Where To Start

The current leadership in Washington is an embarrassing failure.  Whether its failed policies are due to simple incompetence or the result of serial lies told to support ideologically failed principles, the net result is the same.  America is headed in the wrong direction.

It’s not enough to simply point to where we are, blame the incumbents and believe that getting rid of them will make everything better.  It won’t.  Wake up America.  The remote control (instant gratification) crowd will go right back to feeding their faces and thumping their chest about how great we are the minute Iraq is off the front page win, lose or draw.

There are a number of things that this country needs to correct before we regain our pre-eminence in the world.  In order to provide a starting point I’d like to offer a few FIRST THINGS FIRST that need to be dealt with that can provide a path to the kind of TRUE REFORM that we need as a nation.

LOBBYING REFORM – Until the current system changes no other meaningful changes will happen in the way the government in Washington functions.  Somehow, the concept of free speech has been extended to corporations giving them the ability to legally shower contributions and other financial support (spouses, family and friends who are directors/consultants, etc.) to members of Congress.  I have heard the arguments pro and con and to me the pro arguments simply sound like free speech rationalizations for continuing the corrupt system that has developed.  People have free speech rights and businesses and industries should also have the ability to put forth their points of view.  Everyone should have access to Congress to provide information and help to develop different agendas.  But today tens of billions of dollars are earmarked to sweetheart programs to perpetuate a legal system of payoffs and cronyism.  I don’t know how to fight that.

Congress is loath to cut off their own feeding trough and any true reformer in the White House would incur the wrath of both parties wanting to keep the party going.  Even the current scandals are fading into memory with only a token change in practice taking the place of any real improvement.   It’s shameful.  Perhaps the many billions of cost involved in the public financing of congressional elections would be cheaper than the cost of the rampant corruption in Washington.   The self-perpetuating formula for corruption is Money = Influence = Power = Money.

ENERGY INDEPENDENCE – A distorted foreign policy will continue as long as we continue down the current energy path.  Continuing to rely on large amounts of imported oil is another short term, feel good path of least resistance that Americans like to take.  We should be taking a longer view of where current energy policy is taking us and plan for what comes next.

At some point oil will not be used as a fuel source.  Whether for reasons of scarcity or the realization that it is contributing to environmental depredation on a global scale, there will be a next fuel.  Our long term interests as a country (and perhaps as a world if the Inconvenient Truths are true) are best served by getting to that next fuel source sooner rather than later.  How about a Manhattan Project to solve this crying need?

The most immediate way to reduce our reliance on world oil is conservation.  It is the single most promising short term measure that we could do to help ourselves while a long term policy is developed to free us from this dependence.  But that would require sacrifice and I don’t see a lot of political will to upset anyone by pushing higher fuel efficiency standards or higher fuel taxes to fund research, reduce consumption and encourage efficiency.  Demagoguing the issue won’t solve this problem; action will.

FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY – There truly “Ain’t no free lunch” in world economics.  The United States’ pre-eminent position in the world extended to making the U.S. dollar the safe haven investment in international finance.  But there are signs that is changing.

The combined trade and current fiscal deficits now exceeding a TRILLION DOLLARS PER YEAR are not going un-noticed in world markets.  Ironically, the Chinese and Arab countries that hold more than a Trillion Dollars in U.S. securities can now control the fate of the dollar in world markets and thus the direction of interest rates in this country and the amount of U.S. exports in the world markets.  Fortunately, for self-serving reasons up to now the Chinese and Arabs haven’t abandoned the dollar (their remaining investments would be affected by higher U.S. rates and their markets depend on our consuming habits).  It’s all very complicated due to the inter-relationships but suffice it to say that with the risk factors that we have built up, some major event could bring this issue to a head in a hurry with possibly disastrous results for our economy.  One possibility – the Arabs get pissed at us such as they did in the early 70s over our support for some Israeli action and OPEC decides to stop denominating oil purchases in dollars.  A huge market for dollars will disappear overnight.

Doomsday scenarios can be avoided but action needs to be taken.  The basic thrust of the Republican program of cutting spending in the 90s which resulted in the Graham-Rudman (balanced budget) Act and the practice of automatically impounding funds where spending limits were exceeded or revenue goals weren’t met was a good plan.  Too bad the political will to control spending and balance the budget went away on January 20, 2001.  Based on bad (or fabricated?) projections of huge future surpluses, the current administration put through huge tax cuts and, even in the face of all facts to the contrary since then, still clamors for more.

At some point the actual credit worthiness of the U.S. government could come into question and to protect principal a run on the dollar could result.  Perhaps the best deterrent to this is to convince world markets that the dollar and therefore the U.S. economy will remain strong and competitive.  That won’t happen by simply printing more dollars.  Only acts of real fiscal responsibility will convince world markets that we can control the dual deficits that we now seem to be ignoring.

PEACE BETWEEN ISRAEL AND THE PALESTINIANS – Our un-wavering support of Israel is one of those things that people hate to talk about at least in the public realm.  Standing shoulder to shoulder with Israel is the only acceptable posture for a politician to adopt if he doesn’t want to piss off every Jewish voter or appear weak or even anti-Semitic.  Our commitment to the state of Israel goes back a long way and is based on the best thinking and intentions of the world’s powers after World War II.  And we have to follow through on this commitment but not by blindly stumbling through Mid East politics with a one message non-starter.  “Surrender and then we’ll negotiate.”

There is no question that the enmity that is heaped at America in that part of the world had its start in our support of Israel.  They don’t simply hate us for our freedom and democracy.  They aren’t attacking Sweden and Denmark.  Our War on Terror will not end before there is peace between Israel and the Palestinians.  The Palestinians will resist the current situation forever.  And this resistance provides the fuel for Radical Islam.  If for no other reason, our support of Israel makes us obvious targets for the fundamentalists while there is no peace in the Mid East.

I don’t know the right path to solving the problems in the Middle East but is seems that a two state solution must be at the end of that path.  With the issue of Jerusalem seemingly the final link in the chain some novel way of sharing control and de-militarizing the religious areas might be part of a final solution.  Better minds than mine have struggled and failed to find the right formula at the right time to achieve peace in that part of the world.  But aggressively pursuing a Mid East peace is of paramount importance to us if we are to ever see an end to our War on Terror.  Then we can get on to dealing with the most immediate threat to our security – not Iran, but North Korea with its proven nuclear capability and developing delivery system.  I wonder how different our posture toward N. Korea might be if they also had oil.

The current administration is wrong on all these issues and hopefully the next Congress will be of a mind to change its direction.  It would be better yet if Bush were to resign now before the wheels fall off.  But whether it is now or in two years the path to regaining our position in the world should start with a commitment to address the things such as outlined above.

So where should we start?

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