Pssst! The Free Market is Snake Oil! Pass it on!

I’m so tired of hearing about the “free market” as though it’s the perfect economic ideal.  It’s fiction.  Worse than that, it’s a lie.  And as it is with all successful lies, it’s entwined with enough truth to fool common sense if you’re not careful.

I believe in capitalism–as in capital investment in private enterprise for profit. It’s a beautiful thing.  And it works like gangbusters.

But the “free market” is capitalism in a vacuum.

An economy built on free markets–i.e., unregulated markets–is an economic theory.  And it’s an impossible economic theory at that.

The markets dictate everything?!

Let the chips fall where they may, argue the purists (country be damned, I guess).  Some will profit, others with perish.  C’est la vie.  Nevermind the fact that in deregulated markets companies can grow “too big to fail” and threaten to drag the entire economy down with them. I guess it’s better that a generation starves than a few bankers have to play by rules.

Free market supporters allege that industries will police themselves as a matter of sound business.  Utter nonsense.  Businesses are always cutting corners to make an extra buck.  Gun manufacturers pushed for  Stand Your Ground legislation and BP dumped 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico because they were too cheap to properly inspect their facilities.  Deregulation of Savings and Loan Associations in 1980 (under President Reagan) led to an $87 Billion crisis  ten years later and contributed to the to the U.S. recession in 1992.   Deregulation of banks in 1999 (under Clinton) and 2004 (under Bush) contributed directly to the financial crisis of 2007, the $700 Billion TARP bailouts in 2008, the $135 Billion+ bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 2010, and our current global recession.

The fatal flaw in free market capitalism is that the markets are friends to no one.  They will always go to where the water is calm and the grass is greenest. They will decimate–or flat abandon–regions, nations, continents, even entire hemispheres if it is profitable to do so.

Poor enforcement of regulation has led to catastrophic mine collapses, oil spills, energy shortages, and nuclear meltdowns.  Unregulated markets in Central Africa and Southeast Asia have led to destitution, internecine conflict, and slavery.  It’s 3rd world hell.

Of course, a 3rd world economy might be the goal for many of the wealthy disciples of free market capitalism.  It’s to their benefit.  Money gets overwhelming power and influence.  Sure, labor conditions might be exploitative and dangerous.  Products and services might suck.  But profits will overflow.  (Eventually the quality of life goes down even for the wealthy.  They wind up stuck behind fortress walls and need an armed security detail to go shopping.  Unfortunately for everyone, their greed overwhelms their reason.)

Is that really the ideal?

If this was 1789 and most people were doing business in the town square, the argument for free market capitalism would have some merit.   But if I walk into a Wal-mart today, which way is the power dynamic skewed?

That is the flip-side of the free market dynamic.  Labor forces in modern nations are in often in direct competition with developing nations where wages are at bare subsistence levels–or lower–and regulations are dangerously lax.  Wages in developed nations are driven downward in order to remain competitive.  Buying power is consequently diminished among consumers, in which case less capital investment is made, leading to fewer jobs.  Who’s going to invest in a business in a place where no one has any money?

In this way, what is good for business can be detrimental to the country.  Corporate interests overrun consumer interests and it’s a race to the bottom.

The proof is in our current economic predicament.  We’ve had a devastating extraction of jobs and capital over the last twenty years.  Wages have stagnated and now threaten to recede.

So again I ask, how is this ideal?

The answer is that it’s obviously not.

Yet in propagating free market capitalism as the high standard–initially by conservatives, but now as political axiom–we have prioritized profits–for an already wealthy minority–above everything else, including our national economic security.

The term regulation has become anathema–2nd only to taxes–in 21st century political rhetoric.  Yet, much like taxes, they are essential.

As soon as you acknowledge that no one should be able to dump radioactive waste into the water supply or sell rat poison as apple juice, you have acknowledged that a truly free market is impossible, irrational, and not an ideal anyone should be aspiring to.

https://i1.wp.com/www.nabc.nl/Portals/0/images/going-up-550x425.jpgInstead, the ideal should be a well-regulated, capitalist system; one that balances the present and future interests of workers, consumers, communities, the nation, and the environment, while encouraging capital investment in private enterprise.  That is a strong economy.  It keeps workers and consumers safe and the environment protected; it also promotes a broad and robust middle-class to participate in the economy, not concentrating billions into the hands of a few.

