Where we can find the inspiration to fix America?

Summary: Take five minutes from your daily diet of news about America’s problems. Pouring more water on a rock does not make it wetter. Instead consider where we might find the inspiration to fix them. Here is a suggestion. Post your suggestions in the comments.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”
— Joan Didion, The White Album (1979).

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© Wavebreakmedia Ltd – Dreamstime.

Looking at politics in America and understanding our situation brings forth dark thoughts, for those willing to cast aside tribal parochialism. As describe in dozens of posts on this site, the burdens of self-government have become too great for us to bear.  Our national motto seem to be “It’s not my fault”, (it should replace E Pluribus Unum on the dollar bill). This is the ethos of a nation in decline.

“An experience of profound contempt is necessary in order to grasp our situation, and our capacity for contempt is vanishing.”
— From Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind, in the chapter “Values”.

Rather than wallow in our problems – the most popular form of politics among Americans today – we can look for sources of inspiration. What might those be?

When a people’s conceits and delusions are burned away, they must fall back on our core beliefs. Those are seldom enough, at least IMO not enough for America. Other nations have their sacred soil, their shared blood, or their common religion. We have belief in freedom, free markets, human rights, and a republican form of government — all valuable and important ideals, but abstractions. America is in a sense an intellectual project, which gives it a basis in our minds but not our hearts. Increased diversity, a result of our leaders opening the borders, makes this kind of ideological cohesion increasingly difficult.

So it should not surprise that these beliefs did not prevent us from our current situation. Americas is like a jet aircraft with sputtering engines, its pilots bickering, and its passengers panicking. Neither self-interest nor love of our nation provide much strength in such a crisis.

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© Kiosea39 – Dreamstime.

Our last refuge

“Myth supplies models for human behavior, and gives meaning and value to life.”
— Mircea Eliade in Myth and Reality (1963).

America was founded as a political project, but survived and prospered due to the culture we built. Allan Boom explains what this means, and what it does for us.

“{It is} everything that uplifts and edifies a people, as opposed to commerce. It constitutes a people, binding individuals into a group with roots, a community in which they think and become a moral unity – of which the arts are an expression. It is the peak expression of man’s creativity, our ability to break out of nature’s narrow bonds, and hence out of the degrading interpretation of man in modern natural and political science. It is profounder than the modern state, which deals only with man’s bodily needs and tends to degenerate into mere economy.” {Slightly edited.}

Bloom also notes that many foreigners sneer at our accomplishment.

“Charles de Gaulle and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, see the United States as a mere aggregation of individuals, a dumping ground for the refuse from other places, devoted to consuming; in short, with no culture.”

We will prove them wrong. We have taken the refuse from other nations, but with them have forged something new and great.

The bad news, and the good

Much of America, especially its Left and its intelligentsia, despise our culture. They prefer to trash it in favor of radical experiments, with us as lab rats. Our culture has become a battleground instead of a source of strength.

All that leaves us are our myths. Myths inspired the people of ancient Greece and Rome, and can do so for us. Unfortunately our modern myths reflect the spiritual weakness that is one cause of our crisis. For example, most of them tell about about people who find a magic dingus and become great, or have powers bestowed on them by some Powerful MacGuffin. James Bowman calls these Hollywood’s “slacker heroes”, fun escapist fantasies.

In XXX, for instance, the charm of the scenario lies in the idea that lazy, undisciplined slackers like, well, moi, can wander in off the street and instantly outperform the highly trained secret agents that were the role models of yesteryear (or a) similar imposture: that enough of the right technology can render skill and discipline unnecessary. …Discipline, practice, sobriety, hard work, training, all of this counts for nothing. I could do that all that stuff – being the kind of “street-smart” character that I am.”

Fortunately we have other myths that better match our past, that better meet our needs, and that can lead us to a greater future. They provide stronger food for our spirit and imagination. Let’s use them soon, since they too are under attack. They are a kind of social capital that must be used or lost.

Bruce Wayne as a young boy watched the murder of his parents, and spent years studying and training to become Batman, one of the most formidable men of his time. Determined that other children will not suffer his fate.

