ForthRightViews

What I Want for America
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November 22, 2007

As the reader can tell by the title, this issue of ForthRightViews covers a very broad subject. As I was writing the outline, I noticed that virtually everything I want for America today was accounted for by our founders more than 200 years ago. Times do change, but obviously the basics remain the same.

 

I started from scratch, by asking myself if I were building a country, what would I want it to do? Of course, that’s where our founders started too. Since I was not able to come up with much of anything new, I decided to focus my efforts on describing my views on the current state of affairs of the seven things I identified for my vision of America.

 

1. The freedoms prescribed in the Constitution, as amended

My little exercise in building the ideal country was significantly simplified by my knowledge of the existence of a body of laws that already addresses most of my needs and wants. Clearly I should be aware of the possibility of intellectual self-pollination here, since I was born and raised under the rule of this body of laws, called the U.S. Constitution. This raises the concern that I may have been brainwashed over the past half-century of my life and cannot be objective in designing my ideal country. Fortunately, however, the U.S. Constitution incorporates the right of individual freedom to study any ideas that I am capable of conceiving. That means that any limitations that may arise during my exercise lie in my own intellectual capability. I can handle that.

 

The founding fathers did a really good job writing the preamble describing the precepts of the nation and defining the basic freedoms on which American society was built. Later amendments were also pretty well conceived, except for two of them that I can think of. One was the 18th amendment, which prohibited alcoholic beverages and was repealed by the 21st amendment. At least our government saw the fallacy and corrected it, albeit 14 years later. The other one is the 16th amendment, which established the income tax. I still can’t get my head around this one. I know for sure my country needs funding to provide for the other things I want it to have and to do, but I don’t think the source of that funding should be based on what law-abiding citizen earn.

 

Other than this, I think the U.S. Constitution as amended is about as good a basis for building and maintaining a country as there can be. It is by the grace of God that I was born into this system.

 

2. A justice system that holds truth as it highest calling and actually works in a practical setting

The requirement to establish a justice system was foreseen by our founders, called out in the preamble, and covered in articles and amendments to the Constitution[1]. I really cannot think of a better way to design or maintain a justice system for my ideal America. The problems I see are in the results that the system produces in some individual cases.

 

These problems lie in the application rather than the design, and I don’t see a good, easy way to fix this. They arise when individuals use the system in a dishonest way. The system is clearly designed to prevent the innocent from being falsely convicted as much, or maybe even more, than to convict the guilty. It was designed this way on purpose, because our founders were well-aware of the injustices that reside in the heart of evil governments. That’s why they came here in the first place.

 

Individual failures in our justice system are numerous—consider the O.J. Simpson trial as just one clear example. Does any thinking person believe that he did not murder his ex-wife and her friend even now, 13 years after his acquittal? In my objective opinion, all of the evidence before he was charged and since he was acquitted point to him as the killer. I suppose there could have been a great conspiracy to frame him or a great confluence of circumstances that implicated him, but I don’t think so. Still he is a free man as far as our justice system goes, even though he has to live with his own conscience, if he has one, and he will have to account for his actions at his final judgment, like everyone else. I am not this final judge, but I bet O.J. will not win acquittal in this final trial.

 

The O.J. Simpson trial highlighted the problems that exist in our justice system, and the people are the problem, not the system. It, like most trials today, was far more about manipulating information, appealing to people’s biases, and pretending to uphold some lofty concept of justice, which no system developed and operated by mankind can ever achieve, than it was about executing a practical form of justice for the crimes that were committed in this case. It is the misuse of the system by authorities—individual lawyers, policemen, judges and jury members—and the ignorance of the general population that lets this happen. I don’t see an easy way to fix this. How do you get people to act honestly and wisely? I believe truth[2] actually exists, but the minds of many people are so weak and/or corrupt that it is very difficult to get consensus on it even in a group as small as 12 individuals.

 

3. Democratically-elected executive and legislative leaders with vision, experience and strong moral values

This is another important element of the ideal country government that the founders addressed in the Constitution. These guys were really good.