We want lots of people buying cars and computers and trips to Disneyland, while putting money away for college and retirement without burying themselves in debt. That allows for stability as well as an attainable upward mobility that can spur the invention, innovation, and ingenuity necessary for successful private enterprise ventures.

I know, it’s a complex and highly variable ideal.  It requires expertise to navigate.  That is the necessary evil of a global economy that also carries the benefit of potentially elevating everyone’s quality of life in every income level across the globe.

We have to get past these simple-minded conventions from centuries ago.  Because the people in power who are perpetuating these ideas know that it’s a fallacy.  They’re just too greedy to help themselves.

Money out of politics.

Free. Thought.

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Celebrating Stupidity: Wisconsin Recall

The Wisconsin recall debacle answers for us in devastating fashion which power is greater.

I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been really busy of late but I had to throw in my two cents on the Wisconsin recall election.

Okay, so 2 pretty significant points come to mind here:

1.  This may very well have been the death knell of our democracy.  Not the end, but the beginning of the end.  Despite being perhaps the most active and focused grass roots campaign in recent memory, with millions of people fully committed to effecting change, the recall movement was crushed under an ocean of money.  Out of state billionaires gave embattled governor Scott Walker $30 million in spending money and he used it to shove challenger and Milwaukee mayor Tom Barret’s nose in the dirt. $30 million. It’s a nearly 10 to 1 spending differential over the state Democrats.  We’re talking about a gubernatorial election in Wisconsin.

Not long ago that was presidential campaign money.  Republican strategists are already calling Wisconsin a model for every other state in the nation.   If the Wisconsin governorship only costs $30 million, it’s possible that every governor’s seat in the country can be bought for less than $1 billion.  Mitt Romney and his corporations are looking to raise nearly $2 billion to buy the presidency.  It’s a fair estimate that the United States federal government–complete with the most powerful military on earth–can be bought entirely and filled with yes men for under $10 billion.  Neat.

The most startling aspect of this story is that 36% of union families voted FOR the union busting governor.  Makes no sense whatsoever.  Union jobs have been one of the key forces behind the difference between labor conditions and wages in the United States and those in Mexico.  36% of Wisconsin’s union-employed voters just chose to narrow that gap in the wrong direction.  It’s like 36% of dolphins voting to drain the Pacific Ocean.

Sure, there were mitigating factors, recall fatigue, unrelated social wedge issues, and Walker’s aforementioned campaign megabucks; but I maintain the results underline the fact that many Americans don’t have the skills or information needed to vote–or think–critically and rationally; and thus are highly susceptible to suggestive messaging such as negative campaign ads…ads bought with corporate PAC money.

We have become so divided as a nation that people will vote against their own self interest because of party and political labels.  For many Americans, unions–much like the federal government, are to be held as eternal and unquestionable evils.

Embattled Wisconsin governor Scot Walker celebrates his crushing victory in the 2012 recall.

Nevermind that Walker blew a gigantic, $3.6 billion hole in the state budget by giving corporations and wealthy Wisconsinites a high-income tax cut.  He then worked to balance that deficit by dramatically cutting education funding, enacting massive public employee layoffs and wage reductions, and stealing $25 million in foreclosure settlement money designated–by the evil federal government–to help families keep their homes.  THEN he went after the collective bargaining rights of the public unions (except police and firefighters…the two unions that supported his campaign).  He admitted, on tape, that he had considered using bat-wielding thugs to disperse the protestors outside the capital and that his goal is to divide and conquer the unions and make Wisconsin a right-to-work state.

For mindless conservative voters all of that chicanery is forgivable so long as a union–the main campaign financiers of the Democratic party–was stopped.

