Saturday, October 08, 2005

A fish, appreciating water

A long time ago in school I was told that the fall of the Roman Empire occurred so slowly that Roman citizens did not notice it happening. I doubt it - smart people those Romans: good engineers and good at politics.

Same thing today in the U.S. I just got back from a 10 day vacation on a cruise ship during which I had time to listen to several smart and attentive people's views on the housing bubble, the consumer credit bubble, and bad mistakes that our government is making when trying to minimize the damage from terrorism (BTW, as a friend pointed out while we were hiking today, terrorism is a technique, not a target that one can wage a conventional war on). Sure, some people are really stupid enough to accept the 10 second soundbites from the poor quality network news, etc. However, there are still plenty of smart people who are willing to set aside irrelevancies like their political party affiliations and simply try to figure out what is best for our country. People of different political beliefs respecting each other's opinions and talking and sharing ideas is a great American tradition that has been squelched by some professional political operatives in recent years - the ugly politics of division that we can fight against by simply respecting the views of others when they disagree with our own views. Only extremists and radicals are afraid to listen to differing points of view.

In trying to determine how our country can best protect the interests of our fellow citizens while also being a decent partner in an ever more integrated world, there are some very real dis-information hurdles to overcome; for example:
  • Trying to figure out what is really happening in the economy: every year our government (for both political and big business interests) removes more high priced items when calculating the poverty line, the rate of inflation, etc. Hard to believe, but the Bush administration has removed the cost of housing from the indices used to calculate the poverty line.
  • The "liberal press" is a thing of decades past - now, the news content that people in the U.S. see is so very tightly filtered in accordance with the business interests of the few mega-corporations who incidentally own the news media - now, one has to do a lot of work to fill in the many missing details. A lot of people simply do not have the time to make this effort.
  • We no longer know how our representatives in Congress vote - voice votes on controversial measures now seem to be the standard practice. Frankly, I think that it is a shame that both riders are allowed on legislation and that we can not easily find out how our representatives vote.
It amazes me how easily some people ignore obvious facts that contravene their expectations (or wants) for the future. In history, it was very recently that we watched the Soviet Union stumble because:
  • They allowed their foreign debt and trade balance to go way out of normal ranges.
  • The costs of living went up dramatically, reducing any 'middle class'
  • Military expenditures backrupted the country.
Sound like one country in the world right now?

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