The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘infrastructure’

TWO BIT INSURANCE

If you’re really old you may have heard the expression, “That’ll cost you two bits.”  Even those who didn’t know the history behind that understood that it meant twenty-five cents – a quarter of a dollar.  This was based on the Spanish real which was the equivalent of our present dollar and was the primary unit of monetary exchange for several centuries in the New World.  The coin was frequently cut into eight pieces, thus two bits was one quarter of a real.

For a moment, let’s consider the underlying reason for insurance of any kind.  Simply put it is intended to protect the purchaser against a specific kind of loss whether that is to a person’s car, home, health or loss of life.  Essentially, in exchange for payment of an agreed on premium paid to a second party, that insurer is assuming the risk to which otherwise the policyholder would be subject.

Perhaps you’ve heard that a compromise is an agreement in which both parties walk away dissatisfied.  The insurance contract is one in which both parties hope for the same outcome.  Both of them hope that an event which would cause a payment under the contract never happens.

The individual who insures his car certainly doesn’t hope to have a crash so that he can make a claim.  The company that insures his car similarly hopes that the insured drives in a safe manner so that no accidents occur and the company can keep the entire premium the insured has paid.

There are certain types of insurance that are almost pure money makers for the insurance company.  Most companies that offer life insurance also mention that for a “small additional premium” the person taking out the contract can add a provision for death that results from an accident which would double the face amount of the policy.  That sounds like a good deal to the uninformed.  The fact is that ninety-eight percent of the premium collected is pure profit to the insurance companies because the number of accidental insured deaths is extremely small.  But are there any forms of insurance which provide a terrific return for a small premium?  There is at least one with which I’m familiar.

What if a potential catastrophe, far beyond Hurricane Katrina or Mt. St. Helens had a reasonable likelihood of happening.  Unlike these localized natural disasters, this catastrophe would effect everyone and everything in the country.  Food and water would be scarce if available at all.  There would be no energy either to heat our homes or provide light or cooling.  Society as we know it would end with mobs looting houses for any scraps of food they could find and the authorities would be overwhelmed trying to deal with the mobs that far outnumbered them.  If civil authority even survived, it would take at least one year, possibly longer, to restore the basic services which we expect when we flip on the light switch or turn on the tap.  But before that happened, as much as ninety percent of the American populace would be dead.

Given the scenario I just described, would you be willing to pay $100 a month to make sure that we could avoid the problem?  Perhaps your budget doesn’t have that much wiggle room, so how about $50?  Still too high?  Would you be able to find $10 a month to stave off disaster?

On April 16, 2013 a Pacific Gas & Electric sub-station was attacked by what authorities now believe was a terrorist assault.  While no lights went out which is part of the reason this story has gained very little attention, it took the utility 27 days to repair the damage to the cut telephone lines and repair the 17 transformers which were disabled.  Some experts think that this was a trial balloon for a larger and more devastating future attack.

There is no question that our electric grid is vulnerable.  One of the most significant worries is that a massive EMP (Electro-Magnetic Pulse) occurs, knocking out our entire grid.  It could take years before the damage caused by such an event could be repaired.  Such an event could be caused by terrorists.  There is no lack of maniacs on a mission in our world.  Or it could be a natural phenomenon – a massive EMP sent out by our sun.  That happens every 150 years or so and is now a few years overdue.  The last one occurred in 1859.

The good news is that we know how to prevent the devestation which might occur if such an event happened – and we don’t have to develop new technology to implement.  We have the technology today.  So what would it cost us to safeguard all of us from societal collapse, starvation and the end of civilization.  The answer is less than two bits per person per month!  The total cost would run about $6 Billion.

There is a bill known as the SHIELD Act which was introduced in Congress in June, 2013 which would require the federal government and local utilities to develop and implement effective standards to protect against an EMP pulse.  The bill is the work of Rep. Trent Franks (R – AZ) but so far has garnered little attention and not a great deal of support.  In part that is because local utilities are concerned about handing over too much oversight to the Federal government.  I understand that concern.

But no matter your political view, there are occasions, albeit infrequently, when something is of such importance and so extraordinary that it falls outside the realm of theoretical philosophy.  Then even the most ardent partisan, in the interest of true public safety, should agree to a compromise however distasteful it might be.  They can argue their philosophy later – but will have no ability to do so if they are one of the victims of an avoidable disaster.

And that may not be two bits worth of information – but it is my two cents worth.

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VOTING IN FEAR

The 15th Amendment to the Constitution struck down the denial of the right to vote based on race.

The 24th Amendment to the Constitution struck down the ability of the states to impose a poll tax on voters – whose goal was ultimately to undermine the 15th Amendment and to deny black Americans the right to cast their ballots.

I offer this information as historical background.  The right to vote is an inestimable privilege and responsibility.  To go into the public forum and state your opinion, free of the prospect of harassment.  Which brings me to the subject of this post.

