What will stop the madness?

Unfortunately, I spend too much time thinking about the answer to this question.  What is the madness I reference?  The transition of our country to something our forefathers would not recognize.  In fact, I would contend that they went to war to free themselves from a government that was much less inept than the one we have in Washington today.

Those of us who called ourselves Republicans believed that all would be well when the Republican party was in control.  That was the party of conservative thinking and balanced views.  In the words of Lee Corso – “not so fast my friends”.  The country has gotten to the state it is in with both Democratic and Republican presidents and majorities at the helm.  What has caused the problem?  First and foremost, it has been caused by the simple fact that not everyone agrees there is a problem.  Beyond that, it gets tougher to identify the root cause.  Is it the abundance that the American people have enjoyed as a group?  Is it greed as our current president espouses?  Is it fiscal and moral blindness? I could go on with a lot more of these questions and believe that each one I typed would contribute to the problem.

We have now settled into complacency.  Yes, there are groups like “Tea Party version ..” that are trying to get everyone’s attention.  The media has and uses their ability to make them a sideshow rather than a center stage act. They may be successful in changing the campaign speeches that are given to be elected but I suspect that’s about the extent of their impact. We know so many things that need to change, yet we continue to send people to Washington who forget to change them once they arrive.

So, back to the original question.  What will stop the madness?  I suspect that catastrophe will be the answer.  In 2001, I thought that our country received and heard the wake up call and that it would drive us to unite to become a sane people – focused on the great things that are available to us and the real probability they could be taken away.  That lasted a while; however, politics and time quickly removed that day and it’s potential for positive change.  I suspect and hope the next catastrophe will not be rooted in violence or terror.  I suspect it will be one of a financial nature that will make the “Great Recession” look like lost pocket change.

The Worthless Health Care Debate

Ok.  So I am very tired of the Health Care debate.  Why? Other than the fact it occupies most of the news, the debate is going nowhere.  The main problem I see is that it’s not about health care or the people who need it (all of us).

The debate is about winners and losers.  The left needs to win their position because Obama promised he would reform health care during his never ending campaign, because it would be a wonderful tribute to Ted Kennedy, because it would be a great excuse to grow the government and give them one more thing to screw up, because it would help channel money to people who helped Obama get elected, because….

The right needs to stop the left from winning their position because they don’t want Obama to succeed at anything, because they think tax cuts can solve the problem, because they think it’s smart to talk about limiting the government when they are not in control, because it’s one more giant step to socialism, because they don’t want Obama to succeed at anything, because they don’t want Obama to succeed at anything, because….

Let’s face it, this is a huge complex problem.  It’s not being attacked as such.  There is no one, who has a voice on the issue, talking about how to really solve the problem in such a way that the result is everyone entitled to health care in this country can attain it.  They can’t even agree on who is entitled to health care.  That has to do with the definition of illegal (a term that used to be in the dictionary).  It also has to do with the definition of who is worth the effort (a term that can’t be defined in a dictionary).

My view is that there are many approaches to solving this problem.  No valid approach starts with writing a 1000+ page document that the people who are participating in the debate won’t read and possibly don’t have the capacity to understand if they did read it.  The way to attack the problem requires a non-political decision to determine what’s broken, what’s not broken, what’s been addressed, and what’s not been addressed.  It can’t be about fulfilling promises to constituents, about being re-elected, about getting someone else unelected.  It has to be based on the agreement that the U.S. has been and will continue to be a special place to live and that as a special place high quality health care must be available to everyone.

I have more to say about this so I’ll do a follow-up post or provide comments in a discussion on the subject.

There’s no dumb ass vaccine

(originally posted March 2008)

”Evolution can be mean, there’s no ‘dumb ass’ vaccine.  Blame your DNA, you’re a victim of your fate. It’s human nature to miscalculate.” Those are some of the lyrics from a Jimmy Buffet offering named “Permanent Reminder of a Temporary Feeling”.

Lately, I have often wondered when the concept of our government providing the ‘dumb ass’ vaccine became a fundamental truth of our way of life.  Whatever the timing, I think that’s what is responsible for our current predicament.  Take the current mortgage crisis as an example.

Banks lend people money when the interest rates are very low.  They lend the money to folks who are not qualified for a loan, who don’t read the loan’s term and conditions, who don’t worry about what happens if they don’t make payments.  Interest rates go up, payments come due, payments are missed, homes are foreclosed, mortgage crisis descends upon our nation.  Our government steps in with the ‘dumb ass’ vaccine.  We print some money to help the banks.  The value of the dollar goes down. The price of oil goes up.  Purchasing power of the dollar for other things we need goes down (remember we don’t make anything here in the U.S. anymore).  Recession raises its ugly head.  Layoffs are next.  Stock market drops like 1000 points.  We need some more vaccine.

Federal money managers lower interest rates. Federal money managers lower interest rates again.  Now the interest rates are back lower than when the bad loans were made so the vaccine should work.  People can start making their mortgage payments again.  Right?  Wrong!  The homes are already foreclosed.  Bear Stearns is sold for 1/15 of its value thanks to a credit line from the Fed (more vaccine) and others to follow.  The managers of the failed institutions are given tens of millions of dollars severance pay for screwing up and the world watches the stock market vacillate like Obama’s position on the war in Iraq.

