Friday, November 03, 2006

EXERCISING THE VOICE OF AMERICA

I have a voice. You have a voice. If we use them together we have a louder voice. Voices are used to communicate, to let others know how we feel and what we are thinking. Voices are important because they can be used to influence behavior and change the world. And that’s why it’s important to exercise your voice when you have something to say.

I like knowing that I a voice, even if it’s a small one. And size definitely matters. Think about all of the worthless crap Rush Limbaugh submits for public discourse on a daily basis. Why should his opinions matter any more than yours or mine? In substance, they don’t – but because he has a much bigger voice, he enjoy far more influence.

AYNtK is my voice, and I like knowing there’s a place I can exercise it with people outside of shouting distance. The Internet is a teeming hive abuzz with voices.

I derive great satisfaction using mine because it lends the illusion I have some control over what's going on out in the world, even if I know the absolute controls of law and policy are shaped more by bribes and money than bitching and moaning.

In addition to this voice, where I spread my own intoxicating brand of "common sense" propaganda (let's call it what it is), I’ve a second voice in the voting booth, and a third through participation in public opinion polls. Polls, you say? Mos def. Polls,not unlike advertising, don’t just reflect the attitudes and beliefs of society, they have the power to shape it. Polls are the pulse of a people, and a good indication of whether you’re going with the flow, or resisting. So whenever I am asked to participate in a poll, I do it without hesitation. It’s a voice.

I'm currently registered with www.pollingpoint.com, which solicits opinions from time to time on important issues, and yesterday morning I received one surely aimed at predicting the outcome of next week's mid-term elections. I eagerly dove into it, anxious to let the world know I felt it was high time we make some changes in those houses on the hill. I read the very first question to myself and knew I had to share it with you because it really got me thinking about America.

Question:

What is the Most Important Problem facing the coutnry today?

• Education

• Immigration

• Health Care and Health costs

• Energy Supply/Gas and Oil Prices

• Taxes/Deficit

• Economy and Jobs

• Abortion

• Housing

• Gay Marriage

• Terrorism

• Poverty

• Corruption in Government

• Crime

• Social Security and pensions

• War in Iraq

• Pollution and the Environment

• Drug Abuse

• Rising Prices

• Other, (please specify):

Wow! How could I choose just ONE at the expense of ignoring all of the other ones? Surely, one of these would stand out as the BIGGEST problem, right? It was difficult, but I rationalized my way through the list until I arrived at my answer. I began at the top.

Education is a major problem, but probably not our nation’s biggest. We definitely need to figure out a way to pay teachers more so we can attract a reliable supply of highly qualified public educators, level the playing field between low- and high-income communities, and improve standards and performance in public schools so parents don't feel like they have to send their kids to private schools for a quality educations. Either privatize public schools and let parents decide where to send their kids (only the strong will survive, thereby improving the quality of education via market forces), or overhaul public schools so they can compete with private schools. What’s the hold up here? Oh yeah, the billions we’re spending to secure and rebuild a country we invaded on poor intelligence.

Immigration is also problem, but how can we send back millions of illegal immigrants who are already here and peacefully contributing to GNP? Not practical or logistically feasible. Why not register them by granting temporary amnesty and enrolling them in some kind of guest worker program so we can get them on the books, thereby establishing a legal process for handling the flow of wanna-be Americanos – making English a prerequisite for citizenship in order to preserve the unity afforded by our national language, of course. I understand there’s an immediate need to secure our borders, and the great wall of America they're building down there now will be an interesting (and costly) experiment in low-tech security. I am neither for nor against it – but I do have my doubts. A massive wall couldn't keep the Mongolian horde from steamrolling into China – I sincerely doubt a razor-wire fence will prevent starving Mexicans from finding a way in. One final note: A lot of people argue that immigrants are only taking jobs that Americans don't want. But we've got a MASSIVE workforce available to perform these jobs: They're called criminals, and right now they sit behind bars bleeding our coffers dry while giving NOTHING back to society. Put those fuckers to work...and all these LOW-paying jobs we're squabbling over suddenly become NO-paying jobs. The only jobs left to fight over would be the ones that require a grasp of the English language. Illegals are coming to America to work, not because the weather is nicer. If there aren’t any jobs up here either, maybe they’ll stop making a run for the border. It’s a problem…but not our nation’s biggest.