James T. Kirk studied for years before entering Star Fleet Academy, working to fulfill his dream of becoming a great Starship Captain. When an instructor at the Academy his students saw him as “a stack of books with legs”, familiar with both ancient philosophy, such as Spinoza’s (mentioned in the TV episode “Where No Man has Gone Before”) and the major battles of history (described in chapter 2 of The Kobayashi Maru by Julia Ecklar).

More recently we have Fullmetal Alchemist (first broadcast to the US in 2004. See Wikipedia to learn about the story). Its tagline (slightly paraphrased) is profound.

“Humankind cannot gain anything without first giving something in return. To gain anything, something of equal value must be given. That is life’s First Law of Equivalent Exchange, and applies to thing tangible and intangible – matter, energy, and spirit.”

It is a more sophisticated version of “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch” (from Robert Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress). If America were to take this belief to heart would again become a formidable nation.

There are scores or hundreds of these modern myths, only a few of which find a home in our minds. It is easy to say “these are just stories. But they represent a part of us – of our culture, our society – to which we can look to for inspiration in the dark times ahead. Let’s act soon, because time is our enemy.

“People need stories, more than bread, itself. They teach us how to live, and why. …Stories show us how to win.”
— The Master Storyteller in HBO’s wonderful Arabian Nights.

Who Is Your Hero?

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.  See all posts about heroes, about reforming America: steps to new politics, and especially these…

  1. The problem with America lies in our choice of heroes.
  2. We want heroes, not leaders. When that changes it will become possible to reform America.
  3. Hollywood’s dream machine gives us the Leader we yearn for.
  4. Are our film heroes leading us to the future, or signaling despair?
  5. Why don’t our dreams of a better world inspire us to act?
  6. We like superheroes because we’re weak. Let’s use other myths to become strong.
The Hero with a Thousand Faces
Available at Amazon.

The big book about superheroes

The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

By Joseph Campbell (1949).

This is the book that sparked serious research in to the function and significance of myths. See Wikipedia. From the publisher.

“Since its release in 1949, The Hero with a Thousand Faces has influenced millions of readers by combining the insights of modern psychology with Joseph Campbell’s revolutionary understanding of comparative mythology. In these pages, Campbell outlines the Hero’s Journey, a universal motif of adventure and transformation that runs through virtually all of the world’s mythic traditions. He also explores the Cosmogonic Cycle, the mythic pattern of world creation and destruction.

As relevant today as when it was first published, The Hero with a Thousand Faces continues to find new audiences. This third edition features expanded illustrations, a comprehensive bibliography, and more accessible sidebars.”

 

41 thoughts on “Where we can find the inspiration to fix America?

    1. Payniss,

      Isn’t that tautological? A revival will be inspirational! What will inspire the revival? That is, what will inspire (aka motivate) people to “revive” the Left?

    2. No it isn’t actually. Look up what tautology actually means (and fix the typo in the headline while you’re at it)

    3. Payness,

      (1) “No it isn’t actually.”

      That’s not a helpful answer.

      (2) “Look up what tautology actually means”

      The first definition of a tautology is a redundant statement, as in “A beginner who has just started.” For clarity, I had explained what I meant:

      A revival will be inspirational! What will inspire the revival? That is, what will inspire (aka motivate) people to “revive” the Left?

      (3) Thank you for catching the typo! Fixed!

    4. info,

      See my reply to Payness. Such answers are wish fulfillment, the drug of peasants. “Everything will be set right on the great day we rise up and smite our oppressions!” Fun but pointless.

  1. unfortunately, one of the harshest lessons of history is that descent from the imperial apex is a one way trip. if the u.s. is to avoid the fate of other formerly great empires, perhaps the best first step would be a thoughtful and voluntary step back from imperial over reach. that the u.s. is prepared to take such a step in not obvious.

    1. Jay,

      I agree. But we are hip-deep in good advice. The subject of this post — and this series about how to reform America — is how to implement all these great ideas.

      Not only is this a more difficult issue, but our disinterest in it shows the very heart of our problem.

      Websites are a dine a dozen whining about our problems. Rarer but quite common are those with analysis (some quite brilliant) of our problems. Smart people don’t write about implementation – because there is little or no audience for it. Posts about reform get the fewest views on the FM website. This one might get 700 hits today, absurdly low.

