The way the system works is as follows: Taxing issues originate in the House of Representatives, the branch of government entrusted with of the nation’s purse strings (Article I, Section 7). Similarly, war must be declared by Congress. (Article I, Section 8.) Before it can be waged, and only when is so waged is the President accorded the title of Commander in Chief. (Article II, Section 2). True, as leader of his party, the President has considerable political sway. But the fact remains that legally he is not empowered to raise or lower taxes or to declare war unilaterally.
And speaking of Ronald Reagan, What was so great about the man? As governor of California, he was the most egregious tax and spend governor in state history. During his tenure as U.S. President, the national debt tripled from a mere $1000 billion to $300 trillion (rounded off in 2010 dollars), so it's quite likely that all the economic growth he allegedly spurred was due not to tax cuts, as fiscal conservatives would have it, but by lavishly borrowing to pay for it. Nor was the size of the government cut, as he had promised to do. Actually, it grew 2.5% a year. Furthermore, his second term was marked by banking scandals, recession, support of dictators, military intervention in democratically elected nations, and outright treason (the Iran Contra Affair). Yet, he got away with it all. Not for nothing he was dubbed the "Teflon President"--the studied charm of the professional Hollywood actor--.
Nor did force the economic collapse of the Soviet Union with his Star War Spending. The Soviet Union had been collapsing since the days of Breznev in the 1960's when in effect the Russian Mafia took over the Soviet government. When Reagan told Gorbachev to "tear down this wall," Gorbachev had already agreed to tear it down. I was all theatrics. Again the Hollywood actor seizing the moment.
Toward the end of his term was the onset Alzheimer's disease. History will not absolve Ronald Reagan. After his die-hard idolatrers pass on, we can be sure that he will not be ranked along with Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln as one of our great Presidents. And by association whatever legacy Michele Bachmann leaves behind will be sorely diminished for donning "The Reagan Mantel."
As the iconic Argentine short-story writer and poet, Jorge Luis Borges, once noted: “Democracy is the abuse of statistics.”
Particularly grating was Liz Chaney’s argument that the U.S. Military must stay the course that the troops killed in battle did not die in vain. How long this staying the course would go on, she did not say, but common sense alone would indicate that the more troops killed, the more staying required, until the nation ran out of soldiers. Her reasoning being particularly grating, because her father Dick, former Vice President under George W. Bush, wrangled a deferment from serving in Vietnam, claiming he had “better things to do. President Bush himself avoided the war by securing, through his family influence, a safe commission in the Texas National Guard.
And much the same holds true for media celebrities like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity. Gung-ho on war, but leaving it to lesser types to do the dying and killing--our All-American Chicken Hawks.
A physician by profession (In his day medicine and law were the only respectful professions in Latin America) the Argentine born Ernesto “Che” Guevara bore no love for family, commitment to his profession, or allegiance to any particular nation or culture. His attitude toward the masses was one of total contempt. Riding in the motorcade with Castro in celebration of the triumphant 26 of July Revolution, he regarded the welcoming crowds lining the streets of Havana Revolution as African rabble, and in his travels through Latin America before teaming up with Fidel in Mexico, he regarded the native Andean Indians as savages. (The moniker he gave himself, “Che,” is Argentine slang for “pal.” or “buddy”.)
As one of the sixteen survivors, along with Fidel and Fidel’s brother Raul, of the counter attack by government forces that lay waiting for them, El Che quickly devised a way of training new recruits. Unlike a well-organized armed force, the U.S. Marines, for example, where recruits are systematically trained in boot camps, the surviving rebels had to train their recruits on the field. This El Che did by trumping up a charge of treason against some dirt-poor famer or nerdy recruit, and then ordering the recruits in training to execute them, which, El Che figured, was sure to harden them for the struggle ahead.
El Che, moreover, had taken delight in watching the executions. Later through the window of his office overlooking the courtyard of the old Spanish fort La Cabaña, he would spend hours watching executions, shades of the Nazi sadist Reinhard Heydrick.Years later, one of the members of the firing squads, a neighbor of mine in Havana, unable to bear the guilt, committed suicide.
Though he knew not a thing about banking, El Che also assumed the role of president of the national bank and nearly ruined the Cuban economy. Clearly, the internationalist non-Cuban Argentine, had become a thorn on the side of the nationalist leader Fidel Castro. Fidel was only too glad to get rid of El Che’s by financing his fanatical venture to save South America and in time the rest of the world.
Problem is that the nation still needs a government to conduct its legitimate business, and, no matter how lean it is rendered, million, trillions in revenues will be required to keep it running. So where will the revenues come from? Surely not from more borrowing or printing worthless money. And surely not by raising taxes. If the economy is not growing—in fact, it’s shrinking—then it’s a no-brainer that taking more money out the economy would be counterproductive.