Health Care and Health costs – This one is up there all right. Health care is currently priced out of the ballpark, and insurance companies are the primary reason. The symbiotic relationship between the two industries has resulted in an unending escalation of health care costs. I think health insurance should be treated more like car insurance...as an INSURANCE policy against accidents and whatnot, not a medical fund you pay into every month to subsidize routine visits. If my twice-daily asthma control medication, Advair, sold for $130 on the market (listed retail price), it wouldn’t survive as a product because people wouldn’t be able to afford it! But propped up by insurance company subsidies, it finds its way into millions of homes month after month. Why is an insurance company paying for my medicine? Instead of having me (and my employer) pay huge premiums to my insurance company so that my insurance company can turn around and pay off the pharmaceutical company, why not just lower the fucking price of the medicine and I’ll pay for it myself? Corporations make this econo-savvy adjustment all the time…it’s called cutting out the middle man. The bureaucracy and overhead associated with maintaining today's Health Maintenance Organizations keeps ballooning, and we keep footing the bill. It's not a healthy situation at all.

Energy Supply/Gas and Oil Prices – I'm not worried so much about the supply as I am the demand. If we reduced our energy needs, then prices would come down and this “problem” wouldn't even be on the list. But it IS on the list, primarily because the American standard of living is intimately tied to a steady flow of oil – most of which comes from the land of Jihad. Oil is the lifeblood of our economy; without oil, the American empire crumbles quickly to dust. Our enemies know this, by the way. Where do we start? Alternative forms of power exist, but big oil companies currently have the lobby to resist their development. We need major policy change here. Another very big problem, perhaps on its way to becoming our biggest...

Taxes/Deficit – Yeah, taxes are a bitch…aren’t they? But I think most reasonable people agree that they are necessary evil in today’s world. They pay for our protection and infrastructure. The problem here, in my always-humble opinion, is the cannon of indecipherable tax code even CPAs call laughable. It's far too easy to find loopholes in that mountain of legal mumbo-jumbo, and the IRS admits it can only catch a tiny fraction of the people who are knowingly breaking the law. The tax structure as it is set up doesn't work. A major overhaul is required. I say scrap the entire fucking thing and start over with something new and simple. I've heard a lot of great ideas on this, including a plan that would replace income tax with a general consumption tax – so people keep more of what they earn, and pay tax only on what they consume. It's just an idea, but a place to start. I sometimes wonder if anyone in power will ever have the balls to try something new.

Economy and Jobs – Hey...you gotta keep the people busy or they'll resort to mischief. Or starve. Fortunately, we are among the planet’s richest people. A democracy of goods has made a comfortable life more accessible to more people today than at any other time in history. But you have to be able to afford these goods to enjoy them, which means bringing home the bacon. Our problem here is that we have become a white-collar service society with too many people counting on blue collar manufacturing jobs to live the American dream. We can't compete with overseas labor, so our workforce needs to adapt to this paradigm shift or risk a future on skid row. There will almost always be some percentage of the population out of work – the challenge in keeping this figure low in any society is matching the skills of the employees with the needs of the employers. This is becoming more and more of a problem as the global economy picks up steam and we become, in essence, one world. To compete, we must adapt to America’s new economic role. Still, I don’t get the feeling this is our nation’s biggest problem right now.

Abortion – How can you possibly reconcile two viewpoints so diametrically opposed? The Supreme Court tried with its Roe v. Wade decision, establishing the concept of viability as the centerpiece of its decision to give states the right to make legal this controversial medical procedure. Viability was essentially a stab at defining when a "life" becomes a life with legal rights, and they determined that this right to "life" comes when the person-to-be can survive and develop naturally independent of the mother. According to the medical community, the viability threshold is around the end of the second trimester. For an issue so hotly debated and emotionally charged, I have to say I found the Supreme Court's wisdom remarkably rational – given, of course, the fact that this is a zero-sum issue with virtually no room for compromise. While abortion remains a hot topic, and will remain a lightning rod issue for some time, I don't personally consider it one of our nation's biggest problems.

Housing – A big part of living is having a place to live. Unfortunately, most places to live cost money – and if you don’t have enough of it, housing can become a real problem. Take a look at the people who are homeless. Many are mentally ill. They don’t know what’s best for them. They can’t hold down a job like the rest of us. They’re alcoholics or drug addicts. The bottom line is that people are typically homeless because they are either mentally sick or physically lazy, not because they can't find jobs. Separating the unwilling to work from the unable to work is the first step in tackling homelessness. And then we need a policy of some kind for sweeping the streets and getting these folks off of them. There should be a place for everyone…and the street is not one of them. This is definitely a problem, but no where near our nation’s biggest.

Gay Marriage – I can't imagine there would be a single person in America who would sincerely argue that gay marriage is the biggest problem facing our country today. I personally don't see it as a problem at all, let alone a MAJOR problem that requires an Amendment to our Constitution. But that's what separates me from President Bush. That and a 6th grade reading level. Is gay marriage a problem? Absolutely. The problem is that a significant percentage of the population can’t enter legally recognized, long-term committed relationships like the rest of us. All men are created equal, unless they happen to prefer other men.

