The Blind Leading

I strongly opposed the appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education. She is obviously unqualified since she has no experience whatever with American public education.  (And I hasten to note in passing that I attended public schools for the requisite 12 years.) In any event, my blogging buddy Jill was spot on when she noted in a recent post that the DeVos appointment appears to be a determined effort on the part of this Administration to dumb down America even further.

But, then, I reflected on one basic question: is the American public education system already beyond repair? Can it be saved? And that question took me to some very sad truths (not alternative facts, but actual facts). To begin with is the “Blob.” This is the name one theorist has given to the huge bureaucracy that controls public education in this country. I have first-hand experience with such a bureaucracy on a smaller scale in my years in public higher education in Minnesota. When I started teaching in this state in 1968 there were six state universities and one Chancellor who, with his secretary, oversaw the system from his office in St. Paul. By the time I retired 37 years later his office took an entire city block in St. Paul and was peopled by hundreds of drones who scurried back and forth issuing directives that necessitated more and more administrative positions at the (now seven) universities simply to keep up and issue their countless reports.

In the public schools the same situation can be found. In spades. There are innumerable functionaries at all levels who are paid large salaries out of money that ought to go to the teachers. Their job is to issue directives and determine policy, including curriculum, for the many schools in the various state systems. This is the Blob. The system as it now stands is top-heavy. There are far too many chiefs and not enough Indians.

Moreover, as I have mentioned on numerous occasions, teachers are paid slave-wages and this leads to the fact (as shown by several studies) that our teaching force in the public primary and secondary education system is drawn from the lower 1/3rd or lower 1/4th (depending on which study you refer to) of our college students. The lower salaries make teaching unattractive for many students, as do the “methods courses” prospective teachers are required to take. The pupils have been raised to think that successful people make large salaries and since these people make very little they must all be losers. They tend not to respect their teachers. And given that parents are too busy these days to raise their children, the schools are expected to do so — except that the teachers must discipline their charges with hands tied behind their backs by countless regulations laid down by the bureaucrats mentioned above who worry about possible law suits and not about the pupils or the teachers. Teaching and the pupils are lost in the shuffle.

There are good teachers who have taken the required vow of poverty. No doubt about it. But studies all show that American public education is in a shambles and the question how it can be saved is a profound and perplexing one. It must start at the top, but at the top we find people who control the purse strings and who seem to regard their own positions as sacrosanct. Since they are at the top they are first in line to receive funding. In my state the State University Board takes their portion after the legislative allocation comes down and then doles out what is left to the several universities who are all told that since budgets are tight they will have to make draconian cuts — usually in the humanities and arts faculty. (Never in sports. But that’s another topic.)

The international comparisons with schools in other countries strongly suggest that things seem to have gone from bad to worse. And a new start may not be a terrible thing. I realize that DeVos is not the brightest bulb on the tree and has no credentials whatever (which seems to be a trait among Trump’s appointments), but perhaps she will bring some new ideas to the job. If, for example, she were to eradicate, or even seriously injure, the Blob and dispense with certification requirements (including “methods” courses) while making it possible for young people to attend schools with bright, well-paid teachers this may not be a bad thing. She is known to favor charter schools, for example, which are not in all cases a bad thing. Two of my grandchildren attend a charter school in the Twin Cities that teaches latin and Greek along with logic, mathematics, and science. The curriculum is built around the original seven liberal arts and the kids love the challenge and are getting a very good, free education — complete with homework, can you imagine?

In any event, it will be interesting to see what happens. I am much more worried, I confess, about what this president is doing to the E.P.A. and other regulating agencies than I am with this particular appointment, given the current state of public education. It could turn out to be a good thing if it results in a fundamental shake-up of a system that seems to be tottering and about fall under its own weight.