2.  The Democratic party is too weak, stupid, and/or pathetic to help anyone, even themselves.  Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks likens them to the Washington Generals who lose spectacularly–and deliberately–to the Harlem Globetrotters.  The national party did not play cavalry with volunteers, organizational support, or even funding until roughly three weeks before the election.  Unfortunately for them, polls showed that Wisconsin voters had made up their minds months ago, before the Democratic party had even finished its primary.  Whoops-a-daisy.

Barrack Obama lets Wisconsin voters know he’s sorry for all this union busting nonsense and he hopes the recall goes well for them, but he’s gotta bounce.

During the 2008 campaign Barrack Obama proclaimed that if anyone went after collective bargaining he’d put on his walking shoes and march along side them.  When Scott Walker (among others) did go after collective bargaining rights, the White House fell silent as a grave.  I don’t know if he’s playing, as he supporters put it, masterful 3-dimensional political chess, but on its surface, this Wisconsin recall looks like a Titanic failure.  17% of the people who voted to keep Scott Walker in office are also Obama supporters.  His involvement in this election might very well have reversed the outcome. Instead, he and the Democratic National Party left all those people who marched and protested for their rights crushed by the corporatocracy.  Increased voter apathy is as understandable as it is inevitable. In an apparent effort to not offend any part of that 17% crossover, the president may very well have lost half of his supporters on the left.  But that’s today’s Democrat, so weak and spineless it makes one nauseous at the sight of Jell-o.

I don’t know if the Democrats are just playing their part in a rigged game or they’re actually that terrified of what Republicans might say.  Either way, from my perspective, their pussification is complete.  It’s now a 90% certainty that I will not be spending my vote on barrack Obama’s re-election this year.

And I fear there will be no more Teddy Roosevelts, FDRs or JFKs until we get money out of politics.  And these…puwusses out of office.

Wasn’t Justice First Anyway?

U.S. Army veteran and Representative for Florida's 22nd District, Allen West

You might have heard about how U.S. Representative and incendiary quote factory Allen West–an early candidate for both Fool of the Year and Fool of the Decade honors–followed up his not-so-subtle claim that “78-81” Democratic congressional members are card-carrying members of the Communist Party with the equally untrue assessment that economic justice is un-American.

(There are roughly 78 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC)–all Democrats.  Again, not subtle.)

What you might not have heard is that the supposedly-Communist CPC proposed a budget in March of this year (which they suspiciously named The People’s Budget–Uh-oh!).

Their budget is designed to eliminate the deficit by 2021–in fact, it creates a budget surplus, while preserving Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

This is primarily done by cutting waste in defense spending, applying the Buffet Rule, taxing capital gains as regular income, and eliminating oil subsidies and corporate loopholes from the tax code.  Their budget enacts a public option for healthcare.  It fixes–REPEAT–fixes Social Security’s insolvency.  It invests US$1.45 trillion in job creation, education, clean energy, housing, and broadband infrastructure.  It promotes energy independence.  It eliminates emergency war funding which will help prevent presidents from going to war without congressional consent (as mandated by that pesky U.S. Constitution).

In short, this is a budget that is not only balanced, but saves money by reducing spending overall, eliminating waste, and moving us closer to a flat tax rate (for all but the very poor). It might sound made up but it’s not.  I got all this directly out of the actual budget proposal (which you can read here).

The CPC budget stands in stark contrast to the budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan which devastates social programs, imbalances the tax code even more in favor of the rich and large corporations, and in the end INCREASES the deficit by more than US$3 trillion.  Despite being denounced by religious leaders as “immoral” and “irresponsible,” the Republican majority in the House passed the Ryan Budget on March 29, 2012.

The CPC budget proposal was voted down the very same day, 78-346.  It barely managed a ripple in the national media.  And Allen West called them communists for proposing it.

(A bipartisan budget proposal incorporating ideas from both sides also went down in flames that day.)

West has been one of the louder voices in the cacophony denouncing social justice as socialism, communism, Marxism, Leninism, Maoism, hell, syllogism, and whatever other ism they think will get a rise out of people.