Terrorism – Ah...the Dick Cheney special. Get them before they get us. Fight them over there instead of over here. The best defense is a good offense. ATTACK! It's true – terrorism is a real problem. It was a problem before 9/11 (see: World Trade attack numero uno, bombing of U.S. embassies, U.S.S. Cole, etc.) – and will continue to BE a problem so long as our foreign policies result in the systematic oppression of people half way around the world – particularly impoverished people who happen to be religious fanatics. It really doesn't matter how aggressively we pursue these third world henchmen, their distaste for us is cultural. Wherever our presence is regarded as an unholy occupation, terror will grow. It feels good to know we’re being proactive about the problem, but ridding the world of these zealots is complicated because our war machine is decapitating a hydra in disguise – every time we cut off its head, two more grow back. Decapitation actually creates more danger, not less. To defeat this beast, we have to take it out at the belly, where attitudes and behavior fuel action. The pull-string Bush doll likes the phrases: "Bring 'em to justice" and "Hold 'em to account." But you wouldn’t go after a bee that stung you by squeezing your fist into its beehive. That's just fucking stupid. And in this case, the beehive is a vast and venomous Middle East. It’s not like we can carpet bomb the entire desert and wipe out a billion Muslims (although I’m sure that was Rumsfeld’s Plan A). So yeah – I'd say terrorism is definitely one of our nation's biggest problems...because the people in charge of preventing it are haphazardly promoting it. How about we explore ways to foster good will in other parts of the world instead of aggressively imposing our will everywhere we go? Bush insists such a radical approach won’t work because they hate our whole way of life. But of course they do! Our way of life is what keeps them hopeless and destitute. This is a national problem not likely to go away any time soon.

Poverty - You can't have a list like this one without mentioning the poor. Poverty is a cultural institution in this country. And the people with the power to make a difference have done virtually nothing to change the prevailing mindset in poor communities that this is "as good as it gets." The result is a permanent welfare state – a population of people who for generations have been born and raised in an economically disadvantaged environment. A lower class without aspiration. We throw food stamps at them and raise the minimum wage every once in a while – token gestures that do more to keep them in poverty than help them out of it. While this is another big problem...it’s not what I would consider our greatest.

Crime – Crime is an unfortunate byproduct of some of the other problems on this list, such as poverty, drug abuse, and rising prices. As a result, it improves as the other problems improve, so it doesn’t make my list of top national concerns. One thing I will note is that I think we’re too quick as a society to lock up non-violent criminals, when they could be far more valuable to us all serving time on the outside. If we were to weed out the non-violent criminals from the violent ones, we’d discover that our nation's crime rate is actually a lot lower than the fear-inspiring media would have it seem. I’m not saying crime isn’t a problem – but how we deal with it may be more of one.

Social Security and pensions – Another doozy right here. We've been hearing for YEARS that our nation's security net is an insolvent mess. It's a hot topic every election year, and then it somehow drops completely off the radar. To address the issue, some have suggested we let people invest a portion of their social security in private accounts. Others call this gambling. The way I understand it, Social Security was created to protect people from themselves. The government recognized that, as Americans started living longer lives, they couldn't all be trusted to save up enough money to support themselves post-retirement. As a result, the social security net was established to help protect our "tribe elders." Privatizing a portion of that money is just another misguided, token gesture designed to preoccupy us with the illusion of control, when the overarching problem is that our government is spending our social security money on other things! This is definitely a major problem – and it may soon become our biggest if it continues to go unaddressed.

War in Iraq – I'm guessing this option will likely garner the poll’s highest percentage of responses. And I can understand the sentiment...war is among the costliest of national endeavors – in more ways than one. At least when we went to Afghanistan it was to chase down known terrorists and deliver payback, Tony Montana style. Rock and roll, Rummy. Go do that thing you do. Our invasion of Iraq, however, proved a horrible miscalculation based on erroneous information that has since served to create more terroristas (would you like whipped cream on your Skim Latte Jihad?) than it has disrupted. We can’t get any support from the rest of the world on this, but if we bailed, the U.N. would be forced to come in and mitigate the ensuing chaos. Hey, the rest of the world hates us anyhow, right? Major problem, for certain.

Pollution and the Environment – Al Gore had me on the rampage after his "Inconvenient Truth" flick, which I found both fascinating and inspiring. I then read the book 'State of Fear' by Michael Crichton on the advice of a good friend. I’ve never been much a fan of fiction, but properly annotated, a good novel can be every bit as informational as – and often more compelling than – a purported “truth,” inconvenient or otherwise. Assimilating knowledge from both sources, and consulting available arguments in support of both positions, I must say that I no longer share in the panic of hard-core environmentalists. Instead, I have cultivated a frightening appreciation for how our national political-legal-media machine works. Everyone has a motive…even the well-intended folks who cry “warming!” But as Crichton delicately illustrated (in a book I recommend every American reads), good intentions coupled with bad information is a recipe for disaster. Bottom line: in systems as chaotic and complex as our global environment, it is virtually impossible to detect reliable cause-effect relationships. So while I believe that pollution is a problem and that it would be nice to clean up the environment, I no longer think of global warming as a catastrophe in the wings.