A few days ago I spoke with an elderly neighbor, a lady in her 80’s and asked if I might take her to the grocery store with me.  She readily agreed since I think that she recognizes her driving is not quite as good as it once was.

This lady, I’ll call her, Lily is a white woman who grew up in Biloxi, Mississippi.  She married a man who had a career in the U. S. Air Force and whose last deployment was here in Las Vegas at Nellis AFB.  He passed away quite a few years ago.

During our ride to the store, Lily brought up the rapidly rising cost of groceries and engaged me in a political conversation – much to my surprise.  Of course, regular readers of this blog will realize these are subjects which interest me, so we spoke.

She said that, “Despite everything that he has done, I am thinking about voting for President Obama on November 6th.”

I asked, “Why?  Do you have something against Romney?”

“Oh, no.  I think he is honest – but doesn’t have a lot of personality.  I think he probably would be a better President.”

This confounded me, so I asked, “Well, why would you vote for Obama?”

Her answer really shocked me.

“I’m afraid what will happen if Obama loses.  I’m afraid that a lot of his supporters will start breaking into stores and burglarizing houses because they see the end of their meal-ticket.  And I live by myself.  I’m afraid for my safety.”

By “a lot of his supporters” I took it that Lily meant people who happened to be black Americans.  I find that statement (if my inference is correct) to be offensive – but I also understand her cultural background in making it.  And I understand her fear which is real.

I remember the riots in Watts, almost 47 years ago to the day.  And I know that Lily remembers those events as well.

What Lily may not understand is that this is not a matter of color but is a matter of economics.  And there is less opportunity for many members of the black community than there is for other members of our society. We see that clearly in the rate of unemployment for blacks which is nearly twice the national average.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s I knew some people who looked at welfare, then merely in its infancy, and looked down on the people who accepted it.  Concurrent with their disdain was the underlying belief that this was a program that was designed only for the benefit of black Americans.  They were wrong.  At the time, the majority of welfare recipients were white.

If you create a class of people who have no upward mobility because of lack of education, few marketable skills and a mindset that life is about waiting until the first of the month when the EBT card gets refilled so that they can survive another thirty days, you have created the kind of potential scenario which my friend Lily fears.  That is just what we have created through our government policies which have transformed slavery into welfare.

What my friend Lily may not understand is that eventually this has to stop for the simple reason that we have run out of the ability to pay for these sorts of programs (and probably, whether our politicians will admit it or not, realize that this was a poorly misguided attempt to bring about social justice).  There is simply no quick fix for a problem that has been fifty years in the creation.

It would be naïve to believe that President Obama is the cause of this problem.  It would be equally naïve to believe that a President Romney will spend four years in office and fix it.  But we know that continuing our present path is surely not the answer that a person with vision would endorse.

The answer at its most basic lies with education.   That is, by it’s nature, a long-term solution and does not address the issue of those adults who have not benefited from it themselves and who comprise a growing portion of our society.  To be candid, I do not know the answer for how to improve their prospects – but at least I am willing to face the problem and think about it honestly.

What Lily may not understand is that we are at a turning point – irrespective of who is the next President.  Our fiscal imprudence is going to cause us to have to look not only at social programs like welfare but the entire way that we as a country conduct ourselves and our business.

At some point, all it would take would be those who have willingly purchased our bonds to float our increasing debt to say, “We don’t know if our money is safe in America any more,” and to stop.  That would create an implosion that would be heard around the world.  And with the recent downgrade in our debt, for the first time in our history, that day many not be too far down the road.

Or consider a natural disaster.  A violent sun spot emission knocks out our communication systems.  We have become so dependent on technology that if we found ourselves without it, most of us would find ourselves helpless.  With no communication, society would quickly find itself victimized by the predators who would loot stores and steal food.  And when that food has disappeared from the shelves,  with law enforcement taxed beyond anything it was ever designed to do, you can see the possible scenarios that might ensue.

This is a dire picture.  It is not one that any of us wants to imagine or believes might happen.   In fact, we find it so dreadful that those who have the ability to take steps to avert it, our political leaders, have declined to do so because the remedies will require that we all change our lifestyles and our outlook.  And people whose way of life is challenged don’t make for happy voters.

We have a choice this November.  We may, like may friend Lily vote to continue the policies which have brought us to this place – for fear of the possibility of civil insurrection.  But that will merely insure that state of unrest will come to pass – if not now, soon.

Or we can take the common sense approach – acknowledge that we have real problems that demand realistic solutions and vote for people who tell us the truth, as painful as that may be for us to hear, and who start us back on a course away from the brink – while there is still time.  If there is still time.

Living in fear is a terrible existence.  If our fear determines how and for whom we vote, we bring that misery down on an entire nation.

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