By Frank Vernuccio
Originally posted in the New York Analysis of Policy & Government newsletter
The nation needs to distinguish between issues that count, and those of far lesser importance. Inevitably, this will produce rage in advocates of those causes deemed comparatively inconsequential.
The United States faces numerous challenges. Many of the fundamental underpinnings of America’s economy, national security, health, preparation for future generations, and even the very existence of the country’s cultural and ideological underpinnings are threatened as never before.During recent years, the U.S. endured an armed forces weakened by years of disinvestment, wishful thinking replaced blunt realism in foreign affairs, an attempt to improve the nation’s health insurance system failed, the middle class was deeply wounded, public education deteriorated, and the population became more divided than at any time since the Civil War.
Serious attempts to address any of these crises are substantially hampered by the national debt of about $20 trillion (half of which was accumulated in just the past eight years), the influence of special interests which ignore the harm they have wrought, and a determined effort by many educational, media, and political figures to, as Barack Obama promised, “fundamentally change” America.
The former President was never seriously questioned as to what he sought to change America into. Those agreeing with his political views fail to explain how the government-dominated economic system he sought to bring about, and in the case of health care, actually did establish, would succeed in the U.S. after failing in almost every other nation in which it has been tried. Countries as diverse as the former Soviet Union and modern-day Venezuela have tried and failed. Some point to Europe, but the nations of that continent essentially established their government-heavy economic systems by relying on Washington to take over most of their defense spending. Even China, ostensibly a Communist regime, employs a form of capitalism, and, not incidentally, relies heavily on the American consumer to keep its economy moving.
As profound and existential threats to America remain unaddressed, much of our national conversation pretends they don’t exist and focuses instead on issues of, at best, secondary importance-or no importance at all. Much of the blame for the failure to successfully confront, or even acknowledge, the nation’s real challenges falls on the traditional media. In its fevered attempt to assist progressive candidates, America’s premiere news sources have chosen to gloss over the extraordinary problems that plague the nation.
These are the under-emphasized issues that should be the centerpiece of national attention:
NATIONAL SECURITY AND FOREIGN AFFAIRS. The national discussion about foreign affairs and defense planning has borne little relation to reality, probably because the actual facts are sufficiently distressing to make pundits and politicians alike worry that an honest narrative, and an accurate description of the costs that need to be afforded to ensure America’s safety, are sufficiently unpleasant that audiences and constituents alike would turn away.
Bluntly: Russia, China, and Iran constitute a singular and unified threat against the west. Their geographical size and population make them the largest foe the United States has ever encountered. Russia, for the first time in history, has a greater nuclear arsenal than the U.S. China will soon have a larger navy. As a unit, they are America’s equal in technology, conventional and strategic military strength, and industrial capacity.
Their belligerent goals are manifestly clear through their actions in Ukraine, the South China Sea, the Middle East, and their dramatic armaments buildup. As America slashed its defense budget, these nations hiked theirs. Washington, over the past eight years, gave peace a chance; it didn’t work.
Rather than confront the facts and take the necessary steps to protect the nation, politicians see more benefit on spending for more popular domestic programs. Reporters and analysts allow that irresponsibility to continue, citing irrelevant statistics such as comparisons of how much larger Washington’s budget is than Moscow, China, and Tehran. But that comparison is inaccurate. Those axis powers don’t have to worry about paying a profit to private companies to the extent the U.S. does, nor do they disclose all their spending, or include many personnel costs. Since they constitute a contiguous land mass, they also don’t have to worry about extensive lines of supply, as the Pentagon does.
A related issue: America’s electrical grid is very vulnerable to attack by an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that could be triggered by a single well-placed nuclear blast (North Korea has implied its ability and willingness to do this), or even a naturally occurring solar event, such as that which occurred in the 1850s.SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE. Social Security and Medicare are frequently and mistakenly called “entitlements,” lumping them in with a variety of assistance programs. That is incorrect. Working Americans pay for these benefits throughout their working lives, and depend on them when they reach their senior years. But all those dollars taken from paychecks are not put into an account with the workers name on them. They are simply mingled with all other government income. And, both programs are going broke.
A Time Money report reports:
How worried should you be over Social Security’s future? According to the most recent Annual Report of the Board of the Social Security Trustees … After 2019, Treasury will start spending down the fund; its reserves are estimated to be depleted by 2035.