Advertisements

End Of That Road

I include here a segment of an article that was written by Mark Hertling, a retired military man who used to accompany presidents carrying “the football,” a black case containing the emergency response system that allowed the president to order nuclear strikes if necessary. In the article he describes the personal qualities that should be looked for in the President of the United States who has the nuclear codes and the authority to launch a nuclear attack:

Ultimately, the U.S. president should be cool under pressure, be able to keep a clear mind under the most intense circumstances; he or she must take a calm approach when presented with conflicting elements of information, have steady hand based on a seriousness of purpose, and must be willing to listen to subject matter experts and top advisers to help make the right decisions. Once these decisions are made, if the “buttons” or pushed or the “triggers” are pulled, it’s hard to turn back.

I trashed a longer post about the unimaginable situation that has developed with our now-sitting president who lacks every one of the qualities Hertling insists are necessary for a president to have in the event of an international incident. I will leave it to the reader’s imagination what I might have said, which was not at all optimistic. Thinking about Donald Trump and what he might or might not do as president has led to chronic pessimism on my part. It’s becoming harder and harder to keep my imagination from running amok. In any event, I have decided to post this abbreviated piece and be done with it.

In the future I shall try very hard not to read about this man and will certainly not write any more about him. It’s not good for my health or my relationship with others. I am becoming a brooding type and no one around me likes that sort of thing. And I don’t blame them — especially since my little blog is a pebble in the way of a torrent. Larger rocks must group together to dam the rush before it is totally out of control.

Silence Is Not Golden

In the face of the recent shut-down of the E.P.A. (for all intents and purposes) including the directive to all employees to basically keep their collective mouths shut, one must object and do so loudly. I swore I was not going to allow myself to get all riled up by what this man does — after all, we saw this coming, didn’t we? — but the attempt to gag a Federal agency cannot pass unnoticed, especially an agency that can prove the lie that climate change is a Chinese hoax.

In looking for Voltaire’s famous comment about one’s right to speak, I came across an equally pithy and even profound comment that I would like to elaborate upon:

“Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”

This is indeed profound and so very timely because it appears as though this Administration is losing no time whatever in doing precisely that, making us believe absurdities. What else is the nonsense about “alternative facts”? It appears as though the plan is to confuse the citizens of this country with alleged facts which are made up on the spot — such things as the claim allegedly made by Trump that the Women’s March on Washington was in protest over Obama’s presidency. If it weren’t pathological it would be funny. But it is pathological, it is becoming an almost surreal pattern.

One must hope that the Congress, fighting as it is with one hand tied behind its back, will not be cowed by this man and will stand in opposition to this blatant attempt to silence dissent and force-feed untruths to a stupefied public. One would also hope that members of the Fourth Estate would stand up and scream “foul,” but so far they have not shown the courage to take this man on. He is fearsome and clearly capable of silencing the media by simply telling them what he wants them to hear or refusing to allow them into his daily briefing sessions or press conferences. I am reminded of the shell game where the object is to confuse in order to win the game.

If the attempt to silence the media and bring it to heel succeeds this country will be in very serious trouble indeed. With the Newspeak that is coming out of Washington coupled with the recent attempt to shut down the voice of the E.P.A. in order to keep people in the dark about what is and what is not happening to our planet, we are closing in on the next step Voltaire notes, the commission of atrocities. Voltaire knew whereof he spoke and we would do well to listen.

In the meantime we must hope that members of Congress who still have a conscience — and there appear to be a few of them remaining — will speak out against the latest blatant attempt to gain control of the public mind. The rest of us can write to our representatives and hope they read and respond to what we write — and take action. And we can pray that the opposition to this most recent attempt to keep us all ignorant is opposed with loud and coherent voices. Silence is not golden. Not in this case.

Submerged Concern

I recently discussed a Reuters poll that showed that more than 60% of Americans of all political stripes would like to see the E.P.A. maintain its present strength or increase it to help protect the environment. Indeed, polls have shown for years that Americans are concerned about the environment, a concern that usually appears among the top ten with astonishing consistency. And yet, as I have noted, when it comes to electing our representatives to Congress we tend to ignore their stand on the environment and show a much greater concern for such things as terrorism, defense, and the economy.  This has been a pattern for many years and it requires some explaining.