Drug Abuse – A problem, yes. But our nation’s biggest problem? Clearly not. Drugs are cool. That was a joke. What concerns me more than the incidence of illicit, illegal drug abuse is the proliferation of FDA-approved crap foisted upon the masses by massive pharmaceutical companies. Somehow marijuana is bad, but Paxil is good. I have had them both, and can testify that marijuana is much healthier for the mind than Paxil. Without question. But slick marketing would have us believe otherwise. Apparently, we’re a nation of clinically depressed, sexually dysfunctional insomniacs with bad heartburn, high cholesterol, crippling arthritis, and a scorching case of herpes. But we can live the good life through good pharmacy. It doesn’t happen often, but I side with Tom Cruise on this one. Just say no to designer drugs.

Rising Prices – Inflation happens. But more unsettling to me is the financial industry’s vast takeover of American real estate. Think about this. It’s called “owning” your own house if you pay a mortgage, but you don’t really own your house – the bank does. Homeowners are still renters – we just write our checks out to the bank every month instead of the landlord. Worse, if something goes wrong at your hizzouse, there’s no super to call. You gotta fix that shit yourself. Yeah…there are benefits to owning your own home – benefits routinely summed up with grown-up words like equity and appreciation – if you’re lucky. And if you happen to live in the same house 30 years after you buy it, you just may end up owning it outright. The rest of us are just paying rent with interest, hoping the housing market happens to be hot when it comes time to move. Further, there was a time when the nuclear family was supported by a single breadwinner. Not anymore. No one understands the two-income household cultural revolution better than the actuaries in the mortgage industry. Today it takes two incomes to afford the same houses families used to be able to afford on one. It’s no wonder there’s a brand spanking new bank on nearly every city corner of the city. They’re flush, baby! It’s not exactly ironic, I suppose, that the banks have all of the money…or is it? We are but serfs, working in the fields of the financial industry, paying our wages right back to the landowners and investment lords of the manor. The rest goes to Best Buy and Verizon because flashy toys keep us preoccupied. I see rising real estate prices as a huge national problem, but not the very worst.

Corruption in Government – At first I skimmed over this option because, well, everyone just assumes there’s corruption in government. But then I thought about it. Why does everyone just assume there’s corruption in government? Is it true that absolute power corrupts?

Our nation’s Fathers fashioned a rather intricate system of government that has served us well for 2 and a quarter centuries. I suppose it’s hard to complain about corruption in government when you’re the world’s lone superpower. But that’s all we are anymore – a power. A military machine. We’re no longer admired or respected overseas for our values, ideas, and charity. Our values are mocked. Our ideas are questioned. Our good will is more often mistaken for subornment. Why is that? And that’s only the beginning.

The economies of backwards countries are being turned around while ours flirts with stagflation. Obesity is epidemic. Our children are not realizing their potential (U.S. ranks 55th in literacy). Third world countries are going completely wireless, while we remain chained to our copper, cabled infrastructure. China has stricter emissions regulations on its cars. CHINA! The legal system takes forever and costs a fortune to go through – so justice belongs to the wealthy. The tax codes are a nightmare. We are still a great country in many, many ways – full of great people (like me) – but our claim to “greatest nation on earth” is certainly in question.

It’s sewn into our cultural fabric somewhere that America is the greatest nation on the planet. We grow up recursively hearing it, and can’t help believing it. But statistics bear out that we are not the great world leader we tell ourselves we are when we are drunk. And for this, I believe, we have our leaders to blame.

They squabble over stupid shit, distorting the voting records and public statements of their rivals for political gain. There’s pork in every bill that gets passed around. Many of them have been proven liars and hypocrites. And it seems even the most well-intended of public servants ultimately succumb to the (two-party) system that prevents us from progressing like so many other less encumbered nations around the world.

So that was my choice. Government Corruption. Biggest problem in my America. I believe it is responsible for our failure to address so many of the other problems on this list. Now…chances are good it wouldn’t be your choice, and I’d wager it doesn’t even come in the top 10 when all the other votes are added up. But I wanted my voice to be heard, so that’s how I voted.

And on this note, I wish you a fantastic weekend out in the world. Think about voting next Tuesday and what it means. Exercise your voice. Be the change you want to see in the world.

Peace out.

3 comments:

connie h. said...

Thought provoking. Pretty brilliant, really. Someone who can cut thru the bull-shit? I'd like to see it.
Why can't that happen?

Anonymous said...

You've got a PHENOMINAL amount of time on your hands. BUCKET UP, baby (jk)

AYNtK said...

Another vote for education!

I SEE YOU!