I'm James Maxey, the author of numerous novels of fantasy and science fiction. I use this site to discuss a wide range of topics, with a heavy emphasis on cranky, uninformed rants about politics and religion and other topics that polite people attempt to avoid. For anyone just wanting to read about my books, I maintain a second blog, The Prophet and the Dragon, where I keep the focus solely on my fiction. I also have a webpage where both blogs stream, with more information about all my books, at jamesmaxey.net.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Gridlock! I hope. Maybe.

It's been ages since I've done a political post. I think there's been one since Laura passed away. I find that my interest in politics has waned during the last year. Part of it has been the unrelenting sameness of the news. During the Clinton administration, I was fired up over what I saw as government abuse of power. Things like the slaughter of children at Waco, the Clinton's pulling the IRS records of their political enemies to dig for dirt, the allegations of government monitoring of international traffic, and the involvement in a war against a country that posed absolutely no threat to us (Bosnia) seemed like the beginning of the end of what we think of as democracy. So, of course, all these practices continued, and were often taken to a whole new level by the Bush administration. Worse, Clinton had faced a hostile congress and actually was unable to pass any huge new spending initiatives like big health care plans. Bush with a friendly congress went out and spent money as if it was just some imaginary number on a government spreadsheet. And, he did it while cutting taxes, more or less. (Tax revenues are actually increasing, so I'm hesitant to call his tax cuts tax cuts. When the government has less money to spend next year than it did the year before, I'll call that a tax cut.) Bush and the Republicans are spending like a typical American consumer... they are living on credit cards, buying a lifestyle they can't afford at present by mortgaging the future.

I don't think the Democrat takeover of congress will signal an end to any of this. But, maybe it will slow it down with gridlock for at least a couple of years. Bush and the Dems can be like squabbling spouses arguing whether or not to use the credit cards for a big screen TV or to send the kids to summer camp. Maybe in the end one of them will end up sleeping on the couch and neither purchase will get made, though I recognise the risk that maybe they'll make nice and buy both.

I confess, though, I have lost most of my interest in politics due to a growing despair that we'll ever see the birth of sensible government. (I won't say a return to... when has our goverment ever been sensible.)

How would I define sensible government? Here are three things I'd like to see government do:

1. STOP KILLING PEOPLE. Seriously, the world just doesn't pose that big of a threat to us. Canada isn't going to invade, Mexico IS invading, but as near as I can tell their takeover mainly involves lawncare and hanging drywall, and the Chinese aren't going to mess with us because they are too busy selling shoes. And how, exactly, was Iraq supposed to invade us? Did they even have a navy? Using our military to try to stop terrorism is a bit like trying to use a sledgehammer to kill a nest of fireants. You can flatten that anthill, and probably kill a lot of ants, but it's not going to solve he problem on anything but a temporary cosmetic measure. And, was it a problem? Yes, terrorists had a big symbolic hit. They hurt a lot of people. But sending our troops out to stop a future attack has killed more American troops than the people who died on 9-11, and cost a lot more economically. Not to get all Christian on you or anything, but there is a certain strategic wisdom, at times, to turning the other cheek. We would have made much more of a blow to the passion of the terrorists if we'd just carried on with life.

2. STOP PORKING US! Okay, I'm a realist. I know that the big money in government is being spent on big projects... Social Security, Medicare, Defense, and paying interest on the debt. The money being set aside as earmarks for local projects is relatively trivial. But trivial adds up in the long run. If we have to spend federal money, we should be spending it on national projects only. Sending money that benifits only one district by building a bridge or a museum or a golf course is a misuse of Federal money. State and local money should finance state and local projects.

3. FLIP HEALTH CARE. Okay, here's why I'm not strictly a libertarian anymore. My close involvement with the health care system during Laura's illness has made me think that, yes, maybe there is a government role to be played here. But, I think that all government schemes I've seen for "universal" health care are awful. I think that any scheme that has the government getting involved in all aspects of health care is doomed to be wasteful. Some will argue that if we cover the costs of the small stuff, the preventive medicine, it will save money in the long run. This is such nonsense. Money isn't the main obstacle to people getting preventive health care. An annual check up, better diet, and excercise cost a couple of hundred bucks. It's not lack of funds that are keeping people away from the doctor, it's American's natural apathy towards their own health, which doesn't have a government solution. So, let's get rid of government plans that concentrate on the small scale spending, and pay attention to catastrophic illnesses.

