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Politically Incorrect

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If I were elected

Even without an IV line in my house connecting us directly to the boob tube, it’s been hard to miss the fact that, almost overnight, Henny Penny appeared everywhere on the national scene to let us know the "sky is falling! It really is!" Well, finally. Maybe now the American public will make up its mind—and tell its legislators—how it wants to go about the business of government. If I were elected, here’s the things we’d be talking about:

Raising Taxes. Yeah, I know. Legislators on both sides of the aisle, especially Republicans, tell you they’re for fiscal responsibility all the time, right? Do you remember how Jesus said you judge a tree by its fruit? Well, our national debt currently stands at $10.2 trillion. The national debt clock in New York City doesn’t even have enough spaces available to show all those digits! If you take a look at any of those automated debt clocks installed on websites, the digits are moving faster than they do on the gas pumps.

And interest? Well, interest on the debt uses up almost 45 percent of all the money the government takes from taxpayers each and every year.

Then we learned in September that Wall Street—private business, mind you—needed $700 billion to prevent a crash and burn.

My, what a difference two terms can make.

Every year we, as a government, have been spending more than we make, and we do that by borrowing money—sixty percent of what we’ve borrowed came from other countries. We’re in hock to China, alone, for $4 billion. So yes, China, keep sending us toxic products because we owe you a bunch of money and therefore don’t have much ground to stand on in demanding higher quality. Borrowing money isn’t inherently evil—most of us who own homes would not have them if we hadn’t borrowed money. But government borrowing should have to include a repayment plan.

Think about it.Every year you could get an accounting from the government of how much money you’re going to owe in taxes on the repayment, and approximately the date when you’re going to be expected to pay it.

Our current debt stands at $86,017 per person. (At least, it did when the national debt clock ran out of room.) Now imagine that document. It tells you, "We’re sending you a stimulus check this year for $300. However, six years from now (or when someone else is in office) we’re going to increase your taxes by $8,600 per year for the following ten years so you can pay what you owe. Oh, plus that $300." Bet that would engender a renewed interest in how government works. And then taxpayers would have a chance to determine what they want badly enough it’s worth going into debt for.

Consequences: AIG was going down, down, down so top executives in the company got an extra $5 million in bonuses. Once the $85 billion bailout of the company was approved, its top sales executives took off for a $440,000, one-week retreat at the St. Regis Resort. Anyone who believes in rewarding incompetence with bonuses and vacations must believe that incompetence is a good thing. I disagree with them.

Here’s an idea: the executives of any company that needs a government bailout will be fired, and will be banned from working in any related field for, say, five years.

This could be expanded, by the way, to any company that ends up costing the taxpayer money... for example, companies responsible for generating Superfund sites.

Free marketsDo they work or not? Given the number of bailouts we taxpayers are on the hook for, I would suggest that they don’t work—at least, not without some forms of regulation.

There is a mind set that believes government can never do as good a job as the private sector can do—a mind set I don’t actually believe in. Government will do as little or as much as we demand of it. The private sector will do what is best for itself—sometimes that will translate into being best for the general good as well, and sometimes it won’t; consider the deregulation of energy. Hello, Enron.

One free market system that demonstrably does not work is in the payment for health care. Yes, I would advocate for single-payer health insurance. (Trish, you little socialist, you.) I think it’s time we recognize that the $12.6 billion in profits seen in 2007 by insurance companies is not in the best interest of Americans as a whole. And if you wonder why your mother’s prescriptions cost so much money, let me point to the $46 billion in profit seen by the pharmaceutical industry. That’s profit, mind you—the amount left over after they paid all their bills, for their CEO’s inflated salaries, their marketing, administration, lobbyists, denial specialists and the Vienna Dark blend in the office coffee pot.

You don’t think this hurts you? A recent study by Harvard University researchers found that the average out-of-pocket medical debt for those who filed for bankruptcy was $12,000, and that 68 percent of those who filed had health insurance. In fact, 50 percent of all bankruptcy filings were partly the result of medical expenses.

A report for the Commonwealth Fund shows that 41 percent of working-age Americans—or 72 million people—have problems with medical bills or are paying off medical debt.

And what are you getting for it? Not what you would expect for the most expensive health care in the world. According to the World Health Organization, we rank 20th in life expectancy from birth, our babies are more likely to die before they reach their first birthday, and our medical system itself, through errors, drug reactions, hospital-acquired infections and more, is the number three cause of death for Americans.

American Oil Dependence: The one point I never hear made in discussions about the American dependence on fossil fuels is the fact that we want something we don’t have. You can ‘drill, baby, drill’ all you want in the U.S.—tear up the Rocky Mountain front and the Bob Marshall Wilderness, stack the oil drills five deep on our coastlines and kill every polar bear that gets in the way of more drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and that’s not going to change the fact that we’ve made ourselves dependent on a product we can’t produce.

According to the CIA (yep, they keep these kind of statistics—wonder why?), Americans consume 7.56 billion barrels of oil per year, almost 70 percent of which is used in the internal combustion engine. We produce 2.77 billion barrels per year. So every year we run an oil deficit of about 4.8 billion barrels. We have proven American oil reserves of almost 23.5 billion barrels. So if we drilled out every bit of oil we have, no matter where it’s located, we would run out of oil in just over three years.

That leaves us in the position of buying what we consider a necessity from people who, let’s face it, don’t really like us much. And they don’t have to—after all, don’t we Americans believe if it’s ours, it’s ours and we can do with it what we want? Or do we only believe that when it really is ours? When it’s yours and we want it, then you have to give it to us and if you don’t, then you sponsor terrorism and we’ll invade your country.

By the way, China wants that oil as well. Remember China? The people who loaned us all that money? China’s oil consumption is around 6.5 billion barrels a year, and is growing at 7 percent every year. It produces about 3.6 billion barrels every year. Does this math look good to anyone? Can anyone other than Sarah Palin and George Bush believe we can drill our way out of this problem? Anyone who doesn’t think we better hit the ground running to figure out how to fuel what we want fueled with something other than oil probably deserves to go back to an 1880s lifestyle.

Terrorism and War: I could go on forever, but you’ll quit reading. So one final discussion for the American public. First, let’s have a true, independent analysis of what happened on September 11, 2001. The official explanation simply doesn’t hold water. This is one of those "who knew what, when" questions that must be answered—and people/institutions must be held accountable.

Speaking of accountability, you might be surprised to learn that I would not support an effort to impeach President Bush after the November elections. First, because that’s too late, and second, because more than Bush have been involved in crimes against the American people. What I would like to see are charges (at the least, charges of treason) brought against Bush, Cheney, et al. Bring the charges and let’s let the evidence of the trial see the light of day—no more ‘executive privilege.’

That goes for all of ‘em. The investigation brought against Palin in Alaska for abuse of power has shown clearly how the McCain/Palin presidency would treat malfeasance among its own. Now Obama/Biden must step forth with some courage and demand that our checks and balances be returned to the system, and all elected congressmen need to grow some cojones and start living up to their oversight responsibility, or get booted out.

If they don’t, I guess I could always run, myself.

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Landon Otis

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Politics, elections, health care, bailouts, oil

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