Monday, April 13, 2009

It Doesn't Take A Village, It Takes A Nation

Face it, our country is in trouble. We are in a major recession. We are having near record unemployment. Global warming? I am not a scientist. Therefore, since like me, most of us have to rely on others for our information, I will just ask: Can we afford not to believe it, just in case? I have 3 grandchildren. Since we've already messed up their finances, until we have a definitive answer, I will err on the side of caution. So many of these areas need our attention. Still, as ordinary Americans with limited resources and no political connections, we feel powerless to do any thing about it.

America, we have been challenged. In President Obama’s inaugural speech, he told us all that the fate of America rests as much in our hands as it does in the government’s. No matter what your party affiliation, you have to know that is right. It does not take a village, it takes a nation -- it takes the people.

There is legislation which has come about because one person, for whatever reason, decided to take a stand. That person challenged the status quo. That person said “I don’t want this to happen any more.”

For some, the route has been multi-million dollar lawsuits or class action suits. There are other ways that ordinary citizens have set out to make change. These include citizen petitions that lead to legislation or constitutional amendments, public awareness, and establishment of associations and foundations, to name just a few.

I am pursuing my issues in the public arena, in what I like to call the court of public opinion. If enough people hear you, many times so do your elected officials. I am hoping that is the case with the state of higher education. We need awareness of the issues that matter to us all and learn what we can do, as one person, to change our world for the better.

My long term issues of note include outrageous executive compensation in public corporations and injustice in the judicial and legislative system. Currently my focus is on the policies and regulations of higher education. I want to educate students and parents about the pitfalls while attaining that higher education. However, my real goal is to help raise awareness and affect change in areas of policies and procedures of private for-profit schools, federal student lending programs and the corporations who really profit from it.

Many of my personal issues concern us all. Take for instance, my stance on executive compensation: Albert Lord, past chairman and current CEO of the Sallie Mae Corporation has made almost a quarter of a billion dollars during his years at the helm -- and he is not finished yet. Still, if we don’t own stock in the Sallie Mae Corporation, or any corporation for that matter (which I do not), why does it matter to us?

Obviously we can not pay our government executives the kind of money that Albert Lord is getting. I remember the debate by the city council of Largo, Florida, around 1997 or so, to raise the salary of our city manager, Steve Stanton to more closely match that of the raised salary of the city manager in Clearwater, Florida. The council was also concerned about being able to retain a man of his talent and experience in light of competition from the increasingly large executive salaries in the private sector.

The result of debate is that in the next 10 years, his salary went up by 55% to over $140,000 while the median family income of the rest of the county rose by just over 12.5% to approximately $44,000. Never mind that the 2007 council forgot all about his talent and expertise in running the city --which I thought was highly debatable in 1997-- when he decided to go from being Steve to Cindy by way of a sex change operation. Cindy, you’re fired!

Money insulates the wealthy against the problems that ordinary people face. Can the wealthy really know what is best for us? Those tax dollars belong to us. Do they feel the same pinch when those tax dollars are not enough and ask us for more? Those dollars are for such trivial items as infrastructure, government services such as police and fire protection, and upkeep of our resources, among others.

Hopefully, now you can see why Albert Lord’s multi-million dollar paychecks matter to us all. Just in case, I will raise one more point: His paychecks are primarily funded by same source that Steve Stanton’s were. Sallie Mae makes most of its dollars from originating and servicing federal student loans, courtesy of our tax dollars.

We need to raise our voices loud enough to be heard. We need to let our legislature know that we are not going to stand by and watch our tax dollars spent frivolously any longer. I know there is a lot of controversy on the bail-outs. I believe that the bankruptcy of large financial institutions might possibly bankrupt us all. We also have to admit that both administrations have now have used it as a solution, thereby taking the partisanship out of it.

Whether you agreed with the bail-outs or not, you have to agree on this: as it was our taxpaying dollars used for that bailout, we have earned the right to step up to the plate with our demands. Can we agree that it is past time to have policies and systems in place so that these insolvencies become a thing of the past?

We can do that by checking executive salaries, bonuses and other forms of compensation. We can do that by not allowing these companies to grow so large and diverse. Insurance companies need to sell insurance and banks need to manage finances. Neither has any business in the other business. The Gram-Leach Bliley Act in 1999 ended a long time separation of banking and insurance activities. Again, neither needed to take on the additional services of securities, but they did. In 2004, the large national banks wanted in the real estate business of brokering and sales. Since they already are in the business with loans and title services, I should think that was enough. How much worse would our bank insolvency be if they had been in real estate too?

Part of the problem was that national banks do not have to conform to state legislation, leading to a lack of licensure for those banks if real estate sales were allowed. Let's see: Bank of America provides the loan, sells us title insurance and title services for the sale, homeowners insurance, mortgage insurance and then offers us a mutual fund to go along with it. They want to sell it too?

There was a reason why insurance and banking were separate entities. Most of our eggs ended up in one basket and it is time to review those dangerous liaisons. We did not allow all that, our government officials did. Most of us didn't even know about it until the markets started collapsing.

We can no longer afford a government that is insulated from its people. Our people have to speak out on the issues that affect us most. We have to demand accountability for our tax dollars and adherence to our basic rights as outlined in the constitution. At our voting booths, constitutional amendments should be written in easy to understand language so we know what we are voting on, as should all of our laws.

It should be illegal to put a bill up for vote in the House or the Senate that has add on items and pork that have no relationship to the bill. Pork should be handled like the ordinary citizen is expected to handle his own finances: after the bills are paid, if there is money left over, pork away. In the meantime, pork off!

It should also be illegal for Senators and Congressman to be absent from work so often. We allow them the same freedom to come and go at will as if they actually owned the government. It is no wonder some of them start to think they do. Where is the accountability?

It should be illegal for these same legislators to spend an obscene amount of “company” time and lobbyist money campaigning for the next term or higher office on our dime. It should also be illegal for them to spend such obscene amounts to do so, effectively knocking out, perhaps more qualified, candidates who do not have the same political strings to pull. It should also be illegal to work for the good of the party and not the good of the people once in office.

Out of all these things, is there even one thing that you could take a stand on? Could it be global warming, medical research, tax funded “artwork,” gay marriage or just the sorry state of education in general? Surely there is something you can do to make a difference, even if it is just writing to your representative.

America, this is your call to arms. Step up and serve your country. Please answer the call in whatever way suits you best, but answer it. The future of our country is in your hands.


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