It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other forms that have been tried. And we don’t actually live in a “democracy,” we live in a republic, but that’s here nor there for this discussion. But for all our faults, we’re still closer to getting it right than any civilization our size in recorded history. We’re just so darn polarized. Of course, that’s because all the people on the other side of the argument are stupid. No matter which side you’re on. That’s what it boils down to. We have so little regard for the opinions of others. Actually, that’s not true. We have GREAT regard for the opinions of those who agree with us. So much so that we usually blindly take their statements as fact. And when they are proven irrefutably to be wrong, they were merely “inaccurate,” or “misquoted.” Whereas the “other” side, when they’re wrong (which they are by definition), they’re intentionally obfuscating with nefarious intent (lying). Or they’re stupid.
Discussion is healthy, bickering isn’t, and most political discussions these days are just bickering. I don’t see anyone on either side of the aisle bringing us together anytime soon. We seem to be all fresh out of statesmen. We desperately need a Lincoln, a Churchill, a Reagan, even a Bill Clinton, who at least knew how to be reasonable and make a deal with those who disagreed with him.
Still, it amazes me that we’re debating some of the things we’re most partisan about, when some aspects of it seem to be such common sense. Here’s a few:
1. Oil and gas production. We are a carbon-based-energy economy, and that won’t change anytime soon. For now, today, we have to “drill, baby, drill.” Yes, we must invest in alternative energy. The oil will run out, perhaps not in the 20 years some alarmists predict, but it is a finite resource. The Earth isn’t making any more of it. Furthermore, and this astounds me that people don’t seem to understand this, we have to drill where the oil is. We can’t “move” the oil from, say, the ANWR, to a place we’d rather drill (downtown Detroit comes to mind). And as far as alternatives go, the safest, most reliable source we currently have on the table is… nuclear power. It is abundant, clean, and if managed with some reasonable level of oversight, safer than fossil fuels. It can work, if we’ll recognize that the well documented “disasters” almost always occurred from preventable causes, and conversely accept the fact that government is the necessary oversight body with the power and resources to effectively force Machiavellian corporations to take all the necessary safeguards to minimize the risks, which are perfectly manageable with a little common sense. One promising alternative may be thorium. But no one will research it because you can’t make a weapon out of it.
2. Immigration. Call it “amnesty” if you want, but deporting 11 million people and telling them to come back in the right way is not a workable solution. The problem isn’t that they’re here, so much as it is that their consuming resources without sharing responsibilities. The nation exists for its citizens, and that comes with the responsibility to contribute to the good of the society under whose blessings you prosper. Make a law that’s comprehensible and can be followed, then enforce it, but that law has to include a path to citizenship, which out to be the goal for both sides. But as a well-known legal proverb says, “If you’re not part of the solution, there’s good money to be made prolonging the problem.”
3. Gun control. A firearm is an inanimate object. It has no will and no conscience. If the trigger is pulled, it’s going to send a projectile in a straight line at an extremely high rate of speed. But the responsibility for that projectile lies with the handler, not the firearm. No gun ever hurt anyone without the intervention, or careless lack thereof, of a human being. It’s a tool. One with the potential to prevent harm or to cause it. Handling one is a great responsibility, one that most reasonable adults are capable of assuming. But many are not, and there must be some way to protect the rest of us from them. Some common sense restrictions on firearms ownership and handling are perfectly reconcilable with my constitutionally guaranteed freedom of ownership. One of those is a background check. And for a background check to be effective, it has to include all information relevant to making a reasonable decision. The piecemeal system we currently have is not effective, but the answer is to fix the system, not impose blanket restrictions on the law-abiding. We make you take a test to drive a car; I’d be okay making you take a test to own a gun. And for those who don’t like the Second Amendment; change it. The Constitution provides a perfectly valid method for doing just that. It’s been done 27 times, one of which directly repealed a previous amendment. Your problem is not enough people agree with you to change it. But they’re stupid, of course. Which apparently means more than half of us are stupid. Reading the news, I’m not sure I’d dispute that.
