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Yes, we voted for change in America; are we willing to make some personal sacrifices to get it?

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We have demanded change in America, that’s why we elected Barack Obama President. Now he must make immediate plans to launch the difficult process to institute real change in key elements in our government, financial and industrial sectors, and in our society at large. I believe that he and the administration he creates can be successful, but if we give him a mandate for change and then merely watch from the sidelines as we have been doing, the chance for success and real change could be very problematic. 

In the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration never did ask Americans to react to that disaster by making any kind of personal sacrifices for the good of our nation. They also had no plan of any kind to tackle the immense problems that were building to dangerous levels in America and abroad. Therefore, nothing materialized to solve these problems and we now find ourselves drowning under massive problems that could have been prevented if they had been properly addressed. 

Yes, it is time for real change; mere talk won’t cut it anymore. Business as usual is over. All we have to do is look at what is happening around us, from foreclosures, banks collapsing, auto companies nearing bankruptcy, unemployment escalating, our 401K’s and other investments plummeting – and we will realize that change must come, and it had better come before it is too late to stop the rapid hemorrhaging.  

So, let’s talk about those specific areas that we know in our hearts that we personally can change and which can make great contributions to the overall effort.

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Means of transportation – here are specific things that can be done. Take a vow that we will never again buy an SUV or a pickup truck unless it is for business, other essential services or for a very large family. The same goes for buying a V-8 engine. Go for reasonable sized vehicles, hybrids, and many 4 and 6-cylinder engines have plenty of power and are very economical.

Each of the Big Three of our auto/truck industry is in deep financial straits and easily could slide into bankruptcy before long. Now the industry wants $25 billion to bail it out. How it came to this is quite clear and a lot of it has to do with our habits and lifestyles. These companies, based on America’s obsession with large vehicles, invested hundreds of billions in plants manufacturing pickup trucks and SUV’s. Now they are being forced to close any number of them. Conversely, foreign automakers have concentrated mainly on the market for mid-size and smaller vehicles. Now, who are the winners and who are the losers? 

So many us have access to various forms of public transportation and many still do not take advantage of it. For one example, in the suburbs of Chicago where I live, there are many Metra commuter lines that are at our easy disposal. I have personally made a commitment never to drive into Chicago downtown areas ever again unless it is completely necessary. Car-pooling, or ride sharing, has never really caught fire but holds a great potential for those who have long commutes to their places of work. 

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Where we live – it is time for the escalation of suburban sprawl to come to an end. We should stop constructing subdivisions in isolated areas that call for long commutes to cities or areas having necessary amenities. Sure the current cost of a barrel of oil and the price of gas are both falling, but long-term future projections most certainly point to future increased costs and decreases in supply. You want to bet that the cost of a gallon of gas will never reach more than $4.00 again? I won’t because it is only a matter of time before the upward trend will return. So, if you don’t like living in a city, there are plenty of suburban towns that are not isolated, have the amenities and services people need, and many have commuter rail systems within easy access. 

I don’t know how many of the massive number of home foreclosures involve McMansions or other homes that are far larger than average families with average incomes need. But I have heard many tales of people who have gone way overboard, bought homes far larger than they needed, and then struggled to furnish them or to make ends meet financially. It makes no sense at all to heat or cool a huge home given the fact that those costs are ever increasing and someday before long the supply of natural gas or heating oil may become problematic. 

Credit card debt – I have read several articles that indicate the next critical financial crisis that Americans will face will be with credit card debt. Financial analysts say that there is more than $850 billion in unpaid credit card balances currently, and the total is expected to reach $1 trillion soon. Last year US consumers added $68 billion against their credit card debt. Major banks have been setting aside billions for loan-loss reserves anticipating an increase of 20% in non-payments over the next two to four quarters. 

This rapid escalation is coming right after the sub-prime mortgage and Wall St. financial crisis and could send many more banks and individuals into bankruptcy. Who can tell anyone that they must stop using credit cards? Some are needed for absolute essentials – I have even heard of seniors having to use them for prescription drugs, which is really sad. Essentials yes, but all of us should refuse to use them for things that we just don’t need. 

Material “things” – our capitalistic economic system depends upon continued proliferation of consumerism to keep our economy vibrant. Remember when George Bush, in the aftermath of 9/11, challenged us, not by calling for personal sacrifice, but by calling for us to go out and shop? Well, this is a system seems to be reaching the end of its relevancy. It apparently is no longer working, as Americans who are strapped for money can’t continue spending – and cannot run up their credit cards anymore – so what are they to do? 

Well, for one thing, we can at least cut back spending some of our hard-earned money on the myriad of electronic and other non-essential gadgets in our lives. MP3 players, iPods, all sorts of cell phones that can do almost anything but print money, GPS navigation systems (whatever happened to maps?), massive flat-screen TV’s, and a host of other non-essential things that are certainly nice to have but are clearly not crucial to our lives. Of course, there in nothing at all wrong with having any of these things, but it just seems like we as a society have gone way overboard. We are literally addicted to electronic gadgets, with cell phones stuck in our ears while we are walking, driving, in stores or even in restaurants.  

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A large part of the problems that involved mortgage foreclosures and the developing credit card crisis are due to financial commitments that are beyond the means of borrowers, but they still go make them to acquire something they feel they just must have. Excessive mortgages, needless borrowing on home equity and reckless credit card purchases to acquire more things have brought our society to a point of no return. And while all these financial catastrophes are happening all around us, more and more Americans are losing their jobs. Right now, this nation is in a state of financial shock – one that will take much time and effort to turn around. And that is why we will all have to make sacrifices whether we wish to or not. 

But if we bring down our spending how will the economy ever recover? The economy can prosper by innovative thinking, by developing new industries that not only will generate revenues but that are readily at our disposal to pursue – a booming, job-creating energy industry to solve our energy problems, massive programs to repair our damaged infrastructure, both of which create more good jobs; by expanding our rail transportation systems to take cars off the highway and also create jobs – that’s the positive way to generate jobs, growth and revenues rather than our current economic philosophy of just “shopping till you drop”. All these new jobs will be largely performed by American labor, not by outsourcing them to other countries.

We must help this new President Obama in bringing massive change to America. For if he fails, then America and we will fail. And there is no better way to accomplish this than by changing our habits, our lifestyles and our entire lives. We cannot fail to grab hold of this tremendous opportunity that has come about by this stunning, almost unbelievable victory. So, if a good dose of sacrifice on each of our parts is what it’s going take to put America back on track, then we must rise to the occasion and do just that! 

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Michael Payne is an independent, progressive activist. His writings deal with social, economic, political and foreign policy issues. He is a featured writer on Opednews and Nation of Change and his articles have appeared on many other websites (more...)

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