 

The problems I see here also lie with the people involved in the system (i.e., all of us), rather than the system design. Our election process is no better than a popularity contest, a lot like the selection of high-school homecoming king or queen.  We deserve who we elect, and I don’t know how to fix the problems that reside in the minds of the individuals who have the right to vote. It is better that we have the right to vote than not; I just wish we weren’t so stupid that we fall for the same old dirty tricks every time. History makes it very clear that individuals with good political skills win elections, not good individuals. This is a problem as old as civilization itself.

 

But wouldn’t it be nice to have leaders with vision, experience and strong moral values? I have seen a few of them in my lifetime at various levels of authority, but this is not the norm by a long shot.

 

I realize none of these qualities can be accurately measured on a one-size-fits-all scale; each requires judgment on the part of the beholder. Let me just ask you this, how many of your last 20 votes have been for a candidate that just knocks the ball out of the park in terms of these qualities, rather than the one who is just better than that other crook or idiot who is running? Again, I just don’t know how to fix this. Sorry about that. Therefore, I accept the current system as the best that pathetic mankind can do.

 

4. A fair tax system

Now this is one of the characteristics of my ideal America for which I have strong, practical ideas. As I said earlier, I just don’t agree that citizens of my country should have to pay taxes on the money they earn in the commercial marketplace. I strongly believe that we should pay taxes based on consumption, and the consumption tax rate should be sized to account for the revenues needed for our government to provide all the services identified in this article.

 

I am not a libertarian, at least not as I understand their views on taxation. A few years ago I had the dubious honor of working with a woman who described herself as a staunch libertarian. She was barren, and she was resentful that some of her county property taxes went to fund the local school system. She argued that since she does not have children, she should not have to support the education of any children. I don’t know that this is a basic belief held by the libertarian party (I don’t trust parties in the first place), but I do know I disagree with this philosophy on the education of the children of the citizens of my America. I see education as crucial to the success of my country and something that every citizen is responsible for funding. I do wish the education system we have was not rife with incompetent administrators and teachers, but that is a different problem. By the way, I also like puppies and kittens.

 

I think our income tax system is a joke. It has become more of a government program for government’s sake than a program to meet the need for funding the government. It is so convoluted and confusing that even an intelligent, honest person cannot be assured that he won’t be victimized by some ignorant and/or  corrupt IRS official, or even worse, some self-serving elected or appointed official in the executive, legislative or judicial branch of government. It almost requires the services of an attorney just to navigate the legal morass, and generally speaking, these are not the most upright individuals I can think of to look out for my interests. Also, after paying these guys to protect their legal interests, citizens of my America are motivated to actively seek any way possible to pay as little as possible to the federal government. I have prepared my own tax filings for the past 25 years, and I have probably paid more than I owed. I have been given tons of advice, solicited and unsolicited, from smart people and morons, about how I can claim this deduction or that one to save money. In the end, I always went with my own direct interpretation of the rules. Still, I am very aware that the IRS could decide that I made a mistake somewhere along the line and could make my life miserable for it. Never mind that I am not a cheater.

 

So what is a fair tax system? I have to say that I don’t know for sure, but I do have some good ideas. Also, I do know what does not work, and that is our current system. If I were designing a government, as in my little exercise for this article, I would establish and implement sales taxes at the local, state and federal levels to support the operations of government at those respective levels. I would hope in one to two hundred years I could get good at estimating the annual revenues needed to keep my government afloat. Also, hopefully, during that time, I would have established trust funds at these three levels to moderate the impact of annual fluctuations in the cost of government. I would make up any short-, medium- or long-term shortfalls necessary by instituting special taxes of one kind or another. This could even include an income tax, but it would be a simple flat tax that I could actually regulate. I would measure the effectiveness of my system by the number and magnitude of special taxes I had to institute because I did not plan well enough. I would not make, or feel compelled to make, any excuses for instituting the special taxes needed to account for any unforeseeable catastrophes that befell my nation, state or local community. I figure I could make the citizens of my country, state or local community understand the gravity of the situation brought about by events such as a world war, an unprovoked attack on my civilians by misguided religious zealots, a hurricane that wipes out one of my major cities, or a tsunami that sweeps away 200,000 defenseless people.

