the Twin Cities leads the nation with 93 percent of citizens holding high school diplomas, and is third in bachelor's or graduate degrees with 37 percent. Ecolab's Baker notes, "Ultimately, the education and skills of the workforce are MSP's competitive advantages."
But this advantage appears to be at risk. The Itasca report forecast a gap by 2030 of 322,000 skilled workers that could constrain the region's growth. Bush Foundation President Peter Hutchinson notes that these other efforts will be in vain unless the region has the right workforce. He favors investments in infrastructure, K-12 schools, and higher education.
"It's a painful reality that many of the 215,000 Minnesotans without jobs don't have the education needed for the new economy,'' said Steven Rosenstone, the new chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU). "By 2018, 78 percent of Minnesota's jobs will require postsecondary education."
Minnesota has its challenges. But given the remarkably committed leaders we have today, I feel confident that these new initiatives will bear fruit and create the second Minnesota Miracle.
Originially posted: StarTribune
November 19, 2011
Leadership Kudos this week go to Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, co-chairs of President Obama’s Deficit Reduction Commission. Last December they proposed a $4 trillion reduction in U.S. deficits over ten years with a balanced plan of spending and entitlement cuts, and revenue increases. Although the commission passed the plan with an 11-7 vote, it was not enough for a mandatory Congressional vote. The thoughtful plan was ignored by President Obama and Congressional leaders in both parties. A great tragedy that led to the historic downgrading of U.S. sovereign credit ratings this past summer.
Leadership Gaffes go to Congressional Super-Committee for failing to come to a compromise agreement to reduce U.S. deficit by $1.2 trillion, setting the stage for automatic across-the-board cuts to go into effect. Confidence in Congress has dropped to 9%, and deservedly so. Congressional leaders continue to put party politics ahead of the needs of the country, as our financial state erodes and we lose competitiveness to many other countries. When will our politicians wake up and put their country first?
Leadership Kudos for the week go to Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicholas Sarkozy. Their tenacity and political courage enabled them to forge a deal to prevent the pending default in Greece and requiring the bankers to take a reduction of 50 percent in the value of their bonds. This was not an easy sell politically in either country, but they both recognized the importance of the Euro and keeping a single trading group in Europe. Only time will tell whether Europe’s other high-debt nations like Spain, Italy and Portugal will move aggressively to get their economies in order and reduce their debt, but Merkel and Sarkozy have sent an important signal of what is required to save the Euro.
Leadership Gaffes go to MF Global and CEO Jon Corzine for taking the firm into bankruptcy by betting $6.3 billion on the sovereign debt of Italy and Spain, refusing to listen to colleagues who pleaded with him to reduce the risk, and declaring “our positions have relatively little underlying principal risk.” In this volatile era solid risk management, adaptability to changing markets, and high levels of liquidity are essential for survival.
Tonight President Obama addresses the nation at a joint session of Congress about his plans to expand job growth. Here’s what he should say:
My Fellow Americans:
Our country is facing a jobs crisis of major proportions, the greatest since the 1930s. This nation’s strength is based on its strong economy and the global corporations that dominated their industries and fueled growth throughout the world. But now that strength is waning, as other nations, from China, India, Singapore, and Brazil to Germany and Switzerland, threaten to outstrip us in competitiveness.
In the 1990s our economy produced 23 million jobs and three consecutive years of budget surpluses. The combination of the Bush tax cuts and spending to finance two wars and entitlement plans created an enormous debt burden that future generations will be forced to carry. The historic downgrade of the U.S. debt rating from AAA to AA+ by Standard and Poor’s is a warning we cannot ignore.
The excesses of the past decade have imperiled our fiscal stability and left 25 million Americans – 16.2% of the workforce – unable to find full-time jobs. As a result, the United States has its smallest full-time workforce – less than 55 percent – and hundreds of thousands are dropping out each month.