Much as socialism and capitalism have been locked hand-in-hand by our Constitution, so has liberty and justice (I’m pretty sure I heard that somewhere).   Before the Founders even got started with the particulars of how our newly formed nation would work, they made their intentions clear:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

My glasses might be smudgy but I think justice is first.  Now obviously this isn’t a prioritized list but justice seems to at least be equally important as  the other things.  I hear so much talk of liberty being an American value.  Yet when many people say that they only mean economic liberty.  Oddly, many of these same people don’t interpret justice to include economic justice.

Communism dictates that an engineer and a janitor should earn the same income.  It’s ridiculous.  I’d be willing to bet that less than 0.01% of Americans believe anything remotely close to that.  What I believe, and I think many other Americans believe, is that a janitor should be able to put food on his family’s table and a roof over their heads.  That his kids should have access to a college education.  That no children should starve. That no one should die of untreated illnesses or exposure to the elements.

These are not radical assaults on American liberty.  They are American values that simply place a higher priority on justice.  There’s actually a reasonable argument to be made that economic justice  increases liberty because it allows more people the freedom to enjoy it.

Allen West’s type of partisan name-calling is usually just a means of deflection.  Unfortunately, so are the calls for a “change in the tone” of political discourse.  I disagree.  Our lives, our freedoms, our futures–and our children’s futures–are at stake.  We should be passionate about these things, so long as that passion doesn’t supersede truth and reason.

So it goes with liberty and justice, too.

Allen West--technically--violates U.S. federal law by putting Ol' Glory in water--on flag day. (I know, I know, but I just couldn't help myself. :))

Pepsi…The New Awesome

Gross polluters Charles and David Koch are award-winning members of ALEC

Thinkprogress.org is reporting that in January 2012, Pepsi pulled its support from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

This is great news.

For those of us against the excessive influence of corporations on politics ALEC is one of the bad guys.  In fact, they’re one of the handful of organizations at the very heart of the problem.

ALEC is a right-wing lobbying group comprised of a conglomeration of Fortune 500 companies and rich Republicans.  They help enact right-wing model legislation (test markets for legislation like Shoot First/Stand Your Ground) and help coordinate that legislation in other states as well as on the federal level.

“W” loves him some ALEC. ‘Nuff said.

ALEC doesn’t just push for legislation, they WRITE the bills and then give them to Republican lawmakers to enact–as-written.  It’s called cookie-cutter legislation; multiple assemblies pass these bills containing the exact same wording; it’s pretty much fill in the blank where lawmakers simply add the district or state, sponsoring legislators, and the legislative body in which it’s being proposed; one Republican lawmaker (from Florida, of course) accidentally submitted a bill with the ALEC mission statement still attached.

ALEC proposed legislation includes (but is in no way limited to):

Pepsi pulled its support for ALEC  in lieu of the unpopularity of Stand Your Ground legislation which ALEC ardently supports (and is currently promoting in multiple states and on the federal level).  The pressure of Pepsi’s pullout forced Coke to follow suit.

This type of defection typically engenders right-wing retaliation.  We need to support Pepsi (and Coke) for making a bold and somewhat courageous decision.

But it does serve as proof that we can make a difference.

So drink a Pepsi today! 🙂

What I Hate About Republicans — Intro (Part 2)

So I’m coming back to this series of blogs discussing what I hate about Republicans discussing one point in each blog.  At some point, I plan to move on to what I hate about Democrats, politics in general, and the media (probably sometime in the fall of 2071 at this rate :().  What I initially expected to be 3 or 4 subjects quickly expanded as I started giving the topic some thought.    I limited it to 10:

  1. Bigotry
  2. Voter Suppression
  3. Edification of Greed
  4. Anti-Americanism
  5. Dominionism
  6. Anti-Intellectualism
  7. Objectivism
  8. Extreme Nationalism
  9. Discrimination
  10. Austerity

Obviously, I could write a book on each and every topic–and maybe that’s something I will ultimately do.   The problem with blogging in such a partitioned way is the loss of context which I think is crucial to understanding what Republicans are trying to do.

