Caution - This is a challenge. Please, as we progress in this segment, try to focus on what you believe to be the best course our Country should follow in the years to come. Consider carefully what you are asking for and what it takes to give you what you want. We live in a Democracy with a Capitalistic economic system. This System works because the opportunity is there for each of us to work, pay taxes, and buy stuff. Recently that has not been the case and the system is not working very well. We look to our leaders to balance the system and get things running smoothly again. That leadership is now under the magnifying glass and in a very short time we get to choose a new leader(s) or keep the one(s) we have, as least for four more years. This, because the system is not working well, is a very big deal.
So, what are the things we are all to one degree or another concerned with? As always we are a diverse group, so some things are more important and pressing to some than to others. But for over two centuries we have managed to keep this democracy and its economic system held together (sometimes with paste and bailing wire). Now is not the time to abandon ship, throw up our hands in dispair, or just give up and declare the whole thing too complex and difficult to do anything about. We are smart, we are courageous, we are determined and we are a caring people. We believe in freedom, we believe in our economic system, we believe in ourselves. So lets get to work.
The Macro Picture
Things that are important:
* Our Health * Our Opportunity * Our Finances * Our Safety * Our Freedom * Our Education * Our Democracy
Things that are Almost as important:
* Personal values * Integrity * Behavior * Trust
Things that are not important
* A candidates opinion about another candidate, A candidates interpretation of another candidates values or ideas
What are the most pressing issues on the table for 2012?
Our National Debt. Our Federal and State Budgets. Our Tax structure or how much we are required to pay to run the Government and how is that determined. The size of our military. The size and extent of all Government programs (health, education, welfare, Social Security, Subsidies). The economy (how to energize it, how to survive until then). The size and extent of our Foreign Aid, Corporate Aid, Agriculture Aid. Immigration. The Universal Health Program (real costs, real health care reform, hospitals and doctors). All of these affect the economy, what job opportunities are available, and how we are able to support ourselves and our families. If our children do not know where or whether food will be on the table tonight, the only concern is a job and the money that job provides. So where are the jobs and who will get the economy rolling again and get our opportunities to the front of the line.
Stuff of Great Interest but less pressing
Term Limits for House of Representatives, Senate and all elected officials. Reformed Legislative Process (no mixing of local and National interests). A review of the Executive Order and the protection of our Check and Balance System of the United States Government. A review of House and Senate benefits (retirement, health, pay and pay raises (they should not be able to vote themselves a raise). A review of treatment of returning soldiers (reintegration - medical, education, jobs), A complete revision of the tax code. Our Military role in the world.
Who is for What
Our political system has two parties and lots of interested sub parties. All of the interested sub parties try to exert pressure on the two main parties to get their voices heard and get things done. The two main parties try to juggle their time between getting re-elected and doing the business of running this country. Because the two parties like to differentiate themselves from each other, they each like to draw lines in the sand in order to halt the forward progress of the other party. This is only partially a disagreement on principle. A great deal of the opposition is based on not letting the other side score points with the electorate that might affect the next election. The fact that they can be re-elected almost forever has a great deal to do with his type of opposition to each other. That this peculiar behavior exists at all to the degree it does can be laid at the feet of this ability to get re-elected until boredom or incapacity sets in. Term Limits stops this. It stops the power from hanging out in one person's pocket for more than two terms. And, it stops the electorate from hiring the same person over and over again when it is no longer in the best interests of the Country.
Our two parties like to convince themselves and the electorate that their social, economic and foreign policy differences take the country into two entirely different directions. If all four of the branches of government were aligned solely with one party or the other I would say there is a measure of truth in that belief. But alas, such is not the case. The four branches are a mixed bag and tend to balance each other out over the long term. So what we end up with is conflict where the direction of the country is a convoluted grab bag of who has the power of the moment and whether any given group of representatives of the people can stand up and be counted as statesmen (stateswoman).