 

5. The world’s strongest military forces

This one is just a practical requirement for survival in our human-animal world. I really wish it wasn’t necessary and I did not make it that way, but I want my America to be the best place in the world and that means others will want to destroy it, dominate it, or at least humble it. I will do everything I can to make sure none of this happens.

 

I know my best shot at assuring life for my eternal spirit is by following the teachings of the gospels, which are my personal guiding light, but I also know the best way to survive in our human-animal society is to be so strong that the other human-animals will not mess with us. I will pay my taxes to the government to develop and maintain the best military forces on the planet, and I expect them to use these funds to protect my way of life today and in the future. I insist that my country’s military be accountable to my democratically-elected, visionary, experienced, moral civilian leaders, and I want the operations carried out by visionary, experienced, moral military leaders. Is that too much to ask?

 

As a civilian who has never served in the military, I realize I don’t know squat about the first-hand realities of war. Hopefully, my American civilian leaders will be wise enough to know that war is not like driving to and from work in heavy traffic or shopping for a new pair of shoes in a crowded mall. Also, I hope my country’s military people will exercise the good judgment not to take advantage of any war situation to commit atrocities against mankind. Unfortunately, you can bet your bottom dollar the worst will happen in both the civilian and military sectors, at least to a small extent. We will hear about them as this news is deemed to be useful for the selfish purposes of some civilian or military leaders.

 

It is also possible that we will hear about this in real, objective documentaries or unbiased newscasts. Either these have become rarer than polar bears in Georgia, or I have become so cynical that I cannot recognize them. The reader can judge for himself.

 

I remember when I believed what was reported in national new reports and PBS broadcasts. That was about 20 years ago, before I earned a degree in engineering and supported my own family for about five years. Since then, dozens of news sources have become available, and there is not a single one I can trust like I did two decades ago. There are many news organizations I indulge each day and I do have favorites, but it is just different now. I really don’t think my education and experience account for this either; I really think the nature of information and the concept of truth have materially changed over time. Call me naïve then and paranoid now, if that makes you feel better. Otherwise, open your eyes and ears.

 

6. Provision of sound infrastructure, technology and policies to promote prosperity

This is a real nuts-and-bolts government function. Who can deny that the government in our America should be responsible for building and maintaining roads, bridges and levees, securing food, water and energy resources, and generally looking out for the national economy? It also should make provision to help the weaker members of our society, but that does not mean it can implement wide-scale socialist policies that are clearly outside the philosophies on which our country was founded and operated for the past 200 years.

 

I think our current government does a pretty good job on this. I have one outstanding example of total government failure in this department related to energy infrastructure and technology, but I choose not to elaborate on it here as this may adversely affect my family’s prosperity by jeopardizing my paying job. I may tackle this at a later date in a separate article. Sorry about that.

 

7. Accountability for public servants at every level of the bureaucracy

This requirement for my America is about as close as I can get to adding something that I believe is not adequately addressed in the design of the U.S. Constitution. I could be wrong about this—it may already be there in adequate measure—but I am not aware of it. I believe that every government official must be accountable to the citizenry for his actions in a very direct way.

 

This means every public servant, from the U.S. president to the clerk behind the counter at the state department of motor vehicles (DMV), from the attorney general to the IRS field auditor, and from the city mayor to the local beat cop, must treat tax-paying citizens with simple human respect. I am talking about professional behavior here, not extreme deference.

 

Let’s face facts here. Many government jobs do not pay as well as equivalent positions in the commercial sector. One tradeoff has been in the level of job security that government employees enjoy compared to their commercial counterparts. High elected officials are the exception. Their tradeoff is the leverage they obtain while being high elected officials, which they parlay into higher paying gigs later. Government employees also generally get sweeter benefits packages than commercial employees. In addition, there is generally a higher, and more urgent, demand for results-based performance in the commercial sector versus the government sector.