I’m not sure I can provide that explanation, but I can speculate — a thing I tend to be fairly good at, since it requires little research. I am guessing that the concern over the environment is indeed genuine. I don’t question it at all. But it is what I would call a “submerged concern.” That is, it’s there, but it doesn’t surface in any meaningful way. It will surface, of course, when we can no longer drink the water, breathe the air, or are forced to pay two week’s salary for groceries.  But until then, since it is not as pressing for most folks as, say, being able to make the payment on the new SUV, it will remain submerged.

Much of our tendency to keep the concern submerged is fear, of course. None of us wants to think about the dire consequences of continued attacks on the earth which supports us and the air that we require. And none of us wants to make sacrifices. God forbid that we should drive more economical cars and grab a sweater when we are chilly rather than turning up the thermostat! But some of it, at least, is due to our unreasonable conviction that no matter how great the problem someone will solve it. We have blind faith in science — while at the same time we question the veracity of the scientists who tell us that we are destroying the planet. (No one said folks worry about such things as consistency — the minds of so many of us resembling in many ways a rat’s nest of confused bits and pieces of truth, half-truth, and blatant falsehoods — all of which are bound together by wishful thinking. It’s the only kind of thinking a great many people are capable of, sad to say.)

In any event, we are faced with the undeniable fact that a great many people in this society repeatedly elect to Congress men and women who are paid to vote for Big Oil and whose reelection depends on continuing to support programs and people who are hell-bent on taking as much plunder out of the earth as humanly possible and leaving it to future generations to clean up the mess — while they gasp for air and drink Kool-Aid made up of reconditioned toilet water, presumably. We fault those folks in Congress, as we should. They really should put the well-being of their constituents before their own political party and their own re-election. But, judging form the past, this will not happen as long as the cushy jobs in Washington pay well (and the representatives see to that) and the voters are stupid enough to keep them in office. And the fault that this is allowed to happen is our own.

The founders made it clear that the idea was to rotate the representatives every couple of years so there would be new blood and new ideas. George Washington was smart enough to know that the President, at least, should have term limits. At that time the jobs didn’t pay very well and involved a lot of work for men who had more important things to get back to at home. But slowly and surely representation in Congress turned into a full-time, high-paying  job and those in office found that they were making huge piles of money and really preferred to keep things that way. Voting for clean energy and against Big Oil simply doesn’t fit into that scheme. This is why there should be term-limits, of course, but more importantly, it is why we should vote out of office those whose only concern is for themselves and their own well-being. What will it take to wake enough people up to the very real dangers we all face in the not-so-distant future? That is the question!

Trumping The Environment

A recent online story about a Reuters poll that reflects the views of many Americans with respect to the environment is of considerable interest. It said, in part,

Some 39 percent of Americans would like to see the E.P.A., the nation’s top environmental regulator, “strengthened or expanded,” while another 22 percent hope for it to “remain the same,” according to the poll. Just 19 percent said they would like to see the agency “weakened or eliminated” and the rest said they “don’t know.”

Among Republicans, 47 percent wish for the EPA either to “remain the same” or be “strengthened or expanded,” while 35 percent want it “weakened or eliminated”.

The online poll of 9,935 people was conducted Dec. 16 to Jan. 12 and has a credibility interval, a measure of accuracy, of 1.1 percentage points.

“Trump is a businessman, and that’s all he thinks about … what will make money,” said Terry Cox, a 61-year-old resident of Tennessee who voted for the New York real estate mogul in November’s election. “But I’m hopeful there’s a limit to what he can do when it comes to weakening protections for wildlife and the environment.”

There are a couple of things that are of interest here. Let’s start with the most glaring, the quote from the Trump supporter who also is opposed to weakening protections. Where the hell has this man been the past few months??!! There’s no way his man will support a stronger E.P.A. He wants to eradicate all government controls and has nominated a candidate for watchdog of the E.P.A., Scott Pruitt, who claims to be a strong advocate of the E.P.A. but has repeatedly sued the agency and other government entities over environmental rules and regulations, at times in direct cooperation with fossil fuel companies. Moreover, according to FactCheck:

He falsely said in May that scientists “disagree about the degree” and “connection” of global warming “to the actions of mankind.” As we have written time and time again, the vast majority of climate scientists believe global warming is real and human-caused.
He also said the Clean Power Plan will “significantly” increase electricity prices. Whether the price change is “significant” is a matter of opinion, but the Energy Information Administration estimates that prices under the plan would range from a 7 percent decrease to a 7 percent increase between 2025 and 2040, depending on the region.
He implied in April 2014 that’s there’s no evidence to support a link between fracking and water contamination. There is some evidence to support a link in certain instances, but not enough to definitively conclude that contamination is widespread, as we wrote in early December.