The four branches of our Government are responsible for solving the problems all citizens face as they grow, build a life, raise children and make their way in the world of commerce. Which leaders have the ability and desire to solve these problems? Not too many according to my count. With the big election up for grabs this November looks like everyone is out to lunch. This is of course is on purpose so that no one rocks the boat until we all decide who gets to run the country. But, what information do we have, other than the out to lunch part, that allows us to pick the leader(s) that will work hard to get us back on track. What getting us back on track means can be messed with by both Democrats and Republicans. But what does this really mean? Well, it means different things to different people and that is what we need to sort out.
Back to the big picture for a minute
Terrorism, it is real, it is distributed, it is fanatical, and it has a religious foundation. People die by those who cannot seem to persuade their own leaders that this extreme violence in the name of religion gains nothing but more violence, more hatred, and more chaos (largely within their own communities which tends to boggle the mind a bit). Iran took to the podium at the UN and spewed hatred, denied again the right of Israel to exist, and generally disturbed every peaceful citizen on this planet. We have a problem. Wars cost a great deal of money and blood. It is time to re-evaluate who we fight, how we fight them, and when we fight them. This must be a new strategy that addresses the new enemy, a distributed religiously fanatical extremist. Unless we are out to completely conquer a nation, it is more economical to surgically strike at those who would do great harm.
Economic Chaos, it is real, it is world wide, and it is painful for so many. The countries that are supposed to extricate us from this mess (Germany, China, The US, France, England, and others) are themselves experiencing slowing economies, less recovery, and serious joblessness. So far the magic bullets from the Central Banks have proven only temporary stop gaps. Basically the idea that the spending of a government must be balanced by the tax revenue that government takes in is still up for discussion. The issue of class warfare, rich and poor, is being manipulated by those wanting to get elected and re-elect. The more you give out the more people are dependent on the Governments "distribution of wealth". The more the conservatives try to take away what is being given out (balance the budget, reduce the size of government) the more those that are hurting cry out.
Size and Role of Government in the US, this argument is real and the winner will determine so many things about how we live and the opportunities available to us for years to come. This of course assumes that those that take office will stand up and be counted among the leaders of this country and make decisions that get things done. I know that none of this is simple but all of us must really decide on the role we want government to play in our lives. Look at it this way, everytime the Federal Government does something for you they take the cost of doing that thing out of the budget. If they do enough things they do not have the money for, we either raise taxes or borrow from the future. And once these things become a regular thing then the size of Government grows and grows. Pretty soon the Government is so big that it is hard to bring it down to a more manageable size, a size that we can all afford. For some that is no big deal but when the Government takes over half of everything I earn I tend not to like it. I would like to choose where my hard earned income goes, not a bureaucrat in Washington. This is more important when I have to save up for my retirement, send my kids to school, take a break once in a while, buy a nicer car or pay for an emergency. Some don't care about this but to me it is kinda important.
The European Example. Tax heavily, redistribute the wealth, provide lots of free stuff, but produce very little. As we have seen it is not a successful long term approach. The current push for austerity is not being welcomed with open arms by the people of any country. This is a recipe for disaster, in all countries, ours included. How to strike a balance between less government and safety net programs is the big question of this election and this period of time.
The United Nations: It effectively does not exist. Its role in this world, its financing, its authority needs a serious revision.
The President of the United States, The House of Representatives, The Senate, The Supreme Court
The President and the Executive Branch:
Each President or candidate for the Presidency has two faces. The one they show to get elected and the one they don't show to run the country. In this election cycle we have a president that by his actions has given us an insight into his ideology on where he wants to continue taking this country. The media has not followed nor published these actions to any great degree. But the books about Obama and his direction have been published and are at the very least informative and food for thought.
Mitt Romney as a candidate does not have the President's 4 year track record but he has articulated very strongly his disagreement over the direction this president has taken this country. However, it is significant that some of the President's actions that define his ideology have not been touched.
Here is a list of some of the areas that are in serious disagreement.
