Monday, August 1, 2011

It's Broke. Fix it!

I’M NOT REALLY FAMILIAR WITH all the details of the national debt imbroglio. I am pretty certain, however, that a kid with a corner lemonade stand would be in big trouble if he ran his business the same way the politicos have been running the finances of the nation. I can’t think of a family that would dare operate with the same laissez faire attitude that has led us to the brink on a very serious and deep crisis. And I believe an individual espousing a similar spendthrift philosophy would soon be penniless, homeless, and credit-less.

What I wonder is, where do these people come from? How did they get elected and re-elected to national office? How and why have they allowed this truly great country to be piloted so far astray from its original intent—to be a nation for all, with opportunities for all and fairness for all? What has happened here?  How did we get from being a society for the people and led by the people, to a plutocracy run by the mega rich and their corporations. And what do we do now?

It’s tempting to call for a revolution, an American Spring, but this won’t happen here. We’re just comfortable enough with what we have. We’re on the brink, many of us, of bankruptcy and default, but not quite enough of us yet have lost jobs, homes and comforts. We can just about handle four-dollar-a-gallon gas, and the latest refinance has given us a bit of breathing room. Still, we’re not happy. Food prices have gone up as our investments have tanked. Our homes—for many the single most important investment—have lost value,  and we are lured into purchasing the things we need—cars,  groceries, clothes and school supplies—with credit cards that charge 15% interest or more on an unpaid balance. In 2010, the census bureau reported that the average credit card debt was $5,100 and this is expected to top $6,500 by the end of 2011. Forty-six percent of credit card holders have an outstanding owed balance of $10,000 or more. We seek what is often called the easier, softer way, with the belief that someone, somehow, will bail us out.

This is a strange notion, this belief in a quasi-divine intervention. For the majority, it’s not going to happen.

There are steps we could take, some small, other large, that would go a long way towards restoring to the republic the ideals of a better time.

  • Stop buying on credit, except in emergencies, and a new flat screen TV is not an emergency.
  • Car-pool, use public transport, bike, walk, run, do anything to reduce our reliance on gasoline. A serious reduction in consumer consumption would force Big Oil to lower its prices at the pump. Did you really want Exxon to post its biggest quarter ever last month?
  • Vote. This is simple. Create laws that stipulate that you do not have to vote, but you must make your presence known at the poll on Election Day. If people have to  show up, they’ll get involved.
  • Work towards ousting the elected officials who essentially represent major financial interests—banks, insurance companies, the medical and pharmaceutical establishments, oil, auto manufacturers, construction and development, etc.
  •  Eventually, call for a constitutional amendment to limit elected representatives to a single eight-year term for the Congress and a single seven year term for the presidency. Such a measure would rid us of the need, once in office, to almost immediately begin campaigning for re-election. Elected officials could then spend their time in office as they should—serving the needs of the people they represent.
  • Rewrite and simplify the tax laws and codes. Create a three tier system with a limited set of available deductions.
  • Establish independent committees to look at each and every government subsidy and decide whether these are valid uses of funds.
  • Work towards ameliorating the American diet. Diabetes and obesity are on the rise, and cost billions of dollars annually. Simple changes in what Americans eat will save money and lengthen life.
  • Legalize and tax the use of drugs by adults. This will free up billions currently spent on fruitless interdiction programs. It will also reduce gun-related violence.

Easy? No, of course not. But it’s a start.

As of now, it is beginning to look as if the great American experiment with democracy is on the verge of failure, mostly because the majority of us is not active in the business of our country. That has to change. America is a young nation acting like a bored and tired state. We’re being led down a very dangerous path, and while we have only ourselves to blame for our current predicament, we, the citizens, are the only ones capable of instituting change.

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