Are We Creating the World We Want?
The buzzing confusion of political dialogue
Will tomorrow look like us, or like some alien we don't recognize? I don't know who will make the best President, Governor, or Congressman. Eventually I will make a choice. Each election we get to choose candidates that will keep this the great country that it is, or improve it by helping bring jobs and other good things. These candidates will reflect our values, or realistically, those of special interests who influence them and are experts at influencing us. I know - I often work in that field and see how companies and groups work endlessly to make the most effective message possible.
Each day we are pounded by messages meant to harden our stand and irretrievably polarize us on issues that are important to powerful special interest groups. If there is any truth in them, it is bent so far it is unrecognizable. These simple minded big money ads on TV are simply one thing: propaganda meant to prevent us from exploring issues and making intelligent decisions. Since political advisors know that negative campaigning wins big, we can expect ads backed by special interest big money to become very negative.
What are our values? During this recession we have seen a lot of our moral and ethical ground slip away that in the past may have been very important to us. In the tension between conserving resources versus saving the needy, we are placing way too much is at risk.
This is not an attempt to sway people to vote for one candidate or another. It is a campaign to get individuals to influence the platforms developed by their political leaders. If your voice is not heard, then politicians will bend to the special interests or voting blocks that put them in power, and then the world is theirs. Your voice must be heard. Send them a message and tell them if they want your vote, then stand up for your values.
What is at stake?
Our government is at stake
The elected body that creates our laws is the Congress. Congressional approval rating is at it's lowest point ever: In the teens. Constituents have become so polarized that they will not seek common ground on issues, but simply block each other's legislation. The Senate requires 60% approval to get a bill passed. As a result of polarization and this 60% requirement, the Congress is in permanent gridlock. Nothing can get done except a few bills that don't incite the wrath of small but crucial votes in the political parties. Everyone hates it, and it looks like the country will send even more people to Congress to absolutely prevent any new legislation.
The end result of polarization is simple, as witnessed in recent history in internally divided nations around the world: stalemate, hardship, chaos, war. When people decide that they cannot agree, cannot find common ground, and their positions are hardened to the point that they are passionately opposed to the other side's opinion, whether one side dominates or not, then the ability of government to function is severely hampered and frustration and conflict escalate.
It was conflict with England, a one sided rule that suppressed dissenting opinions, things like taxation without representation, that brought the American Revolution and an end to colonization. It was polarized opinions about slavery that brought the Civil War. People simply won't live with their opinion and rights suppressed, and right now the people are divided around 50/50 on issues because influence groups polarize us and harden our positions. This is a very unhealthy situation, and only finding common ground will resolve these issues.
Somewhere between the idea that there should be no government that interferes in anything, and the idea that we should rely on government for everything, is something that works. Finding the right balance will work well.
The idea that the government can be relied on for people's paychecks and all wellbeing is ridiculous. The State governments, just like corporations, who provide minimal salaries, are steadily eliminating Medicaid, and have even taken worker's pensions away from them through underfunding or bankruptcy. Over-dependence risks disaster. No nation has successfully supported its people. But the opposite idea is equally ridiculous.
Some people want everything in this world to be a wildly profit-making enterprise. They would charge for the air we breathe... and in some ways already do through air filtration and air conditioning. Is this the way we want to make our world? Private enterprise simply would not have produced the benefits in the world we have, and it takes an organization a lot larger and without a profit motive to do certain things. The highway system is one example. Private enterprise would have created toll roads, and every day we would pay a large price for transportation. The Internet is another example. Private enterprise would eventually have created individual Web sites that would have $20.00 to $1000.00 subscription prices for each, and you would likely be getting to them through a slow telephone land line. Video on line would not be possible, nor would IP telephone.
Today's Internet is a major economic boon for all business, is a major tool for spreading democracy, and a daily tool for information sharing and connecting people. The US Government funded the development of the Internet through DARPA, by funding a military application that eventually had civilian benefits.
Government does what individual businesses are incapable of, or unwilling, to do. For years, government has been funding studies of the effects of pollution and other environmental issues, and creating regulations that stop it. Pollution in cities has a death toll attached. The more pollution, the higher the death toll, and people with illnesses such as asthma, or the aged, find it difficult to breathe and their health affected. Individual businesses find the business climate too competitive to fund such research, fund solutions, and fund implementation of solutions. But when government does it, the same standards and costs are applied to all businesses. Business cries foul and complains because their costs are increased, but the killing stops.
