Last week, I started talking about a few things that would fix our broken country. Sure, the world’s not perfect, and there are a lot of messed up countries out there. But if America wants to maintain its ‘special’ status or avoid becoming the next Greece, we need to make some big changes. I started with a list of eight things that would make us better, but as I continued to think about it, I came up with a few more.
Make everyone go to public school. I’m thinking in two different directions here, one being that nothing is dumbing down future generations more than homeschooling. When did we decide that it was a good idea that people who barely finished high school should teach their children? Now, you might think that what you teach your child is your business – but it’s not. Because that child will eventually grow up and vote, it’s vital to the survival of our nation that they know how to think critically, to know when someone is trying to baffle them with bullshit, or to be able to see when the numbers just don’t add up. If some poor child’s mom is their only teacher – and she barely got through high school, couldn’t locate France on a world map, and doesn’t have the mathematical skills required to balance a checkbook, how might we expect that individual to grow up and make informed choices?
The other side of the ax I’m grinding has to do with mutual understanding in our multi-faceted society. When kids go to private schools, divided by religion, race, class, economic level, etc., and are never exposed to people and ideas from outside their own group, our pluralistic society ceases to be the melting pot that it has always been. I don’t like to talk about ‘Christian children’ or ‘Muslim children’ because the children in question have not made any decisions for themselves – they have been indoctrinated, not persuaded of the moral validity of their parents’ arguments. But children of all faiths need to understand that there are good people from other faiths, that those people want the same wholesome lives that they themselves want for the most part, and that the other groups aren’t really so different from their own group. A Christian kid who plays soccer with kids from Jewish and Muslim backgrounds will probably be more tolerant of different religious beliefs when he gets older.
And if all kids go to public school, all parents will have a stake in making them better. Rich folks don’t care if teachers are fired due to tax cuts – their kids won’t be affected. Public education has been one of the foundation stones of our society; it’s time everyone is faced with improving it, not just the poor.
Bring back the draft. Why is it that WWII lasted six years, yet we can’t get out of Afghanistan after ten? How is it that American presidents are able to mobilize troops first, then get Congressional approval later? One of the main reasons is that the wars are almost always fought by those Americans with few economic opportunities, and the burden of responsibility is not spread out evenly among the different socio-economic groups. If every war – or military excursion, or whatever presidents call our wars in order to skirt the constitutional stipulation that Congress alone can declare war – if every war required that a draft be formed within 90 days of the beginning of the conflict, we’d never be in another long, drawn-out, pointless military excursion again. Those millionaire congressmen and TV pundits wouldn’t be so fast to release the warhounds if their own sons might end up on the front lines. This is the only way to keep us honest when it comes to military interventions around the world; we need to be forced to decide if whatever it is we’re fighting for is worth the death of our own family members. I’m betting that we’d decide ‘not important enough’ more often if those soldiers were not nameless faces but instead our own flesh and blood.
Break up the huge media conglomerates. The fourth estate plays an important role in our democracy – we need to have real journalists doing real news reporting so that we can make informed decisions. Every report has some bias, to be sure, but it’s just plain wrong that four or five huge corporations decide what gets reported and how it is represented. The major channels today are filled with commentary – both MSNBC and Fox News fill up 90 percent of their programming with politically-driven opinion. A democratic society needs information – not partisan sniping.
Break up the big banks. Nothing to me is more dangerous than financial institutions and other companies that are larger than small countries and carry much more political clout. We don’t get to vote for the chairman of the board or the CEO, so we need to make sure that they don’t have an inordinate amount of power. And we need to make sure that if any business is too big to fail, it shouldn’t be allowed to exist. Free markets depend on the fact that inefficient companies will go belly up; if something has become so big that the world can’t afford for it to collapse, then that entity needs to be dismantled, end of story.
Put the government in charge of health care and retirement. It used to be that your job provided for your health care and retirement – but most corporations aren’t interested in doing so anymore. And why should they be? American businesses are competing against Asian companies that pay a pittance and offer no health benefits at all – paying for pricey benefits for American employees simply hinders their ability to compete. And we are up against European companies as well, many of whose employees receive generous health care and retirement benefits from their governments. In short, not only do I think that everyone deserves access to decent health care, I also don’t want to see our American business bogged down by providing it. The clear answer is to let the government take over these areas, so that businesses can be more competitive.
Think a moment about how we do this now. Our health – or lack of it – is a for-profit business. Why should some investor somewhere make a profit when I’m sick? I understand that the people who take care of me ought to be paid a reasonable salary, and that any insurance company who takes me on as a client needs to charge me enough to cover possible costs. But notice the share prices of insurance companies in the back pages of the Wall Street Journal, check out the dividends they are paying; go downtown if you live in a mid-sized city, and have a look at the tallest buildings there -if one or more of them don’t belong to an insurance company, I’ll eat my ball-cap. There are fortunes being made daily off of the misfortunes of others – it shouldn’t work this way.
Notice I’m in favor of government-sponsored, single-payer health insurance for two reasons; 1) everyone has the right to be healthy - I’m not saying that we should all have access to the most expensive kind of experimental medicine, nor do I think taxpayers should be financing six-figure medical procedures for octogenarians. But I also don’t believe that people should be dying in their 60s because they didn’t have the money to pay for routine check-ups in their 40s and 50s. 2) Relieving business of the burden of health care and retirement would allow them to be more competitive internationally. How would you pay for this? Well -
Have a national discussion about taxation, then radically alter the tax code. It’s ridiculous that a multi-millionaire would try to reassure as by letting us know that he’s paid at least 13 percent per year over the past decade. Mitt Romney isn’t rich because he’s smarter than you – he’s rich because he was lucky enough to be born into a multitude of advantages that most are beyond most people. Why does a janitor have to give away a quarter for every dollar he makes breaking his back, when the ultra-rich pay half that percentage on ‘invested’ money? Or they pay zero by sending the money to the Caribbean or Switzerland.
This country has never been about inherited wealth and privilege, and in fact, most of our ancestors fled Europe and other locations across the globe to escape the tyranny of aristocrats. When we allow people to accumulate millions, tax-free, then bequeath fortunes to their heirs, again tax-free, we are creating an aristocracy.
And while we’re at it, let’s eliminate ALL tax deductions and then vote on which ones we want to put back in. Why are we subsidizing home owners with tax breaks? What advantage does it provide for society that we are willing to lose billions of revenue every year? Our tax code should be encouraging only those behaviors which have been proven to be beneficial to society as a whole.
End rhetoric in favor of research. These days just about anyone can get on television and spout off their own personal facts to support pretty much any political viewpoint, It’s time we started holding people accountable. We had that clown Todd Akin making up his own medical and biological facts last week in order to justify his opinions about limiting access to abortions. He’s a computer engineer. This is how it works in America now. We have people who’ve never worn a uniform a day in their lives convincing us of the necessity of military engagement. Dentists get on TV and tell us that global warming isn’t real. Former used car salesmen try to convince us that tax cuts create jobs.
When a guy called Joe the Plumber gets to lecture about the intricacies of our tax code – and people listen – you know the country is really screwed up.