Good Morning1 I'm up and about early, so you get that promised political blog this morning. I don't blog about politics too often, mostly because I think its inflammitory. Me getting on my blog and saying that the government are a bunch of asshats doesn't do me too much good, however nice it must feel, and it has a tendency to piss people off. I generally avoid it. But sometimes...its too much to resist.
The current political climate is definately irresistible to a cynic like me. In case you aren't familiar with me and my political leanings, I suppose you could say I'm a liberal. It wouldn't be entirely true. In fact, Mrs. Boss will tell you I'm a pretty conservative person. She isn't wrong. The thing, I think, that makes me liberal is the fact that the few issues that are voting issues for me I'm really, really liberal on. (Read: abortion, gay marriage, etc.)
Today, though, I really don't think that it matters whether or not I'm liberal, or conservative, or a moderate or whatever. I think what matters, or what should matter, is that I'm a US citizen. Here's the problem, it doesn't.
I'm sure, if you've listened to the radio, watched the news or spent any time on the internet in the last few days you've heard that S&P, a sovereign credit rating group, downgraded the US credit rating from AAA (which is perfect) to AA+ which is a notch below. Now, if you listen to the current administration, this downgrade isn't justified because of a rather large math error they found in the paperwork S&P sent them. Facing the facts, however, S&P even though they made a mistake in the math, kept the downgrade because of the current political environment. They said our government is too unstable to make the necessary political decisions that would help us deal with our long-term debt problems. This made me think of two things, both of which I wanted to address in this blog.
The first is about the debt itself. There's no denying it, we're going through some pretty hard financial times in the US. Our markets are bad, we haven't recovered from the sub-prime moirtgage crisis, we're in the middle of an incredibly long war (which I might note, normally pulls a slumping economy back up) on top of all our other "normal" debt issues. We're running out of money and we have to keep borrowing. Clearly, something needs to be done.
Now here is the part where I'll probably piss off people from both ends of the political spectrum. I have a few ideas on how to deal with that problem. I know, I know, I am not a mathematician. I know I am not a political analyst, but I think I've got a firm enough background in the US economy I can speak without making myself sound like a total idiot. Some ofthe things I think we should do:
First, we need to deal with entitlement programs. I'm not saying that they need to be erradicated, but they do need to be refined. I had coworkers who claimed it was easier to have another kid and live off the government than have a full time job. We had a woman working with us at one point who couldn't get more than a certain amount of hours a week or her government assistance was cut off. When she was fired, she had us fax her termination paperwork to her. In her home, in government assisted housing, where she had two phone lines and a fax line hooked up to her computer, all of which were paid for with taxpayer dollars. Not cool. I've had coworkers who would rather be on Medicare than pay for their children's health insurance through programs offered at work. That's not okay.
I know there are people out there who need the help. I think they should be able to get it. But I also think the system needs to be regulated, needs to have checks and balances that prevent abuse. I know that creates red tape, and its hard to follow up. There are simple things that can be done though. Limit the amount of assistance available to people based on how many children they have. After a certain point, enough is enough. When you have six children and live on government assistance, having another one shouldn't sound like a good idea. Getting more money to live from shouldn't be incentive to procreate. Ever. Those children are not being cared for the way they should if they are a means to an end. There need to be things like home visits and checkups. I'm sorry, if you can afford two cars, two phone lines, a fax line and a nice computer system and government assistance is paying for that, maybe you don't need the assistance. Maybe you are spending your money in the wrong place. Financial counseling, my friends, is a good idea. Also, I think there needs to be time limits in certain circumstances, and I think that (like unemployment checks) showing that you've been actively looking for a way to support yourself should be required.
As much as I hate admitting it, we could probably raise taxes too. I know people hate this idea, but really, when the other option is a national debt crisis, it doesn't seem so bad. And would it really hurt the people higher up on the food chain to pay a few more taxes? I don't think so. If you live a life of wealth, I think that comes with both privelage and responsibility.
Also, the whole military spending thing? That needs to be curtailed. I'm sorry, I know we need to protect our national security interests, but there comes a point where you have to say enough is enough. And while we're thinking of our brave laddies, yah, I'm glad they have incentives to sign up for the military, but while some of our weekend warriors are going to class on the governmen's dime, other soldiers are in poorly equiped vehicles and barraks because there isn't enough money for them. I think active duty should be a requirment for people who are having school paid for them by the government because they are in the military, and I think that there should be a restrictions on what they can and cannot take. I know of a guy who was paying for lessons at a golfing academy with his government school money from the military. He told me point blank after he was done he was headed to the northeast to pay for a polo academy with the same money source. Checks and balances friends. Also, I think like any scholarship, you should have to maintain your grades. That's just how it ought to be. If you were in the military, you should be able to focus attention long enough to study.
Another idea I've had for a long time is that some of this government money we've been "wasting" ought to be going to the refinement of industries where the US seems to be falling behind. Wonder why we have to tax Japaneese and Russian steel imports? The same reason we have to tax imported cars. They've refined the technology where we haven't and its cheaper for them to make. But no, we can't buy good product from overseas in the US without raising the price, because we have to make it fair for the US companies that can't seem to keep up. Free market kids! If a business can't hack it, it can't hack it. Maybe instead of taxing Brazillian banana imports because its cheaper there (they must be cheating, heaven knows they probably don't have a better climate for that kind of farming or anything...) we should take the cheap bananas and find a fruit or other form of produce we can grow and focus on that. I mean, we've got a diverse climate, surely there is something out there we can farm and farm well. Right?
