Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Case for Term Limits: 6 Indisputable Signs Our Legislature Has Completely Failed Us

Our leadership is letting us down in a big way. If you look around carefully, you'll see that our laws, enforcement, public service, and commerce are just not what they should be. Here's an initial list to get things started:

6. Credit card companies are stealing from us every day.
The credit score game is just one aspect of this mess. The credit bureaus make a game of tracking our creditworthiness, with vague inaccurate data, then damage our reputations with it. The government makes rules to help consumers see their data with a website, so what happens next? The credit card companies start new scams to give unwitting consumers the free data in exchange for getting them hooked on more credit cards.
But that's just a minor sidelight in the credit card game. The main show is where billions of dollars of theft occur every year but they refuse to employ even a simple technique like PIN numbers. The companies will claim that consumers won't tolerate inconvenience, but that's nothing but lying to protect their profits. And if it were only theft of money, that wouldn't be so bad. All of this fraud is muddled in with the vague notion of "identity theft," which certainly does occur but the vast majority is just credit card fraud that the credit card companies are perfectly happy to accept because the public supposedly wants things the way they are.
5. Our laws haven't kept up with internet scams.
Yes, the constitution of our legal apparatus is entirely geared toward low speed. That was fine for 225 years. It is not fine now; it is a mess. We can quibble about the wonderful benefits of anonymity on the internet and how it empowers liberty, but all things require balance. Can we really have created a system where anonymous hackers extort cash through a blackmarket cash site to undo their havoc? There's no technical reason in the world that we have to allow complete anonymity; it's a bureaucratic choice.
4. Dishonest advertising is out of control.
Car ads show leases that cost $199 per month, but the nearly invisible print almost always adds a hundred dollars a month more. Cell phone ads loudly proclaim free phones, for the mere cost of a small-print $1200 contract. Cable TV or internet costs only $29 per month, until you get your third bill, then good luck figuring out what you're paying for.
OK, perhaps you're saying that advertising has always been slimy and it's buyer beware because the job of government isn't to protect us from our own carelessness. Perhaps, but I'd say the pendulum has swung too far when so many trends are toward complete deception. Consider the latest trend: super-cheap items are routinely advertised at the holidays but only a few are actually available at that price; shoppers crush the stores for this unregulated lottery of sorts. And if your rationale is that what's good for business—whether deceiving the gullible or making the average shopper work harder—is good for the economy, explain to me exactly how this trend in advertising actually creates profits. It doesn't. It's just more tolerance for a social atmosphere in which a particular flavor of disrespect, one called dishonesty, is permitted.
3. We have to clean our public roadways by having unpaid, unequipped citizens pick up the trash with their bare hands on a volunteer basis.
While this might seem like an innocuous matter, even perhaps a positive development, one of public service and giving back to the community, use your brain and you'll see otherwise. Never mind that we have high unemployment and plenty of people could be employed to clean the roads, the task should be done by workers with machinery, not by the public with their bare hands. This is idiocy. What do we pay taxes for if not to maintain public spaces, especially those with dangerous traffic on them.
There is another angle to this particular problem: we have paved more roads than we can actually maintain. I don't know what the solution is, but I know it's not to have volunteers clean the road.
2. Our tax laws are an unfathomable atrocity of special interests.
Try to imagine our founding fathers hearing that we have thousands of pages of tax law. It's time to strip things back to home interest and charitable deductions, and a simple but progressive tax table. No loopholes, no enormous armies of IRS employees, no third-party busy work to make us pay even more just to pay ourselves.
1. We have to pay for our soldiers' injuries with private charities.
If I haven't convinced you yet, perhaps this one will do the trick.
Think about it. Can it get any worse? Can there be any greater indictment of our collective failure than to send ourselves, our loved ones, children, and neighbors off to wars and have them come back in pieces... only to find that we, the public of a rich society, are not paying every single cent that it takes to care for them? Are we crazy? Selfish? Unknowing? Blind? Ignorant? Have we lost all semblance of a moral compass?
And now for even worse news. They are us. There is no "them" of government; this is a government of-, by-, and for the people. We have not just the government we deserve, but the government that WE ARE. Yes, we have a society that promotes not just competitiveness, but selfishness; not just disregards suffering, but dismisses it; not just disdains misfortune but blames it on the unfortunate... soldier and homeless alike.

If our public officials can't assess and allocate sufficient taxes to pay for all of these things, then we have all failed. If it takes an untenable amount of money to clean our roads, perhaps I'll entertain your objections. But if we can't collect enough tax dollars—not piecemeal charity— to care for our soldiers, then we are either damaging too many soldiers or we are selfish pigs of the worst order.

Let's talk about "leadership" for a moment. Contrary to a vision of leadership as some glowing halo of wonderfulness, leadership consists ONLY of getting people to do things they don't want to do. The leader of a battalion takes the troops into harm's way. And so it is with politics and taxes.  

This all must change, and it starts inside.

Friday, July 05, 2013

Great David Brooks Quote

Appropos of nothing, I just wanted to save this great quote from
David Brooks, "The Way to Produce a Person" New York Times, June 3, 2013

"You might end up enlarging the faculties we use to perceive the far — rationality — and eclipsing the faculties we use to interact with those closest around — affection, the capacity for vulnerability and dependence."