A good example of this is an element of social conservative philosophy I–and others on the left–call the Fall From Grace theory.  For many social conservatives, the Founding Fathers are, like Christ and the Disciples (or Adam and Eve), fetishized archetypes representing the purity and apex of an ideal–an ideal from which, according to conservatives, we have strayed.  Having fallen from grace we need to “get back to our core values” in order to right the ship.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  It should.  This is a key tenet of fundamentalism.

Obviously this is a nonsensical concept since America’s values have been evolving constantly since our nation’s inception (see slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights, etc.).  Nor were our founding Fathers of one unified mind.  Their greatness lies in their ability to bring such strong willed and brilliant men of wildly disparate opinions not only to accord but  an accord that still stands among the great achievements in political thought.   But Republicans don’t overly concern themselves about being historically accurate (I’m looking at you, Newt).  In fact, they outright oppose it.  Tea Party Republicans in Tennessee are fighting to have slavery–and the fact that many Founding Fathers owned them–removed from history books (And don’t even think about mentioning Thomas Jefferson’s jungle fever).  They don’t want anything that makes America ‘look bad’ being taught to children.

This is Orwellian propaganda at its unmitigated worst.

Yet the reasoning behind this philosophy is synergistic.   It incorporates several Republican/conservative ideologies that I am critical of including anti-Americanism, extreme nationalism, and Christian fundamentalism.  This is a crystal clear snapshot of their vision for America.  But when you break the actions down into parts, you can lose the image of the whole.

The Republican party needs to be exposed for what it is: a party of fear and hate.

Force conservatives to either admit to that fear and hatred or distance themselves from it.  And if you want make the argument that the Democratic party has titanic problems as well, I’ll be the first to agree with you.  But the Democrats aren’t pushing for more war in Iran and Palestine.  Democrats aren’t legislating against LGBT Americans’ right to marry.   Democrats aren’t trying to take reproductive and contraceptive rights away from women.    Democrats aren’t pushing stupid laws like Florida’s stand-your-ground self-defense law, which let Trayvon Martin’s killer walk away from the scene of the crime without arrest, murder weapon in hand.  Democrats aren’t trying to re-segregate schools in North Carolina, or take the truth out of American history classes, or science out of education.  Democrats aren’t trying to prevent Muslims from building mosques and practice their religion freely.

These are things we should be talking about.  I don’t want to lose the general idea of Republican lunacy because I keep fixing my nose to each little point.

‘Cause there is a lot to hate about today’s Republican party.

The Education Fix

I come from a family of educators.  My mother, aunt, both uncles, and my grandmother have all been teachers in some fashion.   My youngest brother is currently studying to become an educator.

Being familiar with education, my family has never been supportive of the testing craze currently dominating our education system.  It stresses a limited range of skills and specific types of learning.  And in the end, all we’re really doing is teaching our students how to take a test.

Education is the way by which Americans will compete in the increasingly global economy.  It is also how we can understand the world in which we live, our place in history, and our responsibility to it.  Unfortunately, we are falling further and further behind in this regard.

I really don’t understand why education isn’t a higher priority–actually, I do.  It’s this austerity bullshit our politicians are trying to force down our throats.  They want to gut education to justify tax breaks for billionaires. 

I honestly believe the Republican party–and to a lesser extent the democratic party–has a long term goal of creating a 3rd world economy here in the United States, with a super-rich, elite ruling class, and a docile, ignorant, working class majority that has limited opportunities outside of whatever jobs the elites make available at whatever wages they deem acceptable.

They want no mandatory health care programs, no collective bargaining rights for workers, no Social Security, no Medicare, no minimum wage, no child labor laws, no government regulation of business, and enough education for workers to perform skilled tasks, but not enough to think critically.  They want a flock corralled by religion, conditioned to endure hardship, and never question authority.

The best, most effective way for us to recapture control of our future is with a broad, robust education system; one designed to maximize the potential in each and every student–not meet standardized testing requirements.

If history has taught us anything, it’s that powerful nations crumble from within long before they are conquered from the outside.  Approaching education with the same attitude we have about our military–that we will be the best no matter what it takes–would take us a lot farther toward ensuring our security than we could in building another squadron of fighter jets or ballistic missile platform.