If you ask me, one of the big problems with the US auto industry isn't unions or consumer confidence because the foreign car makers have more prestige. Its because the foreign car makers are better at it! We make shitty cars. We do. And we don't want to invest to make our cars and their technology better. There's a reason Porsche and BMW are big name cars friends. Its because they're nice and they last a long time. Nissan and Toyota trucks sell well in my area, I'll tell you why- you can drive them into the ground! I've had three trucks in my life. Two were nissans. One was a chevy. Guess which one spent 90% of the time I owned it broken or sitting idle in my driveway because it was a gas hogging POS? Yeah, I thought you could.
A few months ago I listened to an article on NPR about the Chevy Cruse and how it was makign waves for a car in its size and class because it was the same price, or comparable, to others in its range, but it came with more "luxuray" options. Like it doesn't break all the time. And it has lots of air bags. The car is comfortable and gets good gas milage. You know, once upon a time those things weren't luxury in US cars. They were standard. The fact we've gotten away from that and let our ability to manufgacture high quality cars shows we're willing to sacrifice when it comes to the consumer in favor of a profit. Looks like its backfiring now, doesn't it? Here's the trick- make good cars, charge a reasonable price, rebuild your reputation. Its not difficult. We've got the technology to do it, we simply choose not to, and the longer we let it slide, the more difficult it becomes to maintain and train on those higher technologies that are coming standard in other country's cars.
I could go on for days about tariffs and protectionism and all those things that keep us from beign good at what we do. We're the country of mediocrity, right?
Money being spent by politicians also really makes me angry. For example, in Wisconsin, where six recallelections are going to take place in the next week or so (over the governor's decision to ban union collective bargaining rights- you remember that fight, don't you?) they are setting campaign finance spending records. ON A RECALL ELECTION! They've spent something in the neighborhood of $35 million dollars. $35 million. That is so much money. Think of all the things that money could do. While we're talking of it, the Govenor of Texas sponsored a huge prayer rally yesterday where over 8,000 people attended. All the money that went to that could have been put to good use too.
When you think of the money spent yearly by politicians for the pure selfishness of political gain, the mind boggles. Then, my friend, think of how that money could have been used had the politicans given it to charities who help the less fortunate, that work to improve the environment or prevent violence in inner cities. Think of all the people they could have helped had they selected to use that money for good rather than their own personal gain. Then, having spent that money for political purposes, rather than putting it to good use, they stomp to their state and national governments and wave their fists about irresponsible spending. Pot? This is kettle.
And that brings me (slowly) to my second point, the things that kicked the ass of our credit rating in the first place. Politics, now, don't have anything to do with the citizens. Our congress people don't listen to us. They don't care. They cater to fringe groups (on both sides of the political spectrum, I might add) who have money to spend and don't give a damn about the opinions of the people who elected them. Its sad, but its the truth. Have you ever written one of your congresspeople? Have you written your senator? i have, and you know what I got back? A form letter. It wasn't even a form letter that was addressed to my concerns. Its just said "we're happy you're concerned about politics, don't worry, we're taking care of it!"
I call bullshit. You know, when I was in the middle east I was stunned to see that the "congress" people paid to have constituents over to their houses for dinner so they could find out how politics were going, and what they wanted them to do. I was floored when Isaw that you sat directly behind your senator during sessions, so they could take time to turn around and talk to people before they made their decisions. I was amazed when the MPs walked out because some were trying to get the public barred from a controversial hearing, and they thought that was unconstitutional. We don't do that here. We have town hall meetings where preprepared speeches are made, the questions are selected ahead of time, or when politicians get an question tehy don't want to answer they bluster and change the subject.
We pay now as constituents to sit down and have dinner and talk to our representatives, and usually, we don't get to offer our opinions. We get to listen to them talk about theirs, and all the things they plan on doing for us, if they ever get the time and political clout to do it. No one cares about the individual anymore. This isn't a government for the people. This is a governemnt for the government.
Nothing makes me angrier than listening to the chest beating of the extremeists. You can't "take America back" America doesn't belong to your political party. It t belongs to everyone. You don't get to dictate the mores and opinions of the country, because we decide our own. And there's not a "right" or a "wrong" path for us to be on. There's the one we all think we should take when we make a journey as a country, together. And when we make mistakes, we should be big enough to admit it, and then fix it and try again. The whole purpose of our government is to ensure that everyone has a voice. Yes, there is going to be a majority opinion, but that doesn't mean the little guy gets marginalized in the process. We're supposed to be taking care of everyone. That means when we vote, we think of how it benefits or harms everyone, not just us. We reflect on whether we're makng a decision that isn't ours to make. We think of whether we are protecting, or if we are prohibiting.
The problem with american politics, from the individual voter up, is that we're selfish. That's human nature, and I know its not something that can be changed. But, at some point, we have to take the time to think of whether our selfishness borders on self destruction. I think, after this week, after the last few years, that's something that has become painfully apparent. Its something that has to be fixed. And friends, we won't have money, freedom or a reputation if we don't.