Sunday, July 06, 2014

America at 238th Birthday

No doubt America faces some serious challenges. Nation's birthday is an appropriate time to go over some of these challenges:

- The fiscal situation may be under control and Obama Administration can rightfully claim that it would leave finances of Federal Government in much better shape than what the administration inherited. But long term sustainability of Federal Government finances is still an issue. Long term financial pressures put by Social Security and Medicare are still not addressed, especially starting 2020 onward. True that ObamaCare would help control growth of Medicare and help overall reduce our health expenditure. But still serious reforms are needed in these two entitlement programs if our finances are not to be swamped.

- Substantial number of Americans think that 'government is the problem' and instead of trying to improve governance and government agencies; too many powerful folks in America are busy 'starving the beast'

- Across the board, income and asset inequality is increasing with larger and larger share of wealth creation accruing to super rich.

- Our economic interests are trenchantly misaligned with  what we need to stop global warming: substantial constituency is vested in growth of Carbon based energy sources; namely oil, coal and natural gas sources.

- Fixing our immigration system so as those who might have come illegally in this country but over the years have contributed enough, can claim citizenship. Also we want a system in a place so that neither hoards of kids get lured to our penetrable borders nor we discourage the exact kind of talent this country needs to nurture for its future. 

- Our electioneering rules have been so twisted that Big Money is completely distorting 'will of people' when it comes to representation. Corporations are 'indeed people' with more than one 'vote' in American system!

- The burden of being Global Cop and paying for peace and order all over is becoming unbearable for America. American People are unwilling for any sacrifices in this area whereas Politicians and policy elites are yet to catch up fully with the voter fatigue for such adventures.

- Finally many historical vagaries which leave our Political System unrepresentative in so many ways still remain unresolved: tiny states having same number of senators as huge states like California, House Majority going to a party which actually has less votes than minority, we can have a president who would have lesser votes than his lost rival and Supreme Court justices lording over American life indefinitely while every other government office is term limited.

Question is which one of these challenges American Politics is capable of addressing.

When our Entitlement Program would start biting Federal Finances I think Republicans will be able to 'cut' down it drastically. It would unfairly burden poorer Americans; well, exactly that will be all 'the motivation' for Republicans! That is what their History has been since Reagan and in recent years rise of Paul Ryan, who is even more viciously after poor, confirms GOP ability to use a machete. True, Paul Ryan and his gang in GOP is after welfare spending and is for protecting Entitlement Programs of recent retirees (dominantly older White Americans who are one of the prime constituencies for today's GOP). But the point is, GOP will by hook or crook, cut down entitlement and welfare expenses when needed. The damage will be to poorer people. With no regard whatsoever to increasing inequality, more importantly increasing inequality of opportunity; it is given that as and when American State would go after balancing its finances, it will almost exclusively make American poor to pay more. The misplaced faith in 'trickle down economic policy' and 'rich as job creators' prevents this country in opening up opportunities for poor as well as cushion the blows of economic hardship. America needs investment in physical and social capital, at times clearly by deficit spending, but we are unable and unwilling to take it and that will continue to leave us vulnerable for 'pitch fork'.

President Obama also understands how the unfinished business of regulating Too Big to Fail Banks leave us exposed to 'bubbles and market distortions' even after Frank-Dodd. Those distortions, rich favoring tax policies and CEO Worshiping culture are reasons for continued inequality in this country. But so long as Republicans are 'enthralled by tax cuts for rich and unfettered trickle down economics'; there is less chance for America to stop this 'downward spiral of Capitalism' peacefully, democratically.

Add to that business interests of likes of Koch Brothers fully aligned with Carbon based energy sources. Substantial wealth and employment in states like Texas and Oklahoma come from Carbon based energy sources. No wonder these forces deny 'man made global warming'. Unless and until our politics is ready to take on such conflicts head on, our Politics will not resolve issues we need it to resolve. Add to that Supreme Court allowed Koch Brothers of this country to influence or buy elections as they please. What hope we are supposed to have then that we could tackle the impeding Global Warming through democratic means? President Obama might have done what is possible for him via EPA ruling. But he will be gone in 2 years or so and the question is what would our politics do to address global warming there after? Looks like not much.

One of the most disheartening part of this country's politics is, the very people for whom the politics is lot consequential remain apathetic in many ways. Agreed, that is the failure of leadership in general. But Barack Obama did arose people twice - Americans voted him more with the view of going away from Bush and stopping 'damage and misery' promised by Mitt Romney when he talked '47% of this country are on dole'. Probably that might happen again - America will yet again coalesce behind Hillary, but that will be more because they will be in horror for the 'damage' Senator Cruz, Senator Paul or other Republicans aspirants are promising on poor in the name of 'correcting our ship and encouraging growth'. That is not good. We need positive agenda which will address our problems head-on and not some kind of surrender to ideology, nor voting to the candidate while 'holding our nose' because the other guy (it is always a guy with Republicans) is so nasty.

Beyond ideology, it is 'nativism' and simple pandering to White voters of Caucasian descend; that is what is making Republican Party to stick to its neanderthal views about Immigration. And some Republican pundits advise that passing Immigration bill is no good because overwhelming Hispanic vote would still go to Democrats. Unless Republicans get complete thumping in 2016 due to Hispanic votes (and Dems have done their homework of highlighting how exactly GOP, especially in House,  is not supporting any immigration bill); America is unlikely to see any wiser Immigration policy. 

Next about campaign finance: Congress passing laws to restrict campaign finance is one way to reduce corroding influence of Big Money in our elections. But then again those laws need to be palatable to Conservative Majority in Supreme Court. All that means, unless nation's highest court sees lesser ideologue judges or we get a constitutional amendment; we are stuck with the havoc big money plays in our elections. Such a change in Supreme Court and improvements in our electioneering system; those are kinds of changes which look far uncertain at present and till then our Republic will continue to suffer.

Finally for the global cop role, as more and more Americans see the vanity of American Exceptionalism posture, the state will be eventually able to avoid underwriting entire globe's peace and order without compromising our national security. American voters are ahead here. Question is at what point our politicians in Washington DC would get the clue. Till then the danger of America getting embroiled in one more needless conflict overseas is still there.

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