Those who are bent on increasing the size of their investment portfolios and bank accounts couldn’t care less about wildlife and the environment. Trump himself has said that global warming is a fiction invented but he Chinese to cripple the American economy. In fact, he has never given us any evidence whatever to base any hope on his having a change of heart — about anything. He is convinced he knows what is best for the rest of us and is determined to bring about his dream for America, to make it “Great” again — whatever that means. He aspires to be Dictator. And the only “limits to what he can do” will not come from this Congress unless the voters of this country scream their collective voices out. But if anything will wake Americans up to what this man is committed to doing to the earth, it just might be the steps he will soon be taking to dismantle the E.P.A. and open public lands to oil exploration. We shall see.

The problem is the poll reflects what might be called a relaxed concern on the part of a great many Americans. They want tougher controls on Big Oil but they don’t want it enough to elect the men and women to Congress who are willing to take a stand on those issues. They respond to poll takers in the “correct” way and then go back to their television sets. Their “concerns” don’t translate into action.

Terry Cox is a case in point. He says he “opposes weakening protections for wildlife and the environment,” but he voted for a businessman who is probably the most anti-environment presidential candidate we have seen in recent years. Americans have consistently responded to polls in a manner that shows a genuine concern about their environment and even about wildlife. But consistently, they have failed to vote out of office those who are hell-bent on attacking the environment and eradicating protections for wildlife. I suppose you might say they pay lip service to the notion of protection but don’t really know what that entails. For men like Terry Cox is it merely a hope. A forlorn hope, I would say.

Euphoria

 

We live in the declining years of what is still the biggest economy in the world, where a looter elite has fastened itself upon the decaying carcass of the empire. It is intent on speedily and relentlessly extracting the maximum wealth from that carcass, impoverishing our former working middle class.” E. Callenbach, 2012

The Republicans at the moment are experiencing euphoria. They act like it: positively giddy with power. After all, they now control the House and the Senate and have a president they think they can control (!). Accordingly, they are trying to manipulate the situation in order to have Trump’s incompetent cabinet recommendations approved as quickly as possible. They also plan to jettison the Affordable Care Act — despite the fact that they have nothing whatever to replace what they derisively call “Obamacare.” In addition, of course, they plan to scuttle the E.P.A. and any other regulating agencies that stand in the way of what they regard as “progress.” And all before the electorate catches its collective breath.

Predictably, many of these actions will take more time than planned, but, however long it takes, it is virtually certain that there will be some dreadful mistakes because of the political games that are being played and the haste with which these men and women want to take advantage of their advantage, as it were. These professional politicians are astute enough — or their advisors are — to know that they will not have Trump long in the White House. He won’t be able to work with them nor they with him. He has already insisted that he will not divest his businesses. At some point they will want to remove him, one way or the other, because they see Mike Pence as someone they can work with — he’s one of them, after all, equally nutty but not some brazen, outspoken, loose cannon who is bound to get them and their country into a mess if he remains in office for very long.

The whole scenario leaves us breathless. One worries that, based on history, actions taken in haste are usually regretted at leisure. (Think: Iraq.) Once the dust has settled and the economy is in serious trouble and the planet under even more relentless attack, there will be a good deal of hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth. Many who supported this car full of clowns will have regrets and those who supported a con-artist will begin to grasp the fact that they have been duped.