We have an outdated, industrial-age education system that promotes discipline, routine, and rote memory.  Yet we have an information-and-technology-based economy that stresses initiative, critical thinking, and problem solving.  We need a system that to develops the ability to manage, evaluate, and understand information–especially with the myriad ways information comes to us.  But more than that, we need a system that fully develops whatever abilities a student may possess.

In this we are failing ourselves and future generations.  But it doesn’t have to be this way:

So do not buy into the Republican voucher program talking point–the voucher will not be enough to send your kid to a good school.  Do not support politicians who want to cut education funding, including college grants.   Then let’s call for an education revolution.  Tear it all down like the Romans did Carthage, “leave not one stone upon another.” Get away from the testing mania.  Begin rebuilding with evidence-based (i.e., proven teaching method) pilot programs that integrate technology and stress active learning (as opposed to passive learning in which students sit and listen to a teacher lecture) to find the most effective teaching methods.  Dramatically increase teacher pay, especially for grades K-5.  Make it a more prestigious position to attract even better candidates.   Then we’ll be ready to start building a 21st century education system.

Our future literally and critically depends on it.

P.S. thanks to my mom for help with refining the technical jargon and conceptual whodjamawhatsit.  You can visit her blog here.

Celebrating Stupidity In America

Idiots desecrate Reagan's memory for their own shortsighted purposes. Idiots do things like this a lot.

I’m writing this blog because I saw a story about the climate change “debate” and got ticked off.

According to the World Health Organization, a higher percentage of scientists currently agree that global warming is real and man-made than scientists in the 1980’s agreed that cigarette smoking causes cancer.

The only reason this nonsensical climate change non-debate even exists is anti-intellectualism–which I call the promotion of stupidity.

In America, promoting stupidity has become an art.  However, it began as a political tool used to galvanize the mid-western and southern states against the coastal states.  The coastal big cities, especially San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York, are admonished as centers of  moral depravity and scholastic balderdash.

Nevertheless–putting my “lib” hat on– “anti-intellectualism” as a philosophy isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  It can simply be the promotion other aspects of the human experiences over intellectual achievement.  Both reasonable and valid.

The promotion of stupidity, however, distrusts intelligence and condemns most non-religious thought as self-important erudition or cultural warfare.  As a result, we have minimized the importance of education–of thinking for ourselves.

There are two primary reasons this unfortunate state of being has come about: Religious fundamentalism and education.

1. FUNDAMENTALISM.

America is the most religious of the modern nations.  Tragically, our political discourse is being overrun by the “Born Again” crowd, the Christian fundamentalists.  The direction of our 21st Century, technology-age nation is being determined by the religion of bronze-age farmers.

Christian fundamentalism proclaims the Holy Bible as 100% factually and historically accurate.  This is why many adult Christians believe the earth is only 6,000 years  old and that humans lived with the dinosaurs. Their piety towards this fairy tale nonsense forces them to distrust facts that contradict their belief–despite what those facts might tell them. It has to.  Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to continue to believe.

There’s no point in debating the veracity of these fictions; the Bible doesn’t even meet most scholastic or scientific standards.  Of course, it doesn’t need to.  It’s a book of faith.  From that perspective, the truths of the Bible are equally inarguable.

For most Christians, only their faith is centered around their holy book.  For Christian fundamentalists, however, their understanding of natural history is centered around the Bible as well.  Many other religious fundamentalists share similar relationships with their holy texts.  Challenging that relationship is challenging their faith and then you’re getting to the core of a person.  You will not win the argument.

But I don’t think we need to.

What we instead need to do is separate religion as an article of personal faith, which can be a wondrous thing, from religion as a source of governance, which is generally discriminatory–if not outright oppressive–to those who believe differently.

Religion puts otherwise rational people in direct opposition to logic, even facts.  Any debate with a religious component can be reduced to “well, that’s just what I believe.”  This is perfectly fine if what you believe is determining what you do with your life and your family.  But if you are making decisions that affect other people and their lives, well then, you better have some facts to back it up.