When I came into office, I inherited a broken economy. Our banks, insurance companies and automobile makers were on the brink of bankruptcy. We took aggressive steps to stop the bleeding, and prevented the world from depression. I launched a $893 billion stimulus package but it had limited impact on the structural jobs crisis.
A robust recovery must start with jobs growth. Recent figures confirm that jobs are not growing, and there is no indication they will return without aggressive actions on our part. Yet we continue to get pulled off course by partisan showdowns over the budget and debt ceiling.
We need to stop making it difficult to grow businesses and hire workers in America. In response to excesses of the past, we overregulated our industries. With domestic growth approaching zero and the challenging regulatory, tax and political climate, companies are investing instead in rapidly growing emerging markets in Asia, Latin America and Middle East.
As a result, the jobs crisis is more severe than ever. The U.S. has sunk further into debt, and the country has reached the limits of its borrowing capacity. Our political stalemate has paralyzed our ability to take decisive action.
Therefore, I will use the powers entrusted in me as your President to take the actions required to put Americans back to work and restore domestic growth. All these steps must be taken without increasing the budget deficit.
Here is my plan:
- Restore fiscal stability by implementing the proposals of the Simpson-Bowles Commission to bring revenues and expenditures in line and reduce deficits by $4 trillion.
- With the recent debt downgrade, the government cannot subsidize federal jobs; therefore, I am appointing John Bryon, my Secretary of Commerce nominee and a former CEO, as Jobs Czar to work closely with American employers, large and small alike, to stimulate domestic investment and create 10 million jobs over the next decade.
- To create a positive climate for business investment like that of the 1980s and 1990s under Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush and Democrat Bill Clinton, I am ordering all federal agencies to reduce or suspend unnecessary regulations and focus instead on expanding private sector jobs in the energy, transportation, health care, information technology, and financial service industries, as well as small businesses.
- To prepare unemployed Americans for 21st century jobs, I will reprogram existing funds to invest in retraining and vocational/technical education.
- To make America more attractive for investment, I propose reducing the corporate rate to 20 percent, while eliminating complex deductions and credits.
- For the remainder of my term, I will suspend taxes on repatriated foreign profits for corporations that reinvest their portion of the $1 trillion in cash trapped overseas in manufacturing, research, and job creation.
- I will expand the number of H1-B visas, travel visas and green cards to make America an attractive place for immigrants to visit, work and start companies.
- To expand exports, I will implement a free trade policy by moving ahead with free trade agreements with South Korea, Columbia and Panama, while working with nations of this hemisphere to turn NAFTA into the Americas Free Trade Agreement.
As your President, I am prepared to put my re-election on the line to put Americans back to work, reignite economic growth, and restore America’s competitiveness. While my plan will not please the extremes of either political party, I ask all Americans to join me in this commitment by putting their country ahead of partisan politics.
Leadership Kudos this week go to Howard Schultz, founder and CEO of Starbucks,for his courageous restoration of Starbucks to a pioneering coffee house, nowexpanding around the world under Schultz's leadership. When Schultz returned as CEOin early 2008, most observers were predicting that the Starbucks mystique was waning and its growth was doomed. Schultz jumped in and addressed the problems head on, even closing all stores for a day to get his employees retrained on customer focus. Since then, Starbucks' revenues have grown in double digits, earnings have tripled, andfrom its low point in the fall of 2008, Starbucks stock has quintupled. Who says founders can't successfully go back home?
Leadership Gaffes go to House Speaker John Boehner for explaining Republicans hard line on the debt ceiling on talk radio, "A lot of them believe enough chaos would make opponents yield." He and his fellow Republicans were certainly successful in causing chaos and contributing to the historic downgrade of the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA+. But the deeper issue here is that Boehner sees everything as a win-lose contest between parties and isn't focused on the country's pressing problems: jobs, growth, and deficit reduction. With 25 million Americans unable to find full-time jobs, don't we have enough chaos?