Once Trump’s nominees are approved, and most, if not all, will be (predictably) the Republicans will look to Trump to return the favor — after all this is high stakes politics: you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours — and Trump will wonder what the hell they are talking about. After all, this is a man who is not used to returning the favor; he is used to having others do him favors. His is a business world where money talks and, since he has a great deal of money, people listen. He is used to being heard and having people bend to his will — from all reports. When the professional politicians he will be surrounded by in Washington come to him to demand that he now help them get what they want since they delivered to him the cluster of incompetent people he wanted to surround himself with, he will balk. Surely. And, I predict, this will be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. This is when (if it doesn’t happen before) the Congress will take measures to remove Trump from office, either by resignation or impeachment.

The rest of us, of course, will be left holding the bag, as it were. We should at that point — though judging form past experience we will not — replace the entire elected body with another group that might approximate a reliable coterie of men and women who will actually represent the will of the voters and not the corporations. This is one feature of the British Parliament system the founders did not choose to incorporate into our Constitution, sadly: the ability of the government to dissolve itself due to inability to work together and initiate new elections to make possible the replacement of one set of clowns with another. The only way the voters can do this in our system is to wait for the elections to roll around, and the founders were convinced this is how it would work; but we have shown ourselves unable to do this in the past as we keep re-electing the same group of clowns. Until they step on our toes.

 

Buying A Government

The wealthy Republicans who recently attempted to buy the government of the United States for millions of dollars are sitting and licking their wounds. If you look quickly you can see them over there sulking behind the trees. There’s no doubt their attempt to buy the Presidency and the majority of the Senate didn’t work out as they had planned — this time. But they will be back and next time they are determined to spend more money and win. A recent article by Robert Reich gives the details of the last political campaign and the plans the Republicans have for the next go-round, but there are a few things I might add.

As Reich notes, Sheldon Adelson, who owns the Las Vegas Sands Corporation and has a net worth reported to be $21.5 billion spent around $100 million of his pocket change  mostly on lost causes this time around. But he knows about gambling, he has bottomless pockets, and he has pledged to win the pot next time. He has already started interviewing Republican candidates for the next run at the Presidency. Hold on to your hats.

Adelson (like the Koch brothers who spent $400 million of their own money in the last election) is determined to get a government in place that will make sure people like him are permitted to increase their already obscene wealth even more — to rid themselves (and the rest of us) of those pesky Federal agencies like the E.P.A. and regulations that are, from their point of view, an expensive nuisance — and from our point of view necessary for our  health and well-being. The Koch brothers reportedly support an organization called the “American Legislative Exchange Council” that funds politicians around the country to make sure they get into key positions in state governments and then in return push the items on the Koch agenda. The end justifies any means.

Money is power and it always has been. And there have always been wealthy men and women (mostly men) who push their own agendas and do whatever they can to get weak people they can control into positions of power. But the game has changed in this country after the “Citizens United” decision by the Supreme Court that eliminated spending limits on political candidates by individuals and corporations in the name of “free speech.” This has raised the stakes considerably.

It does appear we are playing with a stacked deck. Not only that, but the game that is now being played follows house rules and the house is owned by people like Adelson and the Koch brothers. It really isn’t fair, but our cries of outrage and anger will almost certainly fall on deaf ears. As Reich says in concluding his article, there really are only two viable alternatives to help us avoid the coming purchase of our government by the very wealthy:

As income and wealth become ever more concentrated in America, the nation’s billionaire political investors will invest even more.

A record $6 billion was spent on the 2012 campaign, and outside groups poured $1.3 billion into political races, according to data from the Federal Election Commission and the Center for Responsive Politics.

That’s why Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission has to be reversed – either by a Supreme Court that becomes aware of the poison it’s unleashed into our democracy, or by a constitutional amendment.

It’s also why we need full disclosure of who contributes what to whom.

In a word, if we want to stay in the game, “Citizens United” must either be overturned by the Supreme Court (unlikely) or we must hope that a Constitutional amendment can be passed to throw out the ridiculous decision that ruled corporations to be persons. And, clearly, there should be spending limits in all political elections. I guess the ball’s in our court.