Nuclear Disarmament: I think we all agree that atomic weapons are a disaster waiting to happen. In theory removing all nuclear weapons would make this world a safer place, or at least lower the threat of a total nuclear meltdown of this planet. But is this actually a real option? For one the genie is out of the bottle and anyone with enough money can build a nuclear weapon. There are still lots and lots of nuclear weapons hanging around, Russia and the US have most of them but China, Israel, India, Pakistan, North Korea to name a few also possess these weapons of mass destruction. Even if the US and Russia reduce their respective bomb inventory, the current alignment between China and Russia exposes the US to their joint assault on the US. Is this a real threat? Only an insane person would start a nuclear war, right? Or a biological war, or a chemical war? So without every country eliminating their nuclear arsenal and establishing an effective monitoring system for the detection of a nuclear weapon or weapons grade nuclear material is it reasonable to partially reduce any one countries weapons? The extremist and the nut cases will still be out there. The areas of conflict will not have gone away. What is the better solution? Good Question for the President of the US.
The Military: The size of our military, the investment we have in equipment and people, is determined by the threat to our safety that we perceive as real, and, the role we play as a Democracy throughout the world, economically. socially and militarily. That there are suppressive Governments all over the World is a given. That other countries have resources we need and those supply lines must be kept open is a given. That there is the real potential for conflict and even war everyplace on the globe is a given. The size of our Military is governed not only by the perceived threat but by how we believe conflicts can be resolved through out the world. This is not the President's decision but the joint decision of our military leaders and our elected representatives. The size and role of our military is directly joined with the the role our Country plays throughout the world. The President can and does strongly influence this direction.
Energy Policy: Until there is unlimited energy available from renewable sources there is no such thing as energy independence. But, that said we can reduce the cost of our energy by reducing our dependence on foreign sources. What direction has the current administration taken us? For "environmental reasons" the pipe line from Canada to our refineries in the South has been rejected by the President. The fracking technology to drill for Natural Gas is under investigation. If, we were to create a natural gas infrastructure throughout the US, there is enough to supply all of our energy needs for 100 years. If, we invested in the technology to safely remove mercury and arsenic as well as co2 then "Clean Coal" would become a reality and supply energy for another 100 years. The current administration has sponsored Brazil, Columbia and Mexico (several billion dollars) in oil drilling off shore. China is contracting for some (or all) of that oil. Oil drilling in the US has been reduced. The Administration policy on energy independence is mixed. But, the direction seems to not be directed at energy independence. What the direction our energy policy really is requires more resources than I have at this moment.
Health Care: The age old discussion of how we as individuals receive medical care. Lets face it, most of us cannot afford what it takes to medically treat serious conditions. Whether that be a broken leg, a heart problem, cancer, or any illness that puts our lives at risk. The Obama Care program handles things like pre-existing conditions and the issues associated with insurance but it does not solve the high cost of medical care itself. And, if the costs of care refunded to the doctors gets regulated and reduced (further than medicare already does) we can slip into the no mans land of "why did I invest 11 years of my life to become a doctor?"
The role of Government in our lives: one choice: the Federal Government handles and controls everything. Another choice: The Federal Government handles safety (environment, war, terrorism, health, foreign and domestic threats, corporate monopolies, crimes against the nation, and national projects). The state handles all things belonging to the state, local communities handle all problems within their communities. One warning is that the Federal Government has not proven itself able to limit its own range of power. It does not know when to step back and let the private sector alone to grow and solve problems. It does not know how to stop growing itself. The tax system which funds this behavior is complex, convoluted and just plain hard to figure out. The only way to control the size and power of government is to have transparency in revenue collection and in spending. Only then can we hold our elected representatives accountable for their decisions and behavior. One clear choice we do have is limit their time in office and re-enforce the checks and balances that our founding fathers found so necessary. We have a map to run this government, it is not too late to bring it back into daily focus.
Immigration: Why have an entry requirement to visit or work in this country if we are not going to enforce it. All employers know the work rule of this country and yet are allowed to hire people who have no legal entry or work documents. There has been great fuss over voter ID cards (for now drivers license). Come on, we need a photo ID for almost everything we do. From opening a checking account, to buying a house, to driving a car, to buying a gun, to just about everything. Lets quit pretending that this up roar is anything but election noise. Both candidates must come up with a short, concise immigration plan. And, a national id card that identifies everyone's citizenship status without making their sleeping habits of public concern.
Foreign and Domestic Spending: First choice. Fiscal responsibility, or, spend less than we make. Second choice. Fiscal irresponsibility, or, spend more than we make. There are two very important questions that everyone in this country must ask themselves. What happens when we make the first choice and what happens when we make the second choice?