 

All of these tradeoffs have real value that needs to be recognized and accounted for by government employees. I cannot say that this value is worth the difference in annual salary that government officials are paid compared to employees of commercial companies, but it does fill at least some of the gap. For all I know at this point, government jobs may even have the upper hand in terms of total value provided to employees versus commercial jobs.

 

I am tired of hearing about how government employees are underpaid. Perhaps it is true. I propose that the government contract an honest consulting firm, if it can find one, to do a complete review of government employee salaries and benefits, both tangible and intangible, and issue a report on the results. At least then we can begin to address the issue realistically.

 

I am even more tired, and downright sick, of being mistreated by government employees. The reader must know what I mean. I am not shocked by the nasty attitude and clear lack of motivation on the part of DMV clerk, but that does not make it OK. Even more disturbing is the police officer on a power trip, who figures he’s just going to teach a lesson to every citizen he encounters because he has a uniform, gun and nightstick. Believe me, I am a law-and-order guy and I give the police every benefit of the doubt. It is a dangerous job and I am grateful that we have brave men and women who take this on as a career, but they work for me, the law-abiding citizen, not the other way around. I despise the requirement by more than a few law enforcement officials that I cower in their presence.

 

Never mind the high-profile cases of police abuse. I bet each reader over the age of 40 has at least one personal story of police acting inappropriately. I have never been arrested in my life, but I have personally witnessed policemen abusing their positions at the expense of peaceful citizens. And you have to be a moron to call them on their actions or engage them in an intellectual debate about it, because this gives them the justification to crack your head open. Some of these encounters have left me with the very clear impression that some of these individuals would like nothing better than to beat or shoot someone in the name of serving and protecting. Well, at least they are motivated.

 

I have only two more examples to describe before closing out this section. While a drought is a natural disaster, it does not strike swiftly and without warning like a tornado or an earthquake. It also cannot be considered equivalent to a surprise, military-style strike on skyscrapers filled with innocent people by demented human-animals who commandeer jumbo jets full of other innocent people and become glorious kamikazes in the name of their god. This being said, how can the governor of a state stricken by an extraordinary drought not be held accountable for not implementing actions before his capital city has only one month’s water supply left? I pray to my maker every day, and I credit others who do likewise at their choosing, but I expect the governor of my state in my America to implement concrete actions in advance of the onset of the critical stages of a slow-moving, predictable disaster. What was he doing that kept him so busy over the past two years that he missed this? He can pray all he wants, and I encourage him to do so, but he is a fool to expect me think that makes up for his incompetence in carrying out the leadership role to which he was elected.

 

This is one of the things that drive me crazy about our current government and that I cannot tolerate in my America: elected or appointed government officials that don’t do squat. They rest on their laurels, stand on the shoulders of greater leaders that preceded them, ride on the backs of the people who actually do something, take credit for anything good that happens on their watch, and shirk responsibility for anything bad that happens on their watch. Typically, they respond after the disaster has occurred with the message to the hapless citizens that now that action is required, citizens have to pay more for government. In this case, the governor actually asked his citizens to join him in a media-broadcast prayer. Too late for me, gov; I have been praying all along the way.

 

Finally, I cannot get over the president of my America lying to me and a grand jury, then admitting lying and being allowed to continue in his role as commander-in-chief. This is inappropriate behavior. If there should be any difference in the way he is punished for these actions compared to another citizen, I think it should be more severe. After all, he is supposed to the ultimate example for our children. And yet, he gets off scot-free. I think there are dozens of high-profile sports figures that would gladly humble themselves publicly in return for one-tenth of the mercy shown to a U.S. president who was also caught red-handed in the commission of his crimes.

 

As a final note to the readers of this issue of ForthRightViews, I want to personally thank you for investing your time in reading this article. It is about four times the length of the others I have written, and I plan to get back to the two-pagers after this one. The breadth of this subject required a lot more words. I am glad I wrote it, and even happier that it is done now, because it contains so many of my basic beliefs and aspirations for my beloved country. God Bless America.



[1] Most elements of the Constitution address justice issues in one way or another. The most direct addresses can be found in the preamble, articles 3 and 7, and amendments 1-10, 11, and 14.

[2] Conformity to fact or actuality.