Compassionate Capitalism

Capitalism comes in many forms, from raw “free market” capitalism to the form we recognize in which capitalism is tempered somewhat by social programs to benefit those who might otherwise be excluded from the table of plenty where the capitalist sits and eats his fill. Robert Heilbroner wrote the definitive study of “raw” capitalism in 1985 and he characterized it as follows:

Its ideological aspect lies rather in the function played by its deepest conception — an indifferent and inert matter as the ultimate stuff of reality. It thus provides a world view compatible with, and needed by, that required for the limitless invasion of the world for the purpose of surplus accumulation. . . .The culture of capitalism thus expresses a voracious, even rapacious, attitude toward the material

world. — a point of view that would be impossible if the world were portrayed as ‘mother’ Nature.*

This view of the world was, of course, the view that Karl Marx attacked in this three-volume study of capitalism that led, eventually, to the establishment of socialism in countries like Russia and China. Marx was particularly concerned about the unethical dimensions of capitalism, its notion that the exploitation of workers was acceptable in the name of higher profits for the owners of the means of production. In fact, the ethical concerns raised by Marx were what carried the book to the popular heights it achieved later on; as a book on economics it was filled with flaws and misconceptions and is nearly unreadable. Marx’s economics rest, for example, on the “labor theory of value,” which has since been shown to be simplistic and downright unworkable.

Our country started out with what historians call “mercantile” capitalism, a form in which the mother country, Britain, dictated who the colonies were to trade with and to whom they could send exports. Most exports went directly to England, of course, while others were taxed heavily by Britain when sent elsewhere. In a word, the mother country called the shots and merchants and farmers who were eager to make profits in this country had to bend to the yoke willingly provided by Great Britain. This yoke eventually became a burden and erupted in the American revolution, of course. Indeed, Marx predicted that all forms of capitalism would eventually lead to revolution as the workers of the world would find their burden excessive and rise up and throw it off.

The fact that this has not happened in this country after the British yoke was thrown off is largely due to the growth and expansion of the middle class — a class that Karl Marx never saw evolving from the heart of capitalism. In addition, especially since the Great Depression, this country has introduced a number of social programs that have tempered capitalism and made it more compassionate, if you will — programs designed to assist those in need, those excluded (as mentioned above) from the table filled with rich foods that feed the “fat cats” at the top of the capitalist hierarchy. Also, a number of steps have been taken to temper the “rapacious” attitude of those in this country toward Mother Nature to whom they owe their very lives.

But the middle class and the social and environmental programs that make capitalism more compassionate have recently come under fire in the form of the Republican strategy to enrich those who control the wealth in this country and widen the gap between those with great wealth and those who are impoverished — while, at the same time, eliminating as far as possible those governmental restraints on further capitalist “rapaciousness” toward the planet. In a word, as the planet itself comes under attack, the middle class, which Karl Marx never saw coming, is in danger of falling into the chasm that is widening in this country as the rich grow richer and the poor grow poorer. I discussed this in an earlier blog and it is reinforced by information collected by the Pew Research Center:

As the 2012 presidential candidates prepare their closing arguments to America’s middle class, they are courting a group that has endured a lost decade for economic well-being. Since 2000, the middle class has shrunk in size, fallen backward in income and wealth, and shed some—but by no means all—of its characteristic faith in the future.

Will this eventually erupt in a revolution as Marx predicted? Is “Occupy Wall Street” a sign of things to come? Will our continued denial of the stewardship we owe Mother Earth finally catch up with us? Time will tell. But much depends on the awareness of the growing number of those at the bottom of the capitalist pyramid who may or may not realize what is occurring. As of this writing they seem content to remain in the dark.

__________________________________

Robert Heilbroner: The Nature and Logic of Capitalism (New York: W.W. Norton, Inc.), p. 135.

Giving Us The Finger

I have touched on this before at the time when Mitt Romney announced his running mate, (you remember, the next President of the United States….sorry, the next Vice President of the United States) Paul Ryan. As a rule the Vice President of the United States is a titular figure —  he or she Chairs the Senate and mostly does PR for the President when he is playing golf or shooting buckets with some friends. But think of LBJ and think of Paul Ryan as next President of the United States. ‘Kind of sends a shiver up the back, doesn’t it? But he’s like us, he says, because he worked at McDonald’s and he drives a truck. Somehow I don’t find that very reassuring.