4. Fiscal Responsibility. Deficit spending, in the long haul, is unsustainable. I’m not a math whiz. I failed College Algebra three times before finally getting a grad assistant I could understand and getting a “B.” I got a mercy “C” in Elementary Calculus, something I had to have to graduate. But I can do basic math. If you spend more than you make, eventually, you can’t even pay the minimum payments on your credit cards. If your bills are more than your income, you have some variation of two choices: decrease your bills; increase your income. If you’re a government, there seems to be a third option: do absolutely nothing. That’s not technically true, they’re not doing nothing. They’re steadily running up the credit cards. But for now, interest expense (about 6.5% of the 2013 federal budget) pales in comparison to spending. Social Security is the biggest Ponzi scheme ever devised. The payout is unsustainable and increasing at an incredible rate. In 1940, there were 159 taxpayers funding the system for every one recipient. In 2010, it was 2.9 to 1. If the average annual benefit is about $14,000 (and it is), each of those not-quite three people must contribute over $4,800 a year to maintain the status quo. That would make just this one tax the 4th largest item in my monthly budget, behind rent, food, gas, and child support. And the numbers don’t get better going forward. While employment remains stagnant, 10,000 new Baby Boomers turn 65 every day. Most estimates say a couple retiring in 2014 will incur a quarter million dollars in healthcare expenses during retirement, and with costs and life expectancies both rising, the problem only gets worse. As for increasing revenue, of the 239 million tax returns filed in 2012, only about 268,000 of them show more than $1 million in adjusted gross income. If you took a million dollars from every one of them, it would amount to just over 30% of the estimated $882.7 billion Social Security spent in fiscal 2013. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid combine to account for 47.9% of all federal budget outlays. By comparison, the official US budget for fiscal 2013 allocated $672.9 billion for the US military; 17.7% of total budget outlays, and the US Dept. of Education had a budget of $71.9 billion; just 1.9% of the total. Completely wiping out the Department of Education, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Energy, Department of Justice, NASA, the National Intelligence Program, the Department of the Interior, Department of Commerce, the US Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, and the Small Business Administration would fund less than 30% of the Department of Health and Human Services. All $3.45 trillion of this amounts to what I recently laughably heard called “Draconian Republican austerity.” So when Bush spent $2.9 trillion in 2008 it was “irresponsible,” but when Obama spends $3.45 trillion it’s “Draconian austerity??”
What should be cut and what shouldn’t is open for debate. The fact that we spend unsustainable sums of money shouldn’t be.
5. “The Russian Bear Awakes and Remembers His Claws.” Or “You Can Go Home Again…If You Have Automatic Weapons and Armored Personnel Carriers.” Ignoring signs for years that Vladimir Putin wants to, as the man who inspired my blog, Mike Bratton, recently said, is “trying to get the band back together,” the western world has looked on in bewildered impotence as Russian Troops (sorry, Vlad, nobody bought the “military surplus” routine) just forcibly lopped off the southern 1/4th of a sovereign country, almost without firing a shot. Despite explicit, unequivocal statements in the weeks leading up to the invasion, Vlad rode in on a white Russian horse to “save” the ethnic Russians suffering under the iron boot of… wait, that was Viktor Yanukovych who sent snipers into the streets. Now the same depleted military that was unable to save Yanukovich is unable to save Ukraine. Ask Neville Chamberlain how much repeated assurances of non-aggression and restraint mean. And don’t think you can brush me aside by calling “Godwin,” the parallels between Crimea/Sudetenland are patently obvious. Furthermore, at least a sizable portion of Crimea doesn’t want to be saved from Russia. As unfathomable as I find it, many of these ethnic Russians WANT to be Russian (Soviet) again. Perhaps not the overwhelming majority that Putin claims in the “free and unhindered” referendum held under occupation with only two choices, niehter of which was “remain in existing Ukraine,” but likely a majority. And in his 18 March speech should have removed all doubt in all but the most delusional minds. It’s a shopping list. “This is where we’re going next. These are Russian territories, and we will regain what was robbed and plundered from us.” Trans-Dniester, eastern Ukraine, part of Kazakhstan, Byelorussia and Estonia are next, and he may be more justified there than in Crimea. There’s real evidence that some of those places really are discriminating against ethnic Russians where lingering anit-Soviet sentiment is strong. The speech is replete with references to “Russian military glory” and “inseparable part[s] of Russia.” But most troubling, he may be right about some things. One of the foundational principles of post-feudal government is the right of the people to remove a government that does not suit their desires and institute a preferable one. And he’s right that we tend to be selective in our support for this principle. The Colonies did just that in 1776. The Confederacy did just that in 1861 (although that didn’t work out so well for them). And Kosovo did it in 2008. Russian troops, or should I say, more Russian troops, are massing on the borders of eastern Ukraine, conducting more “training exercises.” (“It’s a training exercise,” “we have no intention to cross Ukraine’s borders or engage in any aggressive actions,” “We do not want Ukraine’s division.” Who in their right mind believes this?? “Don’t want Ukraine’s division… any more than we’ve already divided it.” The question is: what can we do? The answer, unfortunately, is “not much,” if we even want to. Our leaders piously lecturing Putin about “21st century behavior” are laughable, and that’s just the reaction we’re getting. Nothing short of direct military intervention is going to stop Putin, and current US leadership certainly doesn’t have the backbone, and probably not the support of the American people to do that. Iraq and Afghanistan have left us broke and isolationist. How little has changed since World War One a hundred years ago, or since 1938, or since Russo-Georgia in 2008. I’m not saying we should march in with troops, I’m simply saying that’s what it will take. Russia has the stomach, if not the economy for it. Putin’s speech lauded the “bloodless” nature of the recent upheaval. It’s likely to stay that way, and Russia’s USSR re-incarnation is not likely to stop as long as it stays bloodless. Such is human history, such is human nature, and that hasn’t changed much, either.