As I said earlier, it’s not clear to me exactly when the government began its role as the dispenser of ‘dumb ass’ vaccine, but it clearly believes that is the way to solve problems no matter what the cause.  Usually the vaccine is dispensed in the form of money to the ‘dumb ass’ group.  There are occasions when its administered orally in the form of a speech by a high government official.  I don’t mind those as much because I don’t see it at tax time and I’ve pretty much learned to stop listening.

I guess the point of all this is that the government needs to get out of the business of cleaning up after ‘dumb asses’.   We need to start taking care of ourselves.  My parents would have called it “taking your medicine” or when they were most upset “you made your bed, now sleep in it”.  I think most of my generation and certainly the generations preceding mine learned that no one would come in and clean up our mistakes whether personal, financial, or otherwise.

I want a government that doesn’t do much.  You might argue that I already have that so maybe the statement should be that I want a government that doesn’t “try” to do much.  I would be happy if they just focused on secure and free.  If that’s all they spent our money and their time on, I have a feeling that we could take care of the rest on our own.  Those who couldn’t – well, there is such a thing as the Darwinian Theory.

The Next Greatest Generation

Will there ever be one?

For those of you not familiar with Tom Brokaw’s book “The Greatest Generation”, I’ll give you a short review. It’s great. It’s about the generation of people who lived through the Great Depression, World War II, built this country, and gave birth to the Baby Boomer generation.

I’m not part of the Greatest Generation (I’m a Baby Boomer) but I get to spend my Tuesdays with some of them. When I first meet them, I am able to learn about their early life and the character they possess that made them who they are. I don’t get to know them much beyond that because they are all afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. I do get to know some of their spouses who are still in good health and that helps me to further understand how different they are than my generation.

One of the gentlemen, that I got to know well, was a Navy officer in WW II. He commanded one of the landing craft that was in the first wave to land on D-Day. He had a written commendation from the French government documenting the fact that he was one of the first to reach France. He could not show me that document without crying. I tried several times to get him to tell me about what it was like, but the combination of the disease and emotion prohibited him from being able to do that.

In his book, Brokaw details the lives of many of the men and women from that generation. Since Brokaw wrote his first book about them, we have been losing them at a rate of more than 1,000 per day. We are approaching the time when there will be very few of them with us. That leads me to the question – have their values been passed on by my generation, the Baby Boomers?

That question really has two subparts. Did we (the Baby Boomers) recognize and subscribe to their values? Are any of their beliefs even regarded as “values” by our children and their children?

Probably the best way for you to understand my answer to the first part is to tell you what I’m thankful for. I’m thankful that none of today’s technology, today’s news media, and today’s politicians existed when the gentleman I spoke of earlier was guiding his landing craft to the Normandy shore. Had it been, the scenario might have been quite different. There would have been representatives from ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox, MSNBC … present with cameras rolling and real-time shots of the carnage that followed. Seeing first hand the horror of war, one Hillary Clinton might have instantly motioned for the termination of the landing and immediate withdrawal of all troops. That would be simultaneously seconded by Barack Obama and Ted Kennedy and passed by acclamation.

Probably a far-fetched scenario, but remember we were only entering the war to save Europe from being taken over by an ideologically crazed leader named Adolf Hitler. Hitler had not yet attacked American soil. He was just committing genocide of a group of people he felt did not meet his standards.

Basically, I believe my generation lost sight of the courage and conviction it took to land at Normandy and to run out of the landing craft onto that beach. We gave the world Woodstock, Haight-Ashbury, Chappaquiddick, Oval Office frolicking, and perfection of the concept of tax and spend – just to name a few of our accomplishments (I know, one of us invented the Internet but I’m going to ignore that for this blog). I suspect, in our haste to take advantage of the country and way of life that we inherited, we truly lost sight of the cost of that inheritance.

So, have we passed on the values of our fathers? I doubt it. I believe we have fostered a “next generation” that cherishes prosperity but does not want it to be difficult; a generation that looks to politicians to tell them want the country will do for them and not want they must do for themselves; a generation that is intoxicated by “feel good” speeches without a foundation or plan; a generation that wants everyone to be happy as long as someone else pays for it.

Is there hope? Of course, it springs eternal. You must have heard that as often as I have; but, I actually believe it. Crisis brings hope. Values can be created or at least recaptured by a crisis. There was amazing hope for this country in the days and weeks following 9/11. There are amazing young men and women in our Armed Forces in the Middle East. They are volunteers and they are fighting the fight they have been asked to fight. With luck, they will never regret their decision – no matter how their fight gets recorded in the history books. With more luck, they will return home as heroes and go on to lead amazing lives, much like the Greatest Generation.

Will there be another crisis to bring us hope? We seem to have a lot of possibilities at this point. We are about to decide to lose the “War on Terrorism”. That may lead to a “Safety Crisis” or even a “Loser’s Crisis”. It will certainly give added momentum to an “Energy Crisis”. We are about to commit to spending billions of dollars to fix all of the known problems of this country. That will further exacerbate the “Economic Crisis” that we manufactured out of the “Mortgage Crisis”. With some very bad luck, we may even have more frolicking in the Oval Office. That will lead to a “Moral Crisis”. Strike that, surely the voting public won’t let that happen.

So, will there be a “Next Greatest Generation”? Let’s hope so.