The 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and subsequent statements by several Founding Fathers on the topic suggests that they did not intend religion to be the basis by which laws are made.  You cannot make a law because the Bible (Or Koran, or Tanakh) says x, y, or z.  You have to establish the reason for the law in rational terms, even if your beliefs inform your position. 

Plus religion, especially fundamentalism, stifles free thought.  It teaches people not to dissent, to be part of the flock, to accept questions that have no real answer as “God” or “God’s Will”.  It teaches people not to challenge certain things, but instead to just believe no matter what.  These are not traits conducive to stimulating the intellect.

Nonetheless, I am not trying to be anti-religion.  I believe religion is a path to redemption for many people…in any sense of the word.  And it’s a source of comfort for millions of people.

I also think that anti-intellectualism is more a tool for religious leaders eager to keep their flocks and their funds coming than an actual tenet of any religion.

In fact, all of the major religions have contributed substantially to the history of thought.  Monks preserved the knowledge of the ancient world and educated princes.  Great and revered leaders advanced civilization by challenging the old ways of thinking, from Jesus Christ, to Harun al-Rashid, to Martin Luther.

This type of thinking needs to be brought back to religion.

2. EDUCATION.

Our education system is designed for an industrial workforce.  It promotes discipline, hard work, and acquiescence to authority.  It supports technical learning and even problem solving.  However, it does not advance out-of-the-box, innovative thinking to nearly the same degree.  So in a way, even our education system is anti-intellectual.

And now, even that education system is being cut to the bone.

Austerity–reducing government spending–is an easy selling point for simpletons who seem to believe that leading a global economy is akin to balancing their checkbooks.  (They also seem ready to believe that tax rates are the driving principle behind the economy.)  So we hack and slash at government spending because the numbers are big and big is scary to stupid people.

With American austerity, perpetuated by both major political parties, education is ALWAYS among the first programs to receive cuts.  Our education system, once the best in the entire world, is now middling among modern nations. In 2009, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranked the United States 18th among the 36 nations it studied.  We’ve had even more draconian cuts to education since.

Yet a quality education is not only the best way to ensure equality of opportunity but it also provides an intelligent and informed citizenry.  There was a time when higher education was about more than job training.  College graduates were considered scholarly, at least to a degree, and held in esteem.  They were our thinkers; now they’re just our better trained workers.

Clearly, the proliferation of college graduates has taken some of the luster off of getting a degree.  But universities have also been scrutinized for even trying to challenge traditional thoughts and beliefs.  K-12 schools largely don’t even try.
This is because the promoters of stupidity desire that no school teach students anything that contradicts what their parent or religious leaders have taught them.

I guess they forgot:

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

-1 Peter1:6-7

Of course, education is only responsible for the transmission of our cultural and  intellectual advancements, and the preparation of our youth to compete in the global economy, so maybe I’m just over-hyping its importance.

CONCLUSION.

In the end the promotion of stupidity isn’t usually perpetuated by stupid people.  More often, intelligent people promote stupidity to both take advantage of people susceptible to that and to create a bigger pool from which they can reap benefits.

The real problem isn’t so much that Americans can’t find their hometown on a globe or explain the theory of relativity.  It’s the celebration of that ignorance.  Not only are we happy that we don’t know it, we don’t trust the people who do.

Granted, intelligence is by no means a virtue; but neither is the lack of it.  The virtue lies in maximizing our potential, whatever our capacities.  When Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon, it was the realization of years of work by some of the smartest, most courageous, decent, and (yep) God-fearing people in our nation’s history.

We need to come together like that once again.

And yeah, I suppose there were some dimwits shuffling about during the Apollo 11 moonwalk as well.  I mean, someone had to clean the crappers.

I’m sure they were decent, hardy folk.

‘The Grey’ Starring Middle-Class America

The Grey is an action movie directed by screen-violence virtuoso Joe Carnahan and starring Liam Neeson.  In it, Neeson goes head-to-head with a pack of hungry wolves in a snowy desolate wilderness.  Sound familiar?  Sounds like middle-class America to me, too!

Despite his immense wealth, Liam Neeson feels our pain.

