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I.O.U.S.A. Review

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By jlars
August 27, 2008

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Hi, folks. Long time lurker; I think it's my first time posting. Kudos to one of the best boards in Fooldom.

I saw I.O.U.S.A. last night; I went by myself, my to the chagrin of my wife & kids, since no one I know would care to see anything like that. "Have fun with the other 2 people in the theater!"-blah, blah, blah. In fact, there were probably 50-70 people in this suburban cinema south of Boston. I'll be interested to hear what kind of attendance numbers this film generated.

I was expecting just the documentary and had no idea that there was a Town Meeting component to the feature. Moderated by CNBC Squawk Box's Becky Quick live from Omaha, they had a panel of 5 men that discussed the film and took questions for about an hour after the film ended. The panel was:
- Warren Buffet: no ID needed
- Pete Peterson: former Secretary of Commerce and founder of the foundation in his name that made the movie (
- Dave Walker: former Comptroller of the U.S./Head of the GAO and president of the above foundation; star of the movie
- Bill Niskanen: Chairman of the Cato Institute
- Bill Novelli: CEO of AARP

I should preface my comments with the fact that the National Debt has been a pet peeve of mine for years. Every election cycle, I expect it to be the main topic for the candidates and, with the exception of Ross Perot, every election cycle I'm disappointed. At least they're forced into talking about it this time around, due to the price of gas (and other household expenses) and the ‘mortgage situation.'

That said, I thought the movie was great. I wish it was required viewing for every registered voter and every high school senior.

I won't bore everyone with too many details, but they broke the film into 4 ‘Deficit' sections:
1) Budget Deficit/National Debt
2) Personal Savings Deficit
3) Trade Deficit
4) Leadership Deficit

They did a terrific job with the history of the debt and explaining what all these things are and what they mean. The montage of Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush41 & Clinton all saying exactly the same thing about the nation's economy-that we're in trouble and need to start making some tough choices- was pretty impressive.

Also, to have high-level (former) government folks like Dave Walker and Paul O'Neill weigh in with their thoughts made a big impact.

The panel was nearly uniform in their belief that things are bad and need fixing now. You've all heard many of the arguments before surrounding Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid/Healthcare, so I won't go into those. Some highlights of the panel discussion:
- Buffet called himself the ‘token Pollyanna' and often took the stance that everything is going to work out fine; there will be plenty of money to go around for everyone. Interesting to see him relatively unconcerned about the level of the Debt.
- Peterson made the great point that politics was never meant to be a career and how can we expect our elected officials to look long-term when all they're focused on is the next election cycle.
- Peterson also referred to Buffet as ‘Rudman' (just once) and had an annoying habit of clicking his pen right next to his mic.
- Walker continued to pound the message of the movie and was pretty effective.
- Niskanen echoed Peterson's thoughts about Congress and made some good points about Social Security, too.
- Novelli, when discussing health care, said the far-and-away best thing that people can do is to take care of their own health and their family's health before something happens that puts them into the healthcare system. Prevention.
- Everyone continually called for personal involvement and the accountability of elected officials. And how it has nothing to do with partisanship; that was a big theme.

Well, this has been a bit longer that I planned; I hope it wasn't too rambling. In closing, I agreed with most of the premises: that the Debt is a serious, immediate problem; that we need to do something about it now; that it's going to take a grassroots effort of citizens getting involved and holding their elected officials accountable; and that there's very little chance of getting out from under this Debt unscathed, but that the sooner we make some tough choices, the better. Nothing should be off the table.

This film is a fantastic starting point for the discussions that need to happen. I hope everyone, Congress included, has a chance to see it.