We now owe the future (our debt) 15+ trillion dollars. During the last four years this has been added to at the rate of 1.3+ trillion dollars per year. Based on promises made by the current president the projected debt during the next four years will be 20+ trillion dollars. Now lets put these numbers in perspective.
Light travels at 186,000 miles per second or 6 trillion miles in one light year. If a dollar was a mile our debt would extend out (past the planetary system) for 3.3 light years or 20+ trillion miles.
Or, if that debt were described as a personal debt for each of us we would all (every man, woman and child) owe + or - $50,000.
If we were to try to pay off that debt at 1 trillion dollars per year at 8% interest (By then the interest would be that high, maybe even higher) the interest alone would be 1.6 trillion dollars per year. Now we make (in taxes levied against every family) 3.3 to 3.5 trillion dollars. If we tried to pay off the debt we would have to either add 1.6 trillion dollars in taxes (4,000 $) for every man woman and child in the US, or reduce our spending to 1.7 Trillion dollars per year. And this would only pay the interest on the debt not on any part of the 20 trillion dollars!
Even if you disagree with the interest, the numbers are a staggering burden on the people. This level of debt is not sustainable. The impact to our way of life would be devastating. Everyone we owed money to would become our boss. We would become what we now describe as a third world country.
Representatives (House and Senate)
These Representatives have fought each other, stone walled progress, and been ineffective for many years. They all know that some things on their plate must be resolved, and resolved soon. Even if the President does things that are questionable through the power of the Executive Order, the two houses can correct those things that are deemed not good for the Country. Of course this requires all Representatives to stand up and be counted regardless of their party attachments. It requires they think about what they vote for or against, it means they must put service to their constituents ahead of their re-election goals. It means they must be bound by the Constitution, not trying to figure out ways around it.
I don't care how you slice it the ongoing message of the Obama Administration is redistribution of wealth and reducing the footprint of the US around the Globe. The basic push of the Republicans rhetoric is reducing the size of Government, beefing up the military, and trying to maintain a free market economy. In reality both are right. And, the only way for these two sides to reach a consensus is for each party to reach across the aisle, offer solutions not noise, and come to an agreement on how to balance the needs of the people with the reality of running the Country. This is not easy, but ignoring the financial fire storm, the escalating chaos around the world, our own Domestic needs (Medical, Social Security, Infrastructure, Education, debt) and our Social and military role in the world serves no useful end. If they continue to not act or to act inappropriately they will break the back of this economy and this Democracy.
The electorate has only two tools for change: Their Vote and their Consumption (to buy or not to buy). We can also petition our representatives to let them know how we feel and if need be we can peacefully protest against what they are doing or not doing. Sometimes we need to send a clear message, We don't like what you are doing! Of course that means we understand what they are doing or not doing. Getting that information takes a bit of paying attention.
The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court is supposed to protect the constitution, interpret the Law for the Nation, and keep itself out of politics. These are life long positions. Great care must be taken when one or more member is replaced. Just one decision can alter the course of this country. The current super pacs are an example of what can happen after a Supreme Court Decision. My personal belief is that they should have to retire like the rest of us. I would pick 65, what number suits you?
Everyone I talk to dislikes the path our media has chosen. The bias is evident for all to see and hear. Their failure to pursue the behavior and decisions of our leaders is disgraceful. The money the Obama's are spending on themselves does not get any media time. The behavior and decisions of our leaders gets only a light dusting. One media outlet covers a story and slants everything in favor of the current administration, another media outlet covers the same story and slant everything against the administration. Outright falsehoods are allowed without being contested. Real reporting is mostly absent. I did not know that in a Democracy there was anything resembling State Run Media. It seems to be the method of choice. If you are a Democrat, all Democrat actions, comments, and behavior are ok (truthful, correct, right, ok). If you are a Republican the same applies. But even with that totally biased slant, we hear little about facts of the matter. Can the electorate make an informed decision? Not based on the media commentary. That is why these debates are of such great value. They at least expose the candidates to a potential unsafe, unprotected environment where we not only get a glimpse into their ideas and solutions but their character as well.