The details of the plan can be worked out by people with actual facts and figures. But, one approach would be to set an arbitrary number and decide that government would pick up costs beyond that number, no questions asked in the case of life threatening illness. So, the first fifty thousand bucks of a person's illness would be the responsibility of the sicko and the insurance company. Or maybe the first 1oo grand. Or the first ten grand. A second approach would be to scale this number based on the persons income. Major illnesses shouldn't bankrupt people, but it's silly for the government to be picking up the bill for Dick Cheney's heart attacks. Trust me, Cheney can pay for his own health care. My dad, on the other hand, would probably not survive the economic hit of Cheney's health problems. So, maybe the scale should be based on a person's most recent tax return. If you earned $20k last year, the number where the government would step in would be low, maybe $5k. If you were Bill Gates, maybe the goverment wouldn't step in until you were.... well, let's be blunt. If you had a health condition serious enough to risk your wealth at Bill Gates level, the most merciful approach to your health care might be to drag you out behind the shed and hit you with a sledgehammer.

The odds of getting this passed, by the way, are precisely zero. But, thought I'd toss it on the table anyway.


Eric James Stone said...

I agree with you completely on #2.

Pending details, I would probably go along with #3.

As for #1, I see your point, but for me (and many others who supported the Iraq war) it wasn't about stopping Iraq from killing a few thousand people with another terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11. It was about transforming the situation in the Middle East in order to prevent a nuclear terrorist attack in the future.

Unfortunately, turning Iraq into a nice, stable democratic power in the region has proven to be very difficult.

Perhaps the decision to invade Iraq was a mistake. But given the current situation, I think we end up worse off if we abandon Iraq. If we show our enemies that it only takes a few thousand casualties (low by historical standards) to get us to give up and go home, we encourage them.

James Maxey said...

Eric, thanks for responding.

You make one point I strongly agree with: Our casualties in this conflict are low measured against almost any pre-Grenada military action. We could stay in Iraq another decade and our total deaths wouldn't approach some individual battles of WWI or WWII.

But, what are these deaths in Iraq gaining us? If we don't back down, and continue taking casualties and inflicting casualties, when, exactly, do you foresee the great masses of the people of the Middle East suddenly respecting us? I don't need a precise date, but how about a rough estimate? If we take a thousand casualties a year for the next ten years, and inflict fifty thousand a year for the next ten years, then will we be loved? How about extending this out to twenty years? Forty? A century?

Giving up and going home will encourage terrorists. But, staying there also encourages terrorists. Israel certainly can't be accused of giving up and going home. They've met every act of agression with a show of force. Has this made them safe from terrorism after 60 years?

If we leave Iraq, I believe we will be the object of scorn and hatred throughout the Arab world, and all Americans throughout the world will be potential targets of terrorist attack.

But if we stay in Iraq, I believe we will be the object of scorn and hatred throughout the Arab world, and all Americans throughout the world will be potential targets of terrorist attack.

So, we have two course of action that lead to essentially the same outcome. The first course of action doesn't cost us hundreds of billions of dollars and doesn't require us to be killing people in the name of trying to bring them a better life. The second course of action does cost hundreds of billions and requires us to keep shooting people who pose no direct threat to America.

If there's a third alternative, I'd love to see it placed on the table. But, if we are left with two lousy alternatives, let's take the one that doesn't leave us with blood on our hands.

Eric James Stone said...

At this point, perhaps the best possible outcome could be achieved by letting Iraqis vote on whether they want U.S. troops to stay or go. (I've seen some bloggers float this idea, but I don't know that anyone in authority has suggested it.)

If the Iraqis vote against our staying, then we can pack up and leave without it being a matter of "kill enough American troops and they will give up."

If, on the other hand, the Iraqis vote for us to stay, it gives our mission there greater legitimacy--i.e., it's harder to argue we're an imperialist occupying army if the Iraqis voted for us to stay.