What is at stake? A lot in many areas crucial to our well-being. Today almost all scientists agree that the earth is in a warming trend and that human pollution accelerates and exaggerates the effects. A warmer climate already is causing problems through world-wide weather disasters. It cost us billions of dollars for New Orleans, for Joplin, MO, and for many other cities destroyed by increasingly destructive weather. It will get worse farther into this century. Disease and insects will also increase. Drought will occur increasingly often in some areas, and flooding in others. Violent storms are getting increasingly worse and more frequent. These weather changes, such as unusual early warming and refreezes, storms, and drought, all affect food crops, and the world food supply will suffer. Snow is affected on mountains that are depended on for drinking water for cities and states. Food shortages will bring (and have) political instability in some countries as people rebel and fight for food. Even the ocean levels will rise and wipe out islands and coastal cities. The East Coast sea level is rising much faster than scientists predicted. Storms kill people. Pollution kills. Floods kill. Drought kills. Lack of water kills. Rising ocean levels kill. Civil fighting over food kills. If we bend the warming curve now through implementing pollution controls, it will help, and the earlier we do it the more it will help stop the killing.
Industry's response to global warming is a resounding, "Hell no, we won't do anything." Free enterprise simply can't afford to address issues like this. It is only government that can research the problem, understand it, and require all industry to find and implement solutions. The impact on industry has to be shared, and only government can impose that.
When people in the government are influenced by industry special interest groups, government modifies regulations to favor these groups, underfunds regulation enforcement so that these industries are unmonitored and regulations not enforced, and underfunds research on these problems.
What is at stake? Just the earth as a place to live. It's time to stop the killing. With industry and special interest groups running the show, we are literally going off the cliff. Your voice can make all the difference.
Corporate control and charity, or government oversight and safety nets?
Many seem to want the government to be run like a corporation, and charity to take the place of government safety nets.
Business has a very specific role to play in society. The business of business is business. The goal of business has increasingly become to provide products whose sale enriches investors. It used to be that businesses formed around creating a product that gave people good jobs, built a company, and rewarded investment. But competition and investor control of business has changed that for many companies. That aside, the goal of business is to make a profit. No profit, no business - it's a necessity. Creating jobs is not a goal of business, it is a byproduct, and is an indirect result of consumer demand for goods and services. The idea that business is there to create jobs is completely bogus. Business only responds to consumer demand.
Having been a manager in a Fortune 10 company with responsibilities for hiring and for profit and loss, and a manager in small businesses, and a startup, I never once heard the directive to create jobs. It wasn't as if I worked for bad companies. I worked for a really good company that had not laid off employees since shortly after the birth of our nation. In the mid-1980s, even they had to lay people off because of competition. The directive is always "Get it done with fewer jobs, and don't hire unless you have to."
Businesses have legally underfunded pension plans for years, cut layers of management, cut employees, sent jobs overseas, cut salaries, merged businesses to get rid of employees and reduce salaries, and found ways to avoid paying taxes on their revenue. In recent history several major corporations have used bankruptcy to severely cut employee pensions. Business cannot be depended on for employee financial security. Business has one interest: itself, and assuring its own existence. If government gets run like a business, this is what we can expect: Eliminate jobs, cut salaries, eliminate benefits, assure its continued existence, and provide only those services that provide more money for government. Business has no business in government. Government has radically different goals.
Who should provide a safety net for US Citizens? Most people believe in helping their neighbor. Organizations like churches, the Red Cross, and philanthropic organizations take on many tasks that make us a better world. Our government reflects our caring attitude toward other people through the safety net that it provides. Should these governmental services be transferred to these other organizations?
I heard one government official say that the Church should be the first responder to the New Orleans flood. No doubt religious people played a major role, but first responder to crisis? That's a heavy burden, and churches are not organized or chartered for that type of community service. Church attendance and affiliation has been steadily declining for most churches since the 1960s. Over 80% of US citizens identify with a particular faith tradition. This is declining. According to a Pew pole, in the 18-29 age group, "one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion." This is true, even though they still believe, and are traditional in their beliefs. Overall only 56% of US adults think religion is important in their lives. Only around 39% of US adults attend religious services regularly.
Most Churches struggle to make ends meet. They are constantly on cost reduction budgeting due to shrinking attendance. Members give an average of 5% of their income. So today 117,000,000 Church attendees give around $2,500.00 each annually to keep their church and care ministries going, which equals $292,500,000,000.00 annually. The annual Federal, State, and local government budget for pensions, health, and welfare is around $2.7 trillion (2,700,000,000,000 ). Giving to churches would have to increase 90% to reach this amount. My guess is, even overlooking declining attendance, church giving is not going to increase even 1%.
So what we are left with, after considering that neighbors and philanthropic organizations are very unlikely to provide a safety net: What is the government's role, and does it reflect our values? In the Preamble to the US Constitution, we agree and mandate "...promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity...." It is not a question of legality. But promoting the general welfare does not mean giving people money, except possibly in the short term. It is generally accepted that the best way to help people is to directly provide for their short term needs, while helping them obtain the tools to take care of themselves.