      BOO the bad guys! Cheer the Good Guys and Gals! That’s what we want to read. That’s what we’re given. Until that changes, reform is (IMO) impossible. Ideas about how to change that are gold.

    2. “unfortunately, one of the harshest lessons of history is that descent from the imperial apex is a one way trip.”

      History does not teach that at all. It teaches that societies ebb and flow and that eventually all things must end.

      Let’s see if I can get this to post exactly once.

    3. Mike,

      “History does not teach that at all.”

      For many supporting examples of Jay’s statement, see The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy (1987).

      Can you give some counter-examples?

    4. I am reminded of a summary of the platforms of the Carter vs. Reagan campaigns: Carter was “Let’s Talk Energy Efficiency” while Reagan was “Kill the Bastards.”

      The problem is what happens when you run out of bastards to kill. There is the thorny issue with winding down our imperial project of – it is difficult to do it abruptly. Great harm would be done. It might, perhaps, be better to do it abruptly than not at all, but can we organize winding it down? If we could engage in a managed, long-term retrenchment that at least attempts to minimize power vacuum and suffering… well, it might fail. But to have even thought about it, to have even tried, would, I think, be an honorable thing for America to do.

    5. SF,

      I well remember the Carter – Reagan campaign. I don’t believe Reagan said anything remotely like “Kill the Bastards.”

      That’s was Bush Jr’s contribution to America: convincing us to wage endless war in other nations, relying on means like bombing and special ops assassins. Obama and now Trump have continued Bush’s policies. More importantly, we vote for them, over and over. We. We. We.

    6. Phil,

      “Nationalism is an step back from the overreaches of globalism.”

      Why do you say that? Much of history is people with power using it to oppress those of smaller groups. Clans oppress families. Communities fight clans. States oppress communities. Supra-national groups — religious, ideological, institutional — oppress States. Each claims that their institution is the best for humanity, and their oppression of smaller groups is for their own good.

      Much of history has been attempts to form loose structures that accommodate multiple levels of society. The Founders built a nation “of families” (protected by the State by constitutions), in which State power was fragmented among a plethora of institutions — operating at the community, state, and national level. Both Left and Right seek to gain control of the national institutions and smash smaller ones. Much of today’s politics is smaller ones resistance.

      We see this even more clearly today in the EU, as its leaders attempt to force nations to open their borders to a flood of migrants – disrupting their economies and societies, erasing their cultures.

      So I don’t agree that nationalism is “a step back” from globalism. Both have their place. When balances become upset, conflict results.

    7. Hope is not mysterious, i.e., foggy and unaccessable. It is readily available, except for our own denial of reality. Hope is not a program, nor a policy. And it cannot be legislated. Rather, it is a gift waiting to be received and engaged.

    8. Phil,

      “Hope is not mysterious”

      I agree. I said something different: “The wellsprings of hope are mysterious.”

      “It is readily available, except for our own denial of reality.”

      You have your opinion on the wellsprings of hope. I find it naive, but these are things unknowable. Each to his own.

    9. God is the prime wellspring of hope. And while the mysteries of God are not completely knowable, they are adequately knowable for those with “eyes to see.” This is my opinion, but not merely my opinion. To agree with truth is an opinion, but not merely so. The fact that something is an opinion does not make it true or false. Reality is unavoidable. I also relish in the naivete of faith, not in the sense of inexperienced, but in the sense of “natural and unaffected; innocent, without sophistication” (sophistry).

      The literature of the world disagrees with your thought that these things are unknowable. At best one can only accurately say that they are unknowable to one’s self. “Each to his own” is not an answer to the problems of epistemology, it is the problem that is swamping us! The world is wallowing in a sea of each-to-his-own-ness. While it is true that each person has his or her own subjective opinions, it is also true that objective truth (or a calculus of objectivity) is readily available. But ya gotta wanna, ’cause if ya don’t wanna, ya ain’t gonna. That is, we are driven by our unspoken preferences and presuppositions.

      For instance, I suspect that you are not a believer. Perhaps you believe that God is not real. But I submit that God is as real as straight lines or perfect circles (http://factmyth.com/factoids/there-are-no-straight-lines-or-perfect-circles/). While their (straight lines, perfect circles, and God) factual existence can be debated, their practical necessity in our ordinary life is blatantly obvious, apart from self-denial.

