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Gary Horton: The first step is admitting the problem

Posted: June 5, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: June 5, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Alcoholics Anonymous remains one of the world’s most popular and effective alcohol-abuse treatment programs. A.A. teaches the first step toward recovery is admitting you have a problem.

That’s key — before any correction and recovery can begin, realization of the problem must be accepted. That’s hard because humans don’t like facing change and they don’t like to question long-standing notions of themselves or their belief systems.

A.A. strips people down to reality, and only then can meaningful healing begin. The same "admitting our problem" can help America turn back toward constructive growth.

The other day I was hanging out with a successful emerging local Republican businessman. My buddy is a relatively young, newly minted multi-millionaire, and just now has his business gotten him around to meaningful world travel.

Recently he’d flown to Asia to call on clients and inspect factories in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Seoul. He’d been to China before, but this trip had him traveling by car, close up, inside these cities.

"Gary, LAX is a shambles!" my friend lamented. "Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco are all America’s gateways to the world, and as far as the world is concerned, all these cities host Third World airports ... especially LAX."

These are almost treasonous words, especially coming from a staunch George Bush Republican. Indeed, my newly minted multi-millionaire friend keeps a photo of himself standing next to G.W. Bush hanging ever so close over his desk where he can often look up and admire the man, G.W. Bush.

Now, G.W. was infamous for his lack of international exposure and appalling lack of curiosity of world affairs and events. Unfortunately, this same level of international ignorance is also what typifies many under-exposed Americans.

My newly minted multi-millionaire buddy was truly shocked at the difference between public infrastructure in these modern Asian cities and that of the U.S.

He should have also known better, but like most of Middle American, Fox News fans, he didn’t. "You don’t know what you don’t know, so you can’t or won’t question what you already believe."

And he, like most, had always believed the never-questioned American mantra, "We’re number one! We’re number one!"

Meanwhile, while my buddy was away on his mind-expanding trip, back home we read about one crumbling bridge in Washington and another in Minnesota. Engineering societies tell us we face as much as $200 billion in necessary infrastructure repair — but most tune out these kind of downer messages from America-doubters.

In the end, my newly much traveled friend summed up his new realization.

"America has become a Second or Third World country for much of its population. We don’t see it so much in the splendidly landscaped corridors of Santa Clarita, but out there in the city and in the countryside, we’re falling further and further behind."

Why, yes, friend, we are. But it’s a dangerous thing admitting our problems publicly, as to many, saying such thoughts out loud is akin to faulting the U.S. itself.

We have an infrastructure problem in the U.S., but most folks and nearly all politicians aren’t yet humbled enough to admit it and redirect our budgetary priorities.

Another local Republican businessman confided to me that Americans seem to have an unusual ability to avoid facing national deficiencies — even urgent ones. This man travels a lot, and he rattled off the areas where America was once the world leader but now we’re followers:

Our health care costs are double per capita of the next industrialized country, yet our life expectancy is four years shorter.

We’re number 17 in primary and secondary education and are falling fast behind in production of scientists and engineers.

We incarcerate more of our population than any other industrialized nation, yet our crime rates are higher than most.

Amidst all this, we’re running budget deficits that, while falling, don’t provide us the elbow room to make the sweeping changes we need to solve our problems without serious adjustments and reassessment.

Meantime, we read that our congressman, Howard "Buck" McKeon, sent yet another bloated military budget to President Barack Obama. Another $600 billion for wars and projecting our military might abroad while we fester and crumble back home.

It’s a hard thing to admit your problems and then make the hard changes to solve them.

America has some tough soul-searching if we’re going to get back to the greatness that has long defined us.

Gary Horton is a Valencia resident. "Full Speed to Port!" appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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