One major thing needs to happen for everyone's benefit. The systems, such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, need to be mandated by the public so that these things stop being a political football for politicians who hate them and want to dismantle them, or want use their resources for other things, and want to use 30 year out shortfalls to scare people, or want to expand them into ever larger areas. The government has borrowed Social Security deposits from the beginning of the fund, and has never given us a dime in interest. Politicians can't resist taking big piles of money and using them for whatever comes to mind. These funds need to be sequestered for only Social Security payments, and used to do things like make the Fed overnight loans to banks, which pay a guaranteed interest, and are a secure investment. That should not only help fund the system, but provide higher Social Security payments to retirees.
Our adventures in the "welfare state," and the mishaps and failures of other countries experiments with socialism, strongly indicate that providing for people's welfare long-term is not a viable option. But to reflect the values of probably 80% of US citizens, we need to set our political sights on requiring the government to provide short term assistance to those in need, and to help people obtain the tools to take care of themselves. We have to elect politicians who have that goal, not those influenced by special interest groups, corporations, and party agendas.
Ensuring economic fairness or letting free enterprise have its way with us?
The current problems with the economic system, and the problems with decreasing access to healthcare, are indicative of special problems with democracy and free enterprise (capitalism). They indicate the need for the government to intervene. Free enterprise does not have a mind - it is a mindless beast that devours as well as provides - it is like harnessing a wild bull - it may destroy you if it gets loose.
The healthcare system, which used to be a shaky compassionate system of care not strongly related to financial gain, has greatly benefitted by becoming a for-profit field. Billions of dollars go into the system, and large companies benefit tremendously by providing goods and services to the system, and consumers benefit from steady improvements to medical care.
Medical care has become a privileged system in the US. The best comparison is what happens in third-world countries. Those with money create businesses that form into trading groups. They will only trade with each other. Others can't get into the system. So the economy of the country stays weak. No money goes to consumers, so they can't purchase products from these suppliers. It is a closed system that is incapable of growth, and permanently shuts out everyone who is not in it.
The US medical care system is a privileged system that is effectively closed to others getting into it, so is slowly cutting its own throat as more and more people lose the ability to carry insurance plans each year. Few new people can buy products, existing customers are being forced out, so the system will eventually fail. The trading partners who constitute the system are the hospitals, doctors, and medical equipment and product suppliers, insurance companies and the organizations who use them, who all have trade agreements (contracts). The system has been allowed to increase costs to consumers at a double-digit rate for over two decades. Hospitals and other medical service suppliers have the power to negotiate large increases with insurance companies. Medical suppliers know they have a cash cow they can milk for ever more money. The ones in the system with limited power to negotiate effectively with insurance companies, and effectively control the increase in costs, are organizations and people who buy insurance.
For years organizations have been forced to transfer more of their insurance plan costs to employees, or drop the plans. States and the Federal government have been forced to pay these sizeable increases for government employees. It only takes 5 to 10 years for insurance to double in price, while income for most people has been flat for over 10 years. Over 48 million people in the US, 16% of the people, are uninsured, and the number of insured people rises every year due to companies dropping insurance. It takes a force as big as Congress to intervene in this system. A simple clamp down on the rate these prices are allowed to rise would help. Medical service suppliers would be forced to control their expenses.
Just as important are the economic trends that are sending more and more people into poverty, destroying the middle class, and robbing people of the privilege of home ownership. A smaller percentage of people today can afford to buy a home. The government and banks thought that ignoring personal financial requirements on loans was the way to for more people to realize the American dream of home ownership, but the gambling atmosphere in the financial services world caused major gambling mistakes and brought down the entire financial system, and plunged the entire world into a deep recession. Overlooking financial requirements was not the way to go. Helping people obtain more income is the realistic way to go. The good news is that the US could be strongly on the road to recovery, but the European and China situations are making the recovery weak. This article is not about the present economic crisis, which will slowly get better if government does very little, except maybe some strategic investment in growth industries for the long term. This article is about trends that show what we have become and what we are becoming.
World-wide competition, which is excessive, is placing a strong downward pressure on wages and prices. Falling prices mean less money for employees, which means they have less money for purchasing products. It is a downward spiral toward the bottom. As long as companies can transfer jobs to the country with the cheapest labor, and companies and consumers can import goods at bargain basement prices, this will continue. Companies have to do these things to survive in a competitive world. It takes a force as big as Congress to intervene in this system to prevent the continuing downward spiral that will eventually destroy us all.
