Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Letter To the Children

Dear Children,
On the day you were born we gazed at you with eyes filled with wonder and awe.  We vowed to love you, care for you and give you every opportunity to live a life better than the one that we were living.
  Unfortunately we are not going to be able to keep all of those promises.  Unfortunately your generation will be the first since the Great Depression to not have a better life than the previous generation.  It is our fault; and we are truly sorry.  But we don’t have the time or energy to deal with it.
Why, you ask?  What happened?
What happened is that we became a culture of materialistic, self absorbed individuals who are more concerned about our own self gratification than we are with anything else.  We want what we want and we want it NOW.  Our myopic view has cost us dearly.  We have taken the country that your grandparents fought and died for…” a beacon a freedom…a shining light upon the hill”…and turned it into a bastion of greed and power.  We have taken a country that led the world in manufacturing, investment, education, science and technology and turned it into an “also ran”.  We stopped looking out for our neighbor and looked out only for ourselves.  We once were the world leader; but we sat on our laurels and the world past us by.  We have become so tied up in our partisan way of life that we have failed to evolve with the rest of the world.  Our smart phones and IPads have morphed into another appendage and our ability to text and tweet has far surpassed our ability to speak in clear sentences.
Certainly these are broad generalizations and will appear overly critical to some.  But it is disheartening to see where we are as a country knowing full well what we could be.  From our perspective it all comes down to our failure as parents at home and our elected leaders in Washington.
But let’s focus on the political gridlock because the societal solutions far exceed our pay grade.
The big story in our government today surrounds the debt ceiling.  In case you didn’t know, the debt ceiling is the nation’s credit card limit.  It is the amount that our government can borrow.  Our country’s credit card limit is $14.6 trillion dollars…and we have maxed out our card.  A little over ten years ago the balance was zero.  We have blown through $14.6 trillion in a decade…and we need more.  Impressive, yes?    And unless Congress agrees to increase the limit by the August 2nd deadline; for the first time in our history, the country will be unable to pay its bills.  The government will shut down and tens of millions of people will not get the government services they need.  Retired folks won’t get their Social Security checks, unemployed workers won’t get their unemployment benefits and the sick and elderly won’t get their Medicare and Medicaid benefits.
So what’s the problem, you say?  Tell Congress to raise the limit and move on. 
The problem is that there is a huge argument in Congress about whether or not the limit should be raised.  The Democrats and their supporters, the poor and the middle class, want to raise the limit and keep the government services flowing.  They want to increase taxes, particularly taxes on those who are the richest Americans, to pay down the debt.
The Republicans disagree.  They and their supporters, the wealthy and big corporations, want to leave the limit as is and pay down the debt by cutting expenses…mainly Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits.  They refuse to discuss ANY increase in taxes.
Well, why can’t they reach a compromise?
They won’t compromise because all that our elected leaders are really interested in is keeping their jobs.  They want to get re-elected; and in our political system that takes money…lots and lots of money.  You cannot raise the money you need to get re-elected if you keep compromising and ticking off the people whose financial support got you into office in the first place.
Our political system and way of governing is broken.  And nowhere is that fact more evident than in the debate over the debt ceiling.  The stakes here are huge.  The outcome will affect the lives of every American.  The members of Congress know what to do.  They know the hard choices that need to be made.  But they don’t have the courage to do the right thing for the country.  All they are interested in is appeasing their financial supporters.  They don’t govern for the long term future of the country.  They only look toward the next election.
And so the country waits.  While Congress plays political poker with their livelihoods more and more working Americans lose their jobs; more homes go into foreclosure, more businesses are shuttered and more schools fall into disrepair.
The really sad part is that most Americans don’t even know that all of this is going on.  They don’t know that there is a debt ceiling crisis.  Hell, they don’t know what a debt ceiling is.  They don’t know that 16 million people are unemployed or that 50 million people are without health care or that 25% of America's children live below the poverty line...and they really don’t care.
Ask most Americans to name their State Representatives or their State Senators or even the Vice President of The United States and they have no clue.  But they know all about Snookie and the Situation and Charlie Sheen and who got voted off American Idol.  They can’t find Afghanistan on a map but they can take you to the local mall blindfolded.  They don’t have a clue how many wars we are fighting but they know how many pairs of shoes they have in their closet.  But these are cultural problems not political ones.
So how do we fix the political gridlock?  For a start one might consider term limits.  If the President can only hold office for two terms then why can members of Congress stay in office in perpetuity?  Two terms and you are done.  And no golden parachutes when you leave either.  After all this is supposed to be “public service” not another entitlement program.  By limiting the term limits you allow the members of Congress to spend more time governing and less time campaigning while at the same time freeing them to govern for the good of the country without weighing the effects on their re-election prospects.
There are many, many more problems to address; far too many to detail here.  Hopefully you will have more courage to tackle them than we did.  We can only hope that you learn from our mistakes.
One thing is certain…it will all be very different for you than it was for us. 
You won’t be able to count on Social Security any more so you better start saving for your retirement, now.  And be careful about investing on Wall Street.  We never bothered to prosecute those folks that brought down the economy and we haven’t gotten around to putting regulations in place to keep it from happening again.  Government bonds are pretty iffy as well; what with the debt problems we have.
And be sure to put away some money to pay for your health care when you get older.  You won’t be able to count on Medicare or Medicaid.  You are going to need a chunk of dough for this since we haven’t been able to find away to hold down the skyrocketing cost of drugs and health services.  We passed a law to fix health care but nobody understands it.  We should have passed legislation to provide Medicare for everyone; but Congress didn’t have the political backbone to do anything that “big’ even though a majority of the people wanted it.    
We know we spoke with you about our goal of owning our own home…our little piece of the American dream.  Well you might want to rent for a while given that the housing market is upside down.  We haven’t gotten around to fixing those predatory lending practices either.  You wouldn’t want to find yourself owing more than the house is worth.
Oh, and you might have to home school your kids as well.  That is unless you can afford to send them to private schools.  We worked on education a little bit but our test scores show that American kids are lagging behind.  They rank in the middle of the other industrialized countries.  We have thrown money at education for years with little result.  A lot of people want to get rid of the Department of Education altogether.  That’s a tough one.  We haven’t figured it out yet.
Well, there you go!  We know that we didn’t do a very good job in keeping our promises.  Again, we are really sorry that we didn’t do more.  Hopefully you’ll be able to do better.
Got to go…that’s the phone!
The Parents

PS:  As long as we’re being honest…all that stuff about “there are no losers here…we are all winners.’  That’s not true either.       

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