    10. Phil,

      “God is the prime wellspring of hope.”

      That’s certainly one way to look at it. It’s not, however, the only way to look at it.

      “The literature of the world disagrees with your thought that these things are unknowable.”

      You’re inability to respond to what I say — rather than to some mischaracterization — makes a dialog useless. You’re talking to yourself. Have fun!

  2. Change is hard. When you really think about the bus boycott in Alabama think of the grueling days that were endured to drive change that didn’t come after a few weeks or a few months…and that was just to change the bus riding policies, not get equal rights. Some would even argue that we are still waiting on the equal rights part of this 62 years later. the hard work and the active oppression on top of it for such a small gain. I don’t think I could do it unless I was faced with dire circumstances AND had encouragement/leadership to keep it up.

    1. Melancon,

      “Change is hard. ”

      Yes. And it often takes a long time. Americans willingness to invest the time and energy — and take the necessary risks — is the big reason we are different.

      The Founding, the abolitionist movement, the suffragette movement, building unions, trust-busting, the civil rights movement — building America has been a long-list of projects.

      “we are still waiting on the equal rights part of this 62 years later”

      All achievements are incremental. No generation is responsible for creating heaven-on-earth. Just for leaving things better off than when we came.

      “I don’t think I could do it unless I was faced with dire circumstances ”

      That’s why this era of Americans is different. If our children feel the same, America is over.

      “had encouragement/leadership to keep it up.”

      I hear this frequently. Even from Army officers talking about military reform. Everybody wants mommy and daddy to hold them by the hand, except for those that want a Winged Jesus to make things happen. On this world, leadership comes from withing groups – and its quality depends on the us. We get the leaders we deserve.

      As for encouragement — perhaps you’ll get it in Heaven (“Well done!”). Don’t expect it down here. Drive must come from within.

    2. Follow-up to Melancon,

      For encouragement we can turn to the past. Such as Churchill’s words when taking office as Prime Minister, 13 May 1040:

      “To form an Administration of this scale and complexity is a serious undertaking in itself …I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this government: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.’ We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.”

      We should be grateful our challenges are so small compared to those at the great moments of the past. When Nathan Hale was ordered on the espionage mission that cost him his life in 1776, he replied

      “I wish to be useful, and every kind of service necessary to the public good becomes honorable by being necessary. If the exigencies of my country demand a peculiar service, its claim to perform that service are imperious.”

      Our problems are trivial compared to those of the West in May 1940. Or the peril faced by a small number of Turkish soldiers at at Gallipoli in April 1915. Troops of the British Empire had landed, and a successful beachhead might change the course of the war. Lieutenant-Colonel Mustafa Kemal commanded the 19th Turkish Division. His works turned his troops into an unstoppable force: “I don’t order you to attack; I order you to die.” He later became Atatürk and created the great nation of Turkey.

    3. What should matter most of all is our commitment to truth and to align ourselves with it thereby knowing what is truly good. Then we can truly pursue the good.

      What one person thinks is good is another person‘s evil and vice versa. What some consider improvement is anothers degradation.

      Therefore we need to truly know the good.

    4. info,

      “Therefore we need to truly know the good.”

      While I applaud the effort, I suggest not putting that on the critical path for political reform. Let’s just get more people active, and trust (as the Founders did) the wisdom of citizens acting together.

  3. “Much of America, especially its Left and its intelligentsia, despise our culture. They prefer to trash it in favor of radical experiments, with us as lab rats. Our culture has become a battleground instead of a source of strength.”

    I agree with that. But it sounds to me like an endorsement of Trump. That element of the Left does not want to fix America, they want to end it and replace it. So it seems to me like the America-hating portion of the Left must be pushed out of their positions of power if America is to be restored. Trump, however crudely, is trying to do that and no one else seems to have the stomach for the fight.

    1. Mike,

      “But it sounds to me like an endorsement of Trump.”

      So there are only two possible truths in politics: the Left and Trump? You must realize that is quite daft.

      “Trump, however crudely, is trying to do that and no one else seems to have the stomach for the fight.”