First off, how many among us consider ourselves middle-class? Probably a fair number of us.  Which is why there is always a constant gnashing of teeth in politics about protecting the middle-class.

It’s a waste of breath.  And effort.   Middle-class America is gone.  It has been destroyed–by us–for profit (for a select and very rich few).

So what are all these politicos babbling about?

Well, it sounds nice.  And I guess it makes you seem like the good guy if you’re for the middle class.  But what do they mean when they say middle class?  I never hear politicians or office holders give their interpretation of the term.  I mean, is it a formula (x number of dollars for every adult + y dollars for every child)?  Is it defined by the part of town you live in?  Or which schools your children go to?  It’s never really made clear is it?

I believe middle-class is determined by a family’s (or individual’s) ability to participate in the economy within a certain range.  Yeesh.  I could run for office with that answer.  Let me be more specific.  I would say a family is middle-class when it is able to:

  1. Buy a house – putting at least 20% down and pay the monthly mortgage, maintenance, insurance, appliance and furnishing expenses.
  2. Pay utilities – including monthly bills on gas, water, electricity, trash pick-up, cable, internet (with some kind of accessing device for each member of the household) and cell phone service (with data and messaging).
  3. Buy a car – putting at least 20% down and making the monthly payment as well as gas, insurance, and  maintenance for at least 1 car per household.
  4. Maintain at least 2 credit cards per household without getting buried in debt.
  5. Cover every member of the household with a comprehensive healthcare plan including vision and dental.
  6. Put at least 25% of all monthly income aside for retirement. Anyone retiring in 2012 should have a total net worth of at least $1 million.  Anyone retiring subsequently should increase that minimum at least 3% each year.
  7. Put money aside for college for all children in the household.  With skyrocketing tuition costs it would be nearly impossible to cover the entire cost of college education, but it should at least be enough to make the debt manageable for the graduating student.
  8. Accumulate and maintain at least 6 months income in savings as an emergency fund.
  9. Take 1 vacation per year that includes travel costs, hotel rooms, activities, and meals.
  10. Buy a Starbucks coffee each day and lunch at a restaurant at least twice a week for each working adult.
  11. Have a family event at least once a month (movie, dinner at a restaurant, day at the water park, etc.).

Some people might look at this list and feel I’m being too generous.  But am I?

Hey buddy, a Kia still gets you from Point A to Point B!

There’s nothing on this list about video games or big screen televisions.  I didn’t say the car had to be a Mercedes or the clothes couldn’t come from Walmart.  I didn’t give a minimum star-rating that the restaurants or hotels had to have.  Vacations don’t have to be trips to Paris or even Disneyland.    I didn’t state what kind of neighborhood the house had to be in or how many bedrooms it had to have.

I didn’t say this is what all Americans are owed either.  But I do say that if you cannot afford to do at least 9 of the items on this list–including all of the top 5–without burying yourself in debt, then you cannot consider yourself middle-class.

I’d even take the argument a step further (in the interest of family values) and say ALL of this should be achievable with one adult working full-time or AT MOST one full-time working adult and one working part-time.

It’s not about the specifics so much anyway.  Some of us might want a nicer car or a bigger house or might not like to take vacations.  Those are individual choices.  But if those are choices being made for you because you can’t afford it, you’re on the outside looking in at the middle-class.

Alright, show of hands.  Who among us is really middle-class?

Yeah.  The wolves are closing in.

(Black family image from: http://whatnowatlanta.com/2011/05/23/are-condos-ruining-atlanta/.  50’s family image from:  http://otal.umd.edu/~vg/mssp96/ms01/honr159j.html  No BMW image from: http://www.bmwblog.com/2008/08/01/bmw-x7-canceled-x6-and-7-series-hybrids-are-coming/.  Students at school image from: http://edition.cnn.com/2009/US/03/31/schools.integration/index.html.  Computer devices image from: http://www.sync-blog.com/sync/2011/09/smartphone-tablet-laptop-and-gaming-system-in-one-yes-please.html.  Liam Neeson image from:  http://swipelife.com/2011/02/22/movie-review-unknown/)