Friday, May 17, 2013

AMERICAN POLITICAL PRIORITIES

As an unwelcome outsider I see that the American media is dominated (or at least the political portion) by scandals.  Three of them, dealing with Benghazi, the IRS and AP are examples of excessive attention.  One commonality that they share is that they are petty in comparison to the real problems faced by the nation.  Some people would prefer to argue over the details, but the more you probe the more you realize that as important as they might be, they are distractions from real life and death concerns.

Republicans act like every mistake (often manufactured) proves the Democrats are unfit for office.  Their own sorry record is ignored.  It is hard to imagine bigger scandals than the manufactured justification for an invasion of Iraq or the Iran-Contra affair or the fiscal mess for which they made the key decisions.

There are serious problems being ignored.  It is hard to determine how all the real problems should best be dealt with, but Republicans are focused on how they can regain power and force their agenda on an unsuspecting America.  As I list what I think should be priorities you will notice that Republicans are for the most part counter productive.

Climate Change is acknowledged by most of the world as real.  Republicans are financed by those who likely would lose some of their relative wealth after some of the logical corrective actions are taken.  With their wealth and expertise they could be planning how best to transition to the new realities, but for the most part they are manipulating every way they can on how to maintain their wealth and leverage.  I don't think Republicans are blind to science, just willing to look the other way when it serves their perceived interests.

Jobs was a promise the Republicans used to win elections in 2010, but soon proved to be dishonest.  Anything that could help boost jobs seemed to be tied to a social agenda and Republicans soon pushed in other directions.  Job solutions were often linked to lessening taxes and regulations for job creators (who meanwhile have been avoiding taxes anyway they can and shifting jobs to low wage and regulation jurisdictions).  To my mind I would borrow from an economist, John Maynard Keynes, (hated by conservatives) who felt the purpose of any economic system is the betterment of all mankind.  Those with wealth to protect see things differently and can be very indignant and self righteous in their justification.  If jobs were a higher priority the average person would be better off and so also those better positioned.

The world has a number of troubling spots, but possibly the Mid-East is one that could explode.  I agree that there are some zealots who hate America and much of that hate is unreasonable.  Unfortunately in following their own narrow interests (Canada and the rest of the West is mostly in step) Americans have sided with dictators to obtain scarce natural resources.  In fact industrial interests (such as those tied to the internal combustion engine) and those who control natural resources are tangled in.  I remember during the Cold War at one point Americans and Russians and later Chinese took part in cultural exchanges.  They seem superficial, but in fact they help us to understand and respect each other more.  Arabs and Muslims have much to offer and we Westerners could benefit from more contact.  Impediments include Guantonamo, Palestine, interference in Mid-eastern countries and loudly expressed ignorance.  I don't mean to diminish the importance of other global trouble spots, some of which could be apocalyptic.

Although politicians of all parties seem to be adjusting another very critical issue is campaign financing.  Americans are unique in their ever lengthening campaigns for political office.  Instead of dealing with real issues politicians spend a lot of their time fund raising which often seems to involve demonizing the opposition.  It might be better to spend time trying to understand those who see issues from a different perspective rather than attempting to overpower them.  Ideally those who can serve the people should have an equal platform and should be equally accessible to the people.  All we can hope for is to move towards that ideal instead of further away which we are doing now.  The current setup works to the advantage of wealthy people and the media, but not anyone else.

Democracy is what everyone claims we already have, but in fact Americans have locked themselves into a system that is far from ideal.  The Constitution is sacred to many and I agree there needs to be an impartial base for everything.  Times do change and it would not hurt to reflect on some of the realities of negotiating the original American constitution.  Small states were afraid of losing their power to large states who naturally had a different perspective.  To get them to join in to form a greater power some concessions were made and had a philosophical justification most of us can appreciate.  Slavery is something Americans claim to be over, but at the time was a major consideration in how the Constitution was set up.  Religious considerations were handled fairly well in the sense that there was a clear separation of church and state with a reasonable toleration for others.  Interpretations and practices have changed.

United States has evolved into a two party system (third parties require an enormous amount of money to have an impact) and each of the two parties has adapted to Constitutional realities.  This means if one party can leverage the inequalities better than the other they can gain power.  One lever that works has been racism.  That is oversimplified, but they have also found ways to bundle their narrow economic concerns with social agendas.  All it requires is small states with two Senators and a base of two electoral votes to aggregate and they can overcome majority interests.

It is common for many countries to have coalition governments.  This is frowned upon by Americans, but really they much better reflect the concerns of the majority of people.  Coalitions happen normally because of a system that allows each voter to have a strong say in the final outcome.  Your vote still has meaning even if your choice doesn't garner the most votes.  In United States (and Canada) if your candidate falls short by even one vote they do not get any power.  In proportional systems, recognizing that every voter has unique interests the candidates pool their votes over a bigger system and are granted some power.  Often this means things don't get done because it is more difficult to get agreement, but each candidate (or more accurately each political party) has to appeal to a larger base if they want to have much leverage.  In the United State many states are so pre determined in their preferences that neither party feels the need to spend time appealing to them.

If you can't get your way it seems logical to compromise and get as much as you can.  It might even prove the merits of your ideas.   Republicans have concluded somehow that they can get a lot more if they make the Democrats look incompetent or better still, evil.  They could provide some needed balance, but have opted to be obstructive.  They have enough power to paralyze the government and stop any constructive efforts they might attempt.

Nobody has all the answers, but in the United States they have created a monster labyrinth where when serious people are trying to enter they are distracted by other people more concerned about increasing their power no matter what.  Reality is that no one even knows the answers and no one has enough power to do enough and no one has the time to try to understand the many variables.  Republicans are entitled to their views and in fact have enough power to force compromises, but feel they can leverage their power to get a much bigger piece of the pie.

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