Restoring Our Basic Values

It seems to me….

It’s time that America’s government lived by the same values as America’s families. It’s time we invested in America’s future and made sure our people have the skills to compete and thrive in a 21st century economy.” ~ Harry Reid[1].

While some politically-motivated 2016 presidential candidates constantly attempted to claim the U.S. has lost its way and is quickly deteriorating, the truth is the exact opposite[2]. This is not to deny there are problems – there always have been and there always will be, just that the U.S.’s position in the world has never been so firmly entrenched and apparent. The U.S. remains the world’s leading economic, technological, military, and political power and will not face any serious challenge within the foreseeable future.

To many, especially conservatives, the U.S. remains the best in every category and it is un-American to state otherwise. Americans demand constant reassurance that their country, their achievements, and their values exceed those of anywhere else in the world[3]. No amount of facts will dissuade them otherwise. If the U.S. balance of trade is not in our favor, it is obvious the other nation is engaging in unfair policies. The majority of Americans reject that the U.S. ranks 34th out of 35 for child poverty in economically advanced countries or that the very cornerstone of the American Dream – social mobility – is greater in Europe, Australia, and Canada than here in the U.S.

The U.S. admittedly faces a long list of complex domestic challenges: help companies create jobs, agree on an immigration policy, develop an education reform plan that improves educational quality and is affordable, reform tax policies, develop an energy policy, manage our national debt, develop cooperation between liberals and conservatives…. Though there is much we can and should do to revitalize our country, there should not be any doubt that given the plentiful resources of the U.S. that we can regain our lead in most of those areas where we recently have shown weakness. The foundation of our nation remains one of the strongest in the world and will allow us to restore our nation’s international leadership – if we have the will and desire to do it.

Politicians constantly attempt to shift blame rather than accepting responsibility and attempting to correct problems with measures negatively affecting corporate campaign donations. They frequently stand before the citizens they represent and deliberately make statements they know to be either untrue or misleading[4]. We elect people to represent us in the U.S. Congress, not corporate lobbyists, and while many of these representatives have repeatedly demonstrated their incompetence and irresponsibility, the laws and policies that exist are what they approve and want to exist.

The Constitution makes the House of Representatives responsible for originating and approving appropriations and taxes. How can the Speaker of the House criticize the President for creating deficits when the President can only propose a budget? The Speaker of the House is the leader of the majority party so he and his fellow House members can approve any budget they want and if the President vetoes it, they can pass it over his veto if they so agree. The President hasn’t any power to force Congress to accept it.

Our elected representatives frequently attempt to blame those bureaucrats they hire (and whose jobs they can abolish); lobbyists whose gifts and advice they can reject; and regulators to whom they give the power to regulate and from whom they can take that power. We, as citizens of this country should not allow them to attempt to tell us there are some disembodied mystical forces such as “the economy”, “inflation”, or “politics” that prevent them from doing what they take an oath to do. If there is a problem, they have the power to change things. There are no insoluble government problems.

The voters also bear ultimately responsibility for our government and must hold their representatives accountable and remind them that our government is to be for the people and by the people. We, as citizens of this nation, have the government we have decided we want. It is our choice and regardless of how we feel about it, it is what we voted for and deserve.

Some electorate discontent is rooted in legitimate concerns about long-term economic forces. Decades of declining productivity growth and rising inequality have resulted in slower income growth for low and middle-income families. Globalization and automation weakened the position of workers and their ability to secure a decent wage. Economies are more successful when we close the gap between rich and poor and growth is broadly based. A world in which 1 percent of humanity controls as much wealth as the other 99 percent will never be stable.

Fully restoring faith in an economy where hardworking Americans can get ahead requires addressing four major structural challenges: boosting productivity growth, combating rising inequality, ensuring that everyone who wants a job can get one, and building a resilient economy that’s primed for future growth.

In recent years, we have seen incredible technological advances through the Internet, mobile broadband and devices, artificial intelligence, robotics, advanced materials, improvements in energy efficiency, and personalized medicine. But while these innovations have changed lives, they have not yet substantially boosted measured productivity growth.

A major source of the recent productivity slowdown has been a shortfall of public and private investment caused, in part, by a hangover from the financial crisis. But it has also been caused by self-imposed constraints: an anti-tax ideology that rejects virtually all sources of new public funding; a fixation on deficits at the expense of the deferred maintenance bills we are passing to our children, particularly for infrastructure; and a political system so partisan that previously bipartisan ideas like bridge and airport upgrades are nonstarters.