But what Romney’s selection does is, in effect, is to present his middle finger to the country. It says, in effect: (1) we don’t give a damn about the poor and those in need; we will continue to cut social programs while we increase “defense” spending;  (2) we don’t care about education and improving the public school system so our kids can compete with the world at large in the coming years — where they are rapidly losing ground; (3) we don’t give a damn about the planet as long as we can continue to amass profits and maintain our “way of life.” The only thing we really care about is saving some tax dollars so you can buy a few more pull-tabs or perhaps a new golf club and we can augment our off-shore bank accounts. And we think enough of you will buy into this plan and vote us in to office in November.

In a word, these two Republican candidates taken together represent the reduction of politics to greed and filthy lucre, pure and simple. There is only one thing that matters and that is tax dollars, though neither man seems to want us to know how much they pay in taxes! The fundamental message sent by a moderate Republican who has already announced a tax plan that favors the wealthy and has targeted the E.P.A. for “reductions” when he selects a Tea Party supporter who is known to favor cuts to social programs that help the poor while increasing defense spending is clear: people and the planet don’t matter. What matters is that we save a few dollars. Let’s hope the American public sees through the smiling political masks to the smirking faces beneath.

Political Choices

If a person is judged by the company he or she keeps, then Mitt Romney is doubly disappointing. First Donald Trump (about whom I have blogged previously) and now Paul Ryan the man with a heart of stone. Romney’s choice of Ryan as a running mate is especially disturbing.  The man has shown himself to be determined to eradicate every possible safety net that keeps the  poor, elderly, and chronically disadvantaged in this country from falling out of sight. As a recent editorial in the HuffPose by the Rev. Chuck Currie points out:

Ryan’s budget proposals affect the support of seniors, cut assistance to programs aimed at combating childhood hunger, and would leave people who have lost their jobs without heat during cold winter months. This isn’t hyperbole but reasoned analysis of his budget goals from non-partisan groups like the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Ryan’s plans would eventually end “everything from veterans’ programs to medical and scientific research, highways, education, nearly all programs for low-income families,” according to the CBPP.

The Presidential race that was becoming boring in spite of the millions of dollars that have already been spent on it has just become a race of major importance. It now matters a great deal whom we vote for. While Obama has shown himself to be weak on environmental issues, too quick to wage war, and unwilling to take on the corporations that support him, he is certainly preferable to a man who is openly avowing a public strategy to eliminate the middle class, eradicate the E.P.A., and turn the government’s back on the poor and needy in this country. As Rev. Currie points out, this election has suddenly become a matter of extreme moral import: it’s not just a choice between Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee as it may have appeared at times.

The movement to cut taxes at all costs and eradicate protective agencies is disturbing on so many levels it is hard to know where to begin. To the extent that we support this movement, it shows us to be a greedy and self-serving people who lack compassion for our fellow human beings or concern for the planet itself. This sounds like exaggeration, but it is not. The time to attend to the issue of global warming, for example, was months ago and we still have largely ignored it — while many continue to deny it. But the attacks on social programs that assist people in real need are in many ways even more disturbing. The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, for example, estimates that 62 percent of Paul Ryan’s cuts as Chairman of the House Budget Committee were to programs for the poor. The frenzy to cut taxes by a people who pay less than most others who enjoy the benefits of a “developed” country shows us as a people unwilling to consider the real costs involved: our stewardship of the planet and a concern for human suffering and genuine human needs.

I really cannot believe we are at that point. My suspicion is that Mitt Romney has made a huge blunder in picking Paul Ryan as his running mate and that the American voters will see that this man represents the reductio ad absurdum of Mitt Romney’s political thinking.  Surely this approach to politics will be deemed unpalatable to the majority of voting Americans in November.

[I would only add by way of a closing parenthesis that Ryan’s favorite author, Ayn Rand, is by no stretch of the term a “philosopher” even though the Rev. Currie places her in company with the likes of Socrates. But the fact that she is Ryan’s favorite theorist — and that Ryan once said “Ayn Rand, more than anyone else, did a fantastic job of explaining the morality of capitalism” — tells us a great deal about the man himself, things we need to know before we vote in November.]