Much the same can be said about Medicare. Modern Health Care reports that:
The Medicare trust fund will be insolvent by 2028, according to the 2016 Medicare trustees’ report released [in 2016].
The fiscal health of both of those programs are vital, but far too many politicians are frightened of doing anything to remedy the problem.
MIDDLE CLASS DESPERATION. As the New York Analysis of Policy and Government recently reported, middle income Americans are losing ground. In December, 2015, Pew Social Trends reported:
… middle-income Americans have fallen further behind financially in the new century. In 2014, the median income of these households was 4% less than in 2000. Moreover, because of the housing market crisis and the Great Recession of 2007-09, their median wealth (assets minus debts) fell by 28% from 2001 to 2013.
Pew Social Trends also reported that:
From 2000 to 2014 the share of adults living in middle-income households fell in 203 of the 229 U.S. metropolitan areas examined in a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data. The decrease in the middle-class share was often substantial, measuring 6 percentage points or more in 53 metropolitan areas, compared with a 4-point drop nationally.
THE HEALTH CARE CRISIS. America’s health care system was demonstrably superior to those of other nations, but it did have flaws. Obamacare, advertised as a means to address those flaws, actually made matters worse. Examples:
- Lost plans. Senator Ben Sasse released a report about Obamacare’s effects on competition among insurers, concluding that outcomes have worsened for most Americans, in terms of choice of insurers and plans. Over the past year, the number of insurers offering plans in exchanges has dropped by nearly 6%. Many states have lost more than 80% of their insurers: Alabama went from 23 to 3, Arkansas went from 24 to 4, and Wyoming from 21 to 1, just to name a few. Only New York did not lose over half of its insurers, going from 28 to 15 insurers, a 46% decline.
- Higher premiums. A report by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Educational Trust found that, since 2008, average employer family premiums have climbed a total of $4,865. From 2015 to 2016 the most popular exchange family plan, Family Silver, saw a 10% average increase in its premiums. In some states, premiums rose by nearly 40%.In 2015 the average annual family premium was $17,545 per year, and the average premium for a single policy was $6,251. Young men were particularly hard-hit. Average premiums rose by 49% from 2013 to 2014, the year Obamacare was supposed to go into effect.
- Higher deductibles. The New York Times, long a cheerleader for Obamacare, reported that many people can’t afford to use the health insurance that they have purchased because of the deductibles. New York Times reporter Robert Pear wrote that the median deductible in Miami was $5,000 in 2015. It was $5,500 in Jackson, Miss., and $4,000 in Phoenix. One Chicago family of four paid $1,200 monthly for coverage yet had an annual deductible of $12,700.
- High costs. The Office of the Actuary of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has projected that Obamacare will result in an additional $274 billion in administrative costs alone over the period of 2014 through 2022.
Obamacare is collapsing in a whirlpool of skyrocketing premium costs, vanishing choices, and deductibles so high as to make the coverage more an illusion than a reality.EDUCATION. Despite spending more pupil than just about every other nation, America’s students have fallen behind their international peers. U.S. employers find that far too many are ill-prepared for the job market. Their lack of knowledge in the basics of science, math, American history, and civics bode ill for the future. The nation stands to lose much if not all of its leadership in technology, economy, and the very essence of its being within just a few short years. Yet there is little movement to address this fundamental threat to the nations’ future.
There are solutions
None of these issues are insolvable. In fact, some are readily correctable.
- The nation’s electrical grid can be protected for less than $10 billion.
- President Reagan faced a similar defense challenge when he took office. His increased spending on national defense actually discouraged America’s main adversary at the time, the Soviet Union, and commenced several decades of relative peace and prosperity between superpowers. The same can be done again.
- The policies that have slashed middle class jobs, including favorable treatment for China, tax policies that encouraged corporations to take jobs overseas, and Obamacare policies that actually reward companies for replacing full time jobs with part-time positions are solvable through legislation.
- Federal spending on anti-poverty programs that have failed to reduce poverty could be redirected to Social Security and Medicare.
- The authority to determine school curriculum can be removed from the self-interested government bureaucrats, teachers’ unions, and the educational hierarchy and put back to where it belongs—in the hands of parents, organized into appropriate formats.