It’s the start of a new year, and a good time to see where we stand in the political landscape of the country. Where are we as a nation, and where are we headed? Are we doing what’s necessary to move forward and lead the world into the future?

Anyone with half a brain, which obviously doesn’t include our current crop of politicians, can clearly see that’s not the case. For the past century, the United States has been the dominant power in the world and enjoyed the highest standard of living. And not by a little bit, by a large amount, that not only enabled us to live well, but to export foreign aid and help others around the world have better lives.

But for the first time in a century, we are now falling behind. Depending on what study you read, the U.S. ranks 17th to 25th in the world in education, with math and science particularly falling fast. Our students are performing worse and worse, while China’s students have zipped to the top. We are behind countries such as Finland, South Korea and Belgium.

In health care, we pay by far the highest cost of any country. Most developed countries pay approximately 12 percent of their income for health care, while we pay 17 percent. Yet we now rank 50th in life expectancy, behind countries such as Jordan and Greece.

We also rank low in ”economic mobility,” which measures how many people in our society are “upwardly mobile,” or moving up in income and standard of living. In fact, we are going in reverse, and becoming a “downwardly mobile” society.

And what are our leaders doing in this time when urgent measures need to be taken if we’re to remain a world leader?

We have a President who ran on a campaign of “Change.” Yet he immediately put his grand ideas into the hands of Congress, and we got the same pork-filled, special interest-laden bills that we’ve had for years, attached to every budget and piece of legislation that went through their incompetent fingers.

We have an opposition party that is running on the idea that we need to repeal the weak health care reform that the President did manage to get passed, without any ideas of their own on how to try and fix a broken system.

This is the same party that claims reigning in the deficit is a priority, but refuses to consider any tax plan that reduces even the most repugnant tax loophole. Unless it largely affects lower income people, such as the payroll tax cut. That seems to be fair game.

We saw a political debate where a returning veteran from the Mideast who risked his life for our country was booed because he expressed support for gay rights. That’s right, he was loudly booed by the audience. And other than some remarks made later by the candidates that it was “unfortunate,” none of the candidates spoke out strongly about the fact that this was an American soldier who deserved better treatment, even if they disagreed with his opinion.

We have two political parties that both present ludicrous plans to try and save our educational system. The Democrats want to throw more money at the system, even though the system isn’t working, and it’s been proven again and again that money isn’t the answer. Meanwhile, the Republicans have called for eliminating the Department of Education altogether.

We have a tax system where, between 2008 and 2010, 30 large American corporations spent more on lobbying than they paid in Federal taxes. In fact, 29 out of the 30 companies, although they were all profitable, paid no federal income tax at all. Even worse, the 29 companies that paid no income tax received tax rebates over those three years, ranging from $4 million for Corning, Inc., to nearly $5 billion for General Electric. The total value of the rebates was almost $11 billion, even though their combined profits during that period were $164 billion.

At the same time, the amounts these companies spent on lobbying Congress reached record amounts, including a whopping $84 million by General Electric, and the total from all the companies reached almost half a billion dollars. That comes to roughly $400,000 each day, including weekends. The same firms also spent an additional $22 million on donations to political campaigns.

There was a time, in the not too distant past, when the United States led the world in great engineering feats, such as the Hoover Dam and national highway system, and developed such great health care that we had a life expectancy far surpassing any other nation. We had the wherewithal and the ingenuity to rebuild Europe and Japan after the massive destruction they suffered in the 1940s, thereby building trading partners and markets for the goods we produced. We had young generations that prided themselves on surpassing their parents in education and standard of living.

Look around, and it’s clear we have none of that anymore. We have leaders who have no idea how to lead us into the future. We have leaders who put their political parties and personal financial gains above what’s best for the country. We have corporate leaders who sell us down the river in order to make the next quarter’s profit and loss statement look good, and to hell with the long term future, as long as the bonuses are large now.

If we don’t change direction, we are going to be looking up at China, as they become the world leader in this new century. We will be a third rate country looking for bailouts, much like some European countries are doing now.

We need to start changing things in 2012. If we wait much longer, it will be too late.

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