      The Left dislikes our America and wants to change America. The Right dislikes our America and wants to change it into a plutocracy (Trump’s policies are a pure form of this). Neither like us or our America. Both are supported by legions of useful idiots.

      This is quite a natural outcome. We’ve become passive and apathetic, so others have stepped forward to run America. As the Bible says, the meed inherit the dirt.

  4. “Much of America, especially its Left and its intelligentsia, despise our culture. They prefer to trash it in favor of radical experiments, with us as lab rats. Our culture has become a battleground instead of a source of strength.”

    I agree with that. But it sounds to me like an endorsement of Trump. That element of the Left does not want to fix America, they want to end it and replace it. So it seems to me like the Left must be pushed out of their positions of power if America is to be restored. Trump, however crudely, is trying to do that and no one else seems to have the stomach for the fight.

  5. Seperation of education and state, pursued with the same vim as the traditional separation of church and state. If modern times have proven anything, it’s demonstrated that we are not only seeking cultural indoctrination via state sponsored education, but that we are doing a poor job of it. We spend too much on education, and the resulting citizens are turning out faulty from the experience.

    1. Mudsill,

      “Seperation of education and state, pursued with the same vim as the traditional separation of church and state.”

      That’s the generic answer when asked what might motivate Americans to become politically active. If “X” happens, then things will be good.

      The generic answer totally misses the point. Reforms occur after people become politically active, not before. Angels will not come to fix America, after which we will deign to become active in its behalf.

      How to arouse America is the great question, so far unanswered.

  6. The best way to start is to get involved in local government – neighborhood, city, borough, township, or county – or local groups that seek to change or improve the status quo. Got to the local courthouse – or school board – and find out how you can run for local office . Attend a school board or city council(or local government ) meeting and introduce yourself to local elected leaders. You’re a citizen – be part of the republican process. You may have a larger impact on your own life and those of others in your community , especially if you decide to run for local office, as I did.

    1. Mike,

      I agree. But the question here is NOT “what should we do?” We’re hip-deep in good advice.

      The question is “how to motivate or inspire Americans to become politically active.”

  7. “So there are only two possible truths in politics: the Left and Trump? You must realize that is quite daft.”

    Of course that is daft. But it is not what I said. But at the moment, it looks like the Left is likely to gain complete hegemony. If that happens, your preferred truth does not have a chance (nether does mine). And the main person fighting against that is Trump. We are in big trouble unless Trump can do enough damage to the Left that people like you can regain influence in the Democratic party. Heck, knock the Left down enough and I might even become a Democrat again.

    “The Left dislikes our America and wants to change America.”

    I agree.

    “The Right dislikes our America and wants to change it into a plutocracy (Trump’s policies are a pure form of this).”
    I strongly disagree with both parts of that. If Trump is the candidate of the plutocrats, then why is he opposed by almost all the plutocrats, ranging from Silicon Valley kiddie billionaires to the Koch brothers?

    “Neither like us or our America. Both are supported by legions of useful idiots.”

    Smug disdain for democracy is not going to solve our problems.

  8. “Can you give some counter-examples?”

    The Roman Empire basically collapsed during the Crisis of the Third Century https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crisis_of_the_Third_Century then came back strong. That was only the most dramatic of the many ups and downs in the history of Rome.

    Then there is the Byzantine Empire. Nice animated GIF here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Byzantine_Empire_animated.gif

    Kennedy looks only at the final brief periods of various empires. Easy to pick out after the fact.

    1. Mike,

      Neither example is contrary to “descent from the imperial apex is a one way trip.”

      (1) Rome

      The Roman Empire didn’t collapse during the third century “crisis”, but it never recovered. It had a partial recovery under a strong emperor, Diocletian, but its institutions were too damaged for full repair and he could not hold it together. Diocletian ruled as sole Emperor for only one year (285). He divided the empire into two components in 286, then in 293 into four pieces (the tetrarchy). The two larger pieces became functionally independent under Diocletian’s successor, Constantine (ruled 306-312).

      History shows that once the slide begins, it’s a one way trip. There are rest stops along the journey down, but little more than that. I’m sure there are a few counter-examples (there always are), but I can’t think of any.

      (2) “Then there is the Byzantine Empire.”

