You don’t really need to click through to the first three; they more or less speak for themselves:

This is not an environmental disaster, and I will say that again and again’ – Republican Congressman Don Young of Alaska, speaking of the situation in the Gulf.

This is Nick Kristof’s recent column about the Catholic Church excommunicating a nun for saving a woman’s life – but not excommunicating priests for child abuse.

This reports that Florida’s Republican attorney general – running for governor – personally overruled his staff, spending $120,000 of taxpayer money for George Rekers’ expert testimony that no gay or lesbian is fit to adopt. (Rekers, you will recall, is the Family Research Council co-founder who hired a male prostitute for luggage handling and naked massage on a 10-day trip to Europe.)

As to the fourth . . .

This is David Einhorn’s take on our challenging economic times. It is a worthwhile, sobering read.

My own take, playing off his, is that we need – both personally and governmentally – to make every dollar count. Not just this week, but for a long time.

The challenge we face is to ‘stay within the lines’ of what will need to be a decades-long recovery. (It took 35 years to shrink the National Debt built up after winning World War II from 121% of GDP back down to just 30% when Reagan/Bush took over and reversed that trend, pushing it back up toward 100% by the time it was handed to Barack Obama.)

By ‘staying within the lines,’ I mean:

  • If we all stop spending too abruptly in order to boost our savings (which, over time, we badly need to do) . . . or if the government cuts its spending too abruptly in order to reduce its deficit (which, over time, we also badly need to do) . . . we throw ourselves into a depression – which could, perversely, increase the deficit further as tax revenues fell and safety-net entitlements rose.
  • But if we don’t make enough adjustments, a collapse is just a matter of time.

Success is absolutely doable – but hardly a no-brainer.  There are no quick fixes or pain-free solutions to the ditch we’re in.  (Which is why it would be such a bad idea to hand the keys back to the Party that drove us into the ditch.)

What I’d like to see on a personal level is a shift toward spending on things like weatherization, which make our homes more efficient and reduce our collective energy use, and less on luxury items, that don’t.  This is easy for me to say, but what if you really want a pool in your back yard?  (With its ongoing monthly maintenance and energy expenses and water consumption.)  What if you really want a new pair of shoes you don’t need?  (To go with the new dress you didn’t need – in the literal, physical sense of the word “need” – either.)  And what does it do to the swimming pool industry, pool-boy employment, or to the Italian shoemakers and our department stores if we pull back?

So I’m not saying everyone should suddenly, drastically go into disaster mode and never take another trip to Disney World.  But on the margin, that’s what we need to do: live lighter on the land, in wonderful (but somewhat smaller) homes, driving wonderful (but more fuel efficient) vehicles . . . walking somewhat more, wasting somewhat less, caulking more, overeating less (and eating less meat), using things longer before buying replacements . . . watching amazing things on TV and our computer screens – but turning them off when no one’s watching.  Somewhat more reliance on ceiling fans, somewhat less on air conditioners.

(One hot, humid afternoon last week I went for a drink at the rooftop bar of the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York.  Way up there, the breeze was welcome, the Diet Coke refreshing, and only about twenty minutes into it did I realize that the breeze was coming not off the river – or from fans or the kind of mist-ers you see in Palm Springs – but from actual air conditioners.  They were air conditioning the outdoors.)

What I’d like to see on a government level is somewhat higher taxes on those fortunate enough to have jobs in order to employ others to teach our kids, keep our streets safe, and – especially – put private companies to work shoring up and modernizing our infrastructure.

Ideally, of course, no one would pay any taxes on anything.  Roads and schools and police protection and our vast military and the monthly checks our grandparents get so they don’t have to live with us would all be free.*  But that’s a fantasy – or Somalia.  I’d rather live here and pay taxes.

*And the interest on the $8 trillion or so in additional debt that Reagan/Bush/Bush racked up (notwithstanding Clinton’s having handed the second Bush “surpluses as far as the eye could see”) would not have to be paid each year – we’d just default.

The other reason to pay a little more in taxes is to shore up our national finances.  “Our national finances” may sound like a vague concept, but if not tended to – as  discussed in the Einhorn op-ed – their continued deterioration could have brutally tangible consequences.

We also need to find a way to renegotiate government labor contracts before they bankrupt our states and municipalities – or as part of the bankruptcy proceedings, if they do.  Not drastically, I hope; but realistically.  (A friend of mine put in 20 years as a New York City cop, doing mostly desk work, and retired at 40 with what could well be 50 years’ contractual pension payments ahead of him that I think are running around $70,000 a year indexed to inflation.  It’s hard to see how municipalities can make good on all the commitments they’ve made.)

No one likes higher taxes – or rationing or “the draft” – all of which we embraced as necessary to win World War II.  With Iraq and Afghanistan, by contrast, the choice was made to finance the wars with tax cuts, and the sacrifice we were called on to make was to “keep shopping.”

So now, as Einhorn notes, it is we, and not our grandchildren after all, who will have to deal with the consequences.

The challenge, as I say, is to gradually grow our way out of the problem and gradually shift toward a more efficient economy.  Tea Partiers are right to be concerned about the colossal mess the Reagan/Bush/Bush deficits have left us in, but wrong to think the solution is yet lower taxes.  Or, for that matter, more crowded classrooms or more unpatrolled streets or more bridge collapses.  What we need is more pulling together as one society, enjoying our immense blessings, our freedom, a healthy environment, first-world universal health care, and the security of a (bare-bones) social safety net.

Oh, my.  Who put a nickel into me?


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