Sometimes, I'll be listening to NPR talking about the political supression that goes on in other countries. The Russians, for instance, have horrible supression because Putin's party keeps all but a half dozen minor parties off the ballot. In Iran, all the candidates must meet the approval of the all powerful mullahs. In Egypt, candidates who are "radical" are disqualified from appearing on the ballot. And NPR reports that the citizens of these countries still support the ruling parties, and speculate it's because the media is controlled by the government. NPR. A news media created by an act of congress, is decrying state run media.
Which of these conditions isn't true, at least in parallel, in the US? Can you imagine going into a voting booth and having SIX parties to choose from? Here, the religious mullah's may not select the candidates (though some would argue that James Dobson and Pat Robertson certainly try), but the media mullahs decide early on who the serious candidates are and who the jokes will be and shape the race by reporting on it as a popularity contest. Money mullahs also have their say, though this time I was pleased to see that, on the republican side at least, money didn't prove to be the decisive factor. As far as disqualifying candidates from the ballot, I'm currently listed as "unafilliated" because the Libertarian party was decertified for failing to get 10% of the vote. But, why should any party or candidate get decertified? It's an electronic ballot these days. Does it seriously take that much more electricity to put ten candidates on the screen instead of two? The reality is that powerful people decide in advance who we get to vote for, and our choices wind up between corporate approved candidate A and corporate approved candidate B.
I mentioned that the election is reported as a popularity contest. It has to be--the differences in the issues between the "mainstream" candidates is trivial. They squabble around the edges on the nuances of who is more opposed to gay marriage, or illegal immigrants, or whether we should be using military might in Iraq, or whether we should have gone into Pakistan to get Bin Ladin. Our elections hinge on whether someone has a nervous laugh, or is too old, or attends church with a bigot. It's like we never get past the voting patterns of our high school class presidents. The candidates there might take a position on school lunches or allocation of parking spaces, but everyone knew they would have no genuine power to change things, and the election was going to come down to who was the most likable.
So, the election is going to come down to McCain and, probably, Obama. Neither of them has ever uttered a word about the biggest threat that America faces. They aren't going to. None of the mainstream candidates are going to. Because you can't get elected if you talk about the truth in America.
There's a ten trillion pound gorilla hanging off the great American skyscraper, and everyone is acting like they don't see it.
I'm talking about the Federal debt. Not the budget deficit, though this is related. The deficit is how much we're falling short each year in our tax collection versus our spending. The debt is how much we owe, and currently it's closing in on $10,000,000,000. Ten trillion.
Currently, we collect about 2.5 trillion a year in taxes. So, if we shut down the Federal government... we don't pay any federal employee salaries, we pay no social security, we leave our tanks sitting out in the desert and have our forces hitchhike home... and we still would need four years before we were out from under this debt.
Four years might not sound so bad, but the reality is that we aren't going to shut down the government. We're going to keep growing it. The interest on 10 trillion dollars ads up rather quickly. It's turned into a national reverse savings account. Since we run budget deficits, we are continuing to borrow money just to pay the interest payments on the debt. We've become a country that's akin to a household using its credit cards to pay its mortgage. If you were a financial counselor who saw a family doing this, you'd recognize that family was in a serious financial death spiral.
And you know all those billions we're spending "off book" to protect America by fighting a pre-emptive war? Well, if we went to war with China, or Saudi Arabia, they wouldn't need a single tank or bomb to bring us to our knees. They could just do nothing, and stop funding our debt. The real WMD's of the future won't be nuclear or biological, but financial.
You can look around at the supposed prosperity growth of America in the last twenty years, but we're more akin to the overdrawn families living in McMansions who've been living the good life by borrowing until they can't borrow any more. Then, someone loses a job, or an interest rate rises a point, or gas goes up a dollar a gallon in a year, and the whole facade comes crumbling down.
The longer we ignore the problem, the more difficult it will be to solve. And I worry we'll never, ever elect the people who would have the courage to solve it. To get back in the black, we have to do two things: Increase taxes and decrease services. Curiously, I don't notice any candidate running on that slogan.
Some modest proposals for increasing taxes: First, reinstate the estate tax at a newly draconian level. At heart, I'm a libertarian, opposed to taxing people just because they are wealthy. But, you know, sacrifices must be made. We're going for a decade with the estate tax slowly dwindling down to zero. The year you die is going to effect how much your family gets to keep--the longer you hold on, the better for them. So, why not keep this "changes by the year" philosophy, only instead of it going down, we spin a wheel January 1 to figure out the death tax amount for the year? And the wheel can have a lot of 100% slots and almost no 0% slots.
Second, we could have a "too much fame" tax. We could have a vote each year of the celebrities we're most tired of hearing about. Then, we'd just go and grab everything from the top ten folks on that list. Britney would be too broke to afford her brazilian waxes after a few votes. Rush Limbaugh could no longer afford to hire a housekeeper to score hillbilly heroin from. If you're a baseball player caught up in a steriod scandal at the same time you're closing in on a home run record, well, you'd better hope there are ten people more loathed than you are this year. If you do manage to get rich, you'd learn to keep your head low. The new rule would be, you can be famous, or you can be rich, but it's dangerous to have too much of both.
Cutting services: Step one, let's get rid of the military. Honestly, I have nothing against our soldiers. They've done a fine job. But, do we really need troops in a hundred different nations? In theory, the purpose of our "defense" forces should be just that... defending our borders. Making sure no hostile nation comes onto our shores and tries to grab, I dunno, whatever it is we make here in America. Our iced coffee drinks, perhaps. But we could do this with a much, much, much tinier military than we presently have. We just need to keep 50 nukes. Or even just say we're keeping 50 nukes, and we're not showing them to anyone, or saying where they're pointed. But, Portugal, if you mess with us... well, just don't is all.
As for our immediate borders, well, gee, the INS and border patrol are doing a bang-up job aren't they? I bet no more than a few dozen people slip over the border each year. What? How many? Oh dear. So I have an alternative to the current border patrol. We make it all volunteer. We ask patriotic American's to come on out to the borders and serve a week or two at a time patrolling. In return, they get to ride around in armed pick-up trucks and fire machine guns into the air while drinking beer. No terrorist in his right mind is going to face off against that. Mexican's (and the occasional Canadian) can sneak through now knowing that if they're caught it will be by professionals who will treat them respectfully and escort them back out of the country. With the drunken gun-toting volunteer force, who wants to chance it?
For the oceans, the deal would be similar, only it would be armed speed boats. Honestly, with the right recruiting posters, we not only wouldn't have to pay the volunteers, we could charge them a thousand bucks a week, and we'd still have all the manpower we need.
Obviously, my modest proposals aren't serious approaches to dealing with our problems. And yet, they are better proposals than anything I've heard from McCain or Obama or Clinton. They aren't talking about the debt because their fingerprints are on the credit cards. We were once the wealthiest nation on earth but both Republicans and Democrats have colluded to manage our finances in a way that would make even MC Hammer's business managers blush.
And, in fairness, while ten trillion dollars is a big number... trillions are normally not often encountered outside of discussions of astrophysics... the US economy is a creature of big numbers. Our gross domestic product is roughly 14 trillion. We owe a lot of money, but if we had to pay this debt, in theory it's not too late. But after 8 more years of a president who just doesn't talk about the problem? Where is the tipping point? If we don't take it seriously now, then when?