      Yes, the Byzantine Empire existed. Pointing to its existence does not make it a counter-example.

  9. “The best way to start is to get involved in local government …”

    Now that is good advice. Add to it support for renewed federalism so that state and local governments play a more important role. It is very hard for individuals to influence a remote, powerful, central government. But that provide convenient one stop shopping for the wealthy and the corporations.

    Now lets see if this will appear right under the message I am replying to (Mike
    12 September 2018 at 9:53 am).

    1. Mike,

      “Now that is good advice”

      We’re hip-deep in good advice. But that’s not the point of this post. That so few see this is a measure of our problem. Americans believe that wishing — which is all that good advice is — accomplishes anything.

      It doesn’t.

  10. Every state has a peak. Every state has an end. If that is all you look at, then descent from the apex is indeed a one way trip. But that is just a tautology that teaches us nothing.

  11. “The question is how to motivate or inspire Americans to become politically active.”

    So do you have any advice on that?

    One reason that people are politically inactive is that they don’t see it as having any effect. A big part of the problem is that so much of the power, and even more of the attention, is focused on Washington. Most people have no reasonable hope of influencing Washington, so being resigned is rationale.

    But people can influence their local governments. Success breeds confidence and inspires further efforts. There is only so much that can be done locally, in no small part due to constraints from above. So local activism will lead to demands to devolve more power to levels closer to the people. And it will build the grass-roots organization that might be able to make progress with those demands.

    That is not a plan, but it is a starting point.

    Is Kummer the only on allowed to reply directly to a message, rather than at the bottom of the thread?

    1. Mike,

      (1) “So do you have any advice on that?”

      Lots. See the five or six score posts at Reforming America: steps to a new politics. Quite specific ideas about organizing, planning, use of music, etc.

      Unfortunately, I’m skeptical that any of this is sufficient. It’s like the related question of how to begin a religious revival. The spirit must move in the people. That is, people must love liberty and be willing to bear the heavy burden of self-government. We can encourage, but perhaps not do much more than that.

      In other words, I’m guessing. But I continue to search for ideas.

      (2) “One reason that people are politically inactive is that they don’t see it as having any effect.”

      I agree. Unfortunately, that’s how peasants think, expecting life to be like a sitcom. People strong enough to govern themselves think differently. British and American people used to think differently.

      • Samuel Adams and his fellow activists in 1764 Boston organized the first of the Committees of Correspondence. They formed the nucleus of shadow governments, which later formed the basis of revolutionary governments. They won in 1783.
      • In 1787 William Wilberforce began his crusade in Parliament against slavery in the UK. Full victory came in 1833.
      • Benjamin Franklin helped organize America’s first Abolitionist Society at Pennsylvania in 1785. These spread across the nation. Partial victory came in 1865. Full victory came in 1964.
      • The first women’s rights convention was held at Seneca Falls NY in 1848. The first National Women’s Rights Conventions was held in Worcester, MA in October 1850. The 19th Amendment became law in August 1920.

      (3) “Is Kummer the only on allowed to reply directly to a message, rather than at the bottom of the thread?”

      Look at the comments on this post. Other people’s replies are in sequence. If the “reply” button isn’t working for you, I suggest that you close your browser, clean the cache, and try again. That usually works.

      The FM website runs at WordPress, which I believe is the largest website operator (and not cheap to use). Bugs usually (not always) result from bugs in the reader’s machine.

  12. From “Hope And Community” by Philip Ross at Pilgrim Platform.

    “Hope is essential for human well-being. Conversely, the lack of sufficient hope is the root cause of many, if not most, social ills, i.e. addiction, depression, domestic violence, marital problems, poverty, etc. While this means that individuals who have such problems suffer from inadequate personal hope, there is more to it than that. Of course, personal hope is part of the problem.

    “But what is more important than the lack of sufficient individual hope is the lack of sufficient community or communal hope. Hope is a social thing. Hope is like financial capital in that we each have a little that we contribute to the public square where hope is stored and invested in future undertakings. When we are personally low on hope, we can borrow from the public holdings, and when we are flush we can increase our deposits to the public square….”

    1. Phil,

      That is an interesting perspective. Thanks for posting. The wellsprings of hope are mysterious…

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