Private investment and innovation could also be improved with business-tax reform that lowers statutory rates and closes loopholes, and with public investments in basic research and development. Policies focused on education are critical both for increasing economic growth and for ensuring that it is shared broadly. These include everything from boosting funding for early childhood education to improving high schools, making college more affordable, and expanding high-quality job training.

The primary concern of any nation must be the general welfare of its citizens. How can any nation such as the U.S. justify spending more on war or preparing for war than on the health of its citizens? How can a nation justify spending more on its judicial system including prisons than on education?

China’s economy has been rapidly improving and its national GDP will soon surpass ours but China is a much larger country with a considerably larger population. When compared to the U.S. on either per capita or inclusive wealth[5], China remains far behind the U.S. Additionally, much of China’s product manufacturing base consists of basic items imported, assembled, and then exported for sale elsewhere where the U.S. remains far ahead in the value of its intellectual property. The U.S. also has an advantage in that the dollar is the currency most commonly used for international financial transactions.

While still not energy-independent, U.S. reliance on petroleum imports has substantially declined and has become the world’s largest producer of petroleum products while also rapidly expanding its non-carbon energy production capacity. In 2015, for the first time, more renewable capacity was built than conventional fossil generation.

The U.S. also dominates the technology sector being the undisputed world leader in social networks, mobile telephones, and nano- and biotechnology. All nine of the leading global tech platforms (Microsoft Office, Google Chrome, Facebook…) are American products.

Militarily, the U.S. remains stronger than all the other nations combined. While China increasingly challenges the U.S. in its area of the world, it will be exceedingly difficult for it to actually compete militarily.

How has a country that has benefited, perhaps more than any other, from immigration, trade, and technological innovation, suddenly developed a strain of anti-immigrant, anti-innovation protectionism? Why have some on the far left and even more on the far right embraced a crude populism that promises a return to a past that is not possible to restore and that, for most Americans, never existed at all?

More and more Americans have a vague and increasing sense that our government is simply incapable of addressing basic challenges like immigration, guns, entitlements, trade, climate and environment, privacy and security, the federal budget, spiraling inequity, money in politics … or even a health emergency like the Zika virus.

Yes, there are issues and challenges which we should demand to be corrected, perhaps even outraged. Yet it does not seem to happen.

We have chronic homelessness. We have children that go to bed hungry. We have veterans that suffer debilitating conditions when they come back from war that go untreated. We have elderly that can’t pay their heating and cooling bills. We continue to allow gigantic corporations to have massive tax breaks and yet we levy high taxes on the middle and lower classes. We have schools that are massively underfunded and continue to face budget cuts. We have one of the highest incarceration and infant mortality rates in the world for a developed county. But when we have a few folks in this country that have stepped on or burned the U.S, flag and posted pictures and/or videos on the Internet, only then do we seem to mount massive outrage.

While I believe democracy to be the best political system yet devised, it inheritably has weaknesses that tend to compound over successive years. Thomas Jefferson, author of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and third president of the U.S., might have been right when he wrote:

God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. … And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon, and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.[6]

While I am unequivocally opposed to violence, it should be readily apparent to everyone that some correction to our political process is necessary.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Harry Mason Reid is an American Democratic politician who served as the senior U.S. Senator from Nevada, Senate Minority Leader, and previously as Majority Leader.

[2] Zakaria, Fareed. America Is Still Great – But It Needs To Stay Strong, Washington Post, https://fareedzakaria.com/2016/05/27/america-is-still-great-but-it-needs-to-stay-strong/, 26 May 2016.

[3] Shane, Scott. The Opiate of Exceptionalism, The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/21/sunday-review/candidates-and-the-truth-about-america.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0, 19 October 2012.

[4] While not verbatim, much of what is said here is based on similar statements by Charley Reese, 545 vs. 300,000,000 People, Orlando Sentinel, 7 March 1995.

[5] The sum of a nation’s “manufactured capital (roads, buildings, machines and equipment), human capital (skills, education, health) and natural capital (sub-soil resources, ecosystems, the atmosphere).

[6] Jefferson, Thomas. Letter to William Stephens Smith, 13 November 1787.

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About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
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