The downward pressure on wages is not the only thing that is sending people into poverty and destroying the middle class. Wealth in this country is moving up the ladder to those who are already wealthy, while the middle class is sliding ever downward. The reason for this is that people who are wealthy can make astronomical gains in income in the stock market, while the rest of us simply have to pay for those gains through the products we buy. For example, while middle class John, who can't save, pays 20% ($10) more for a $100.00 product by using credit, upper class Jack earns 20% ($20.00) on his $100.00 savings. That is a $40.00 differential, transferring money to the upper class. It takes a force as big as Congress to intervene in this system. To start out with, as most wealthy people agree, they should pay their fair share of taxes, and they typically pay less than their employees.
Corporations and major stockholders create only 20% of the jobs in this country. Most jobs, 80%, are created by small business. These businesses need rules that give them better access to health insurance for their employees. And they should not be carrying the tax burden that large businesses and stockholders shirk. Most of these businesses should have the same tax advantages as an LLC. LLCs are pass-throughs for income to their members - they don't pay taxes.
If the downward spiral on wages continues, and the steady movement of wealth from the middle class to those who are already wealthy continues, we will soon be back to the robber baron days of the early 20th Century. People worked long hours with no overtime or benefits, and were often killed doing dangerous jobs. No one cared. The following trends are accelerating the problem: The steady weakening of labor unions; the steady movement of people into salaried "management," or "exempt" positions in which salaries are fixed, responsibility requires very long hours, and an ever widening range of jobs is centralized on one employee who carries this crushing load for low pay.
Polarization keeps people divided so that they have no power to change things, to the delight of special interest groups and those with political agendas who want to have their way with the people. Divided we're screwed. People must have a voice and take action to prevent this from becoming a world in which safety nets are removed, medical care becomes unattainable and the medical system is destroyed, wages continue in a downward spiral, the environment is fed to the lions, home ownership and retirement become impossible dreams, robber barons become the only employment, and we are all flushed into poverty.
Congressmen only respond to fear of losing an election. That's the current nature of politics when the constituency is closely divided on issues. Congressmen's issues are only what small groups within the electorate demand, who they had to please to get into office, plus party agendas set by the leaders.
People must tell their legislators there is only one way to get their vote. They must tackle these issues in realistic ways and preserve America. Dump their agendas, whatever they are, and get to work on the issues or they will be replaced in the coming elections. Contacting them is as easy as sending an email: The Complete List of Email Addresses for Federal and State Congressional offices: http://www.conservativeusa.org/mega-cong.htm
People who get my vote this year will be those who believe in the US Constitution, and the sharing of responsibility for our wellbeing by all of us. It will be those who are able to compromise to resolve problems, like our growing national debt, and the unavailability of healthcare to a growing major portion of the US. It will be those who look for better answers than going to war as soon as other countries have civil problems. (Saddam Hussein's power was broken by embargos, and had gotten rid of "weapons of mass destruction," he just had a loud mouth and belligerent streak - war was not necessary.) It will be those willing to look for safeguards for American's jobs, income, and prosperity. It will be those who recognize that shoveling money to businesses does not create jobs. It will be those who understand that whatever financial straits America is in, we still have to run a government and finance it.
If you don't want to compose an original message, simply copy and paste the URL for this page: www.visualwriter.com/WhatKindWorld/Common_Ground.htm .
If you want to send a message that follows this text, copy and paste the following: "I want the polarizing voices to stop, and Congressmen to cooperate on creating effective legislation. We have serious problems that need fixed, and polarization and party politics is only preventing them from being fixed. I want the special interest groups to have no more influence over you, and contributions to election campaigns to be blind to you. I want the environment preserved for the health and safety of all of us. I want the paralyzing 60% rule in the Senate replaced by a simple majority. I want access to healthcare for everyone, not just the privileged, and for medical care costs to quit rising at rates that put insurance out of reach. I want everyone who is not in poverty to pay their fair share of taxes, including the wealthy and corporations. I want the Social Security and Medicare programs amended into the US Constitution and kept stable as an absolute mandate, and the government to pay us interest on our Social Security payments, just like the IRS charges us interest on overdue taxes. I want the government to help the needy find tools to help themselves. I want rules in place that penalize companies that ship jobs out of the USA, or who hide from paying taxes. I want trade rules that create a fair playing field in international competition, just as the SEC does in this country, so that our taxes, jobs, and incomes are not threatened by continuous over-competition from low wages in other parts of the world, or by corporations that don't pay taxes (not including countries with high personal income tax rates). I want continuous pressure on the gambling atmosphere in the stock market, and everything possible done to prevent bubbles. I want regulatory agencies fully funded so they can effectively do their job. Pollution must stop while we still have an earth to live on, and it is your job to make sure companies stop polluting. These things reflect my values. I am prepared to vote for you if you adopt this as your platform. I am prepared to vote against you if you neglect this in campaigning and continue working and speaking in a way that is polarized or polarizing, or is uncooperative."
- Dorian Scott Cole
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