But on the tax-revenue side of the equation Congressman Ryan’s plan is not convincing. Banking on the old Reaganomics theory that by simply lowering taxes for businesses and the well-to-do, the Congressman assumes that the economy will automatically grow, and, despite the lower tax rate, the actual volume of taxes paid will increase, thereby providing the government with the necessary revenue to function without having to go into debt.
But did Reaganomics ever work? (See Post, “The Reagan Myth.”) What historical or empirical evidence does the Congressman have that entrusting the nation’s economy wholesale to the private sector would balance the budget and put the economy back on track to prosperity? What assurances can he give us that none of the tax savings bestowed on businesses and the well-to-do won’t be spent on foreign business ventures, stashed away in Caribbean banks, blown in quick-buck, job-destroying buy-outs and mergers, or gambled away in convoluted Wall Street schemes? Would government funding of the arts, say, be less productive employment-wise than lowering taxes for Wall Street speculators? Recall that it was the too-big-to-fail highr ollers of Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Countrywide, et. al., not government spending alone, that triggered the current economic meltdown. To turn over the solution of the problem to those who were largely responsible for creating the problem in the first place is sheer folly.
Wholesale lowering of taxes for small business could be even more counterproductive. According to most conservative estimate, 50 % of small business in American fail or close within five years, and the main reason they do is that many of the folks who start them have no entrepreneurial instincts or skills to speak of. Too many of them are driven to go into business for themselves out of desperation, having lost or fearing they will lose their well-paying jobs and never again being able to find a comparable one. Others are or moved by a self-fulfilling desire to sell a product dear to their hearts but not much in demand, like opening book stores and novelty shops in places where few people read and are short of cash.
So whether the bounty of Congressman Ryan’s proposed tax breaks goes to large or small business, there is always a good chance that much of it would be wasted. Every effort therefore must be made to assure that it gets into the right hands in the private sector. The political fallout of identifying and excluding non-productive enterprises would, of course, be huge, but it must be done if the tax cuts proposed are to have the intended effects. And, it would be unwise, not say downright stupid, to assume that the competition-driven private sector will self-regulate. Ethics is not a key word in a hyper competitive culture where good guys tend to finish last. Laws must be passed and impartial agencies empowered to assure that the fair-play necessary for the “invisible hand’ of free markets, as Adam Smith envisioned it, can work its magic--which brings us full circle back to the role government and the problem of keeping it well funded. Too many cuts in the wrong places and too indiscriminate lowering of taxes for business and the well-to-do would be as catastrophic as a spiraling budget deficit.
Then, too, there is the time-lag factor. Even if every tax-break and subsidy were employed by businesses with one-hundred percent efficiency, it would take many years, decades in some cases, to gear up and make enough profits to contribute significantly to tax revenues. Requiring the already overtaxed taxpayers to bear the cost of breaks and subsidies to such businesses is akin to asking investors to make an investment that could only pay off at an uncertain rate sometime in the distant future. By that time, older taxpayers making the sacrifice would be in the ranks of the destitute, or names in long-forgotten obituaries.
Congressman Ryan is an intelligent and honest man, not your run-of the mill Politician. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich was out of line calling the Congressman's budget plan "right wing social engineering." But before he presses on with his plan the Congressman should mull it over in greater depth.
The man was a sex addict of the first order. He was given to sexual orgies with prostitutes whom he enjoyed beating up. According to Ralph Abernathy, MLK had spent the night before he was shot in one such orgy. Herman Cain and Dominique Strauss-Kahn come across as choir boys by comparison.
That such a person has been accorded a national holiday and has streets, schools, parks and libraries named after him is an unspeakable abomination. Though he did not possess a silver tongue like MLK’s, the Rev. Medgars Evers, assassinated in 1964, would have made a deserving martyr.
The great Negro leaders of the past—Fredrick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. Dubois, all of whom wrote their own material, would be turning in their graves had they known of the honor that that the future generation would accord to a fraud like MLK.
Time to restore the great American Presidents carved on Mount Rushmore to their rightful place on the national calendar. MLK is nowhere, nowhere at all in the same league with them.
For those in Group 2, the word “capitalism” invokes a hellish world of greed, injustice, exploitation, corruption, pollution, dog-eat-dog competition, job outsourcing, unemployment, and overall self-destruction. Now if folks in Group 1 were to open their minds a mite and look beyond our borders, they would learn that that the freest, most democratic, most productive, least corrupt nations with the highest standard of living and lowest unemployment rate in the world are, by definition, socialistic. Notable among them are Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands. Their stats can be readily had on the Internet. And should they take a closer look at our own United States, they would realize that many of our cherished institutions—the National Park Service, the Armed Forces, the various law-enforcement agencies, the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, to name some— are wholly financed by taxpayer dollars, managed exclusively by the Federal Government and, thus, one-hundred percent socialistic. By the same token, if the folks in Group 2 were to remove their blinders, they would see that free-market capitalism, as envisioned by Adam Smith in his iconic The Wealth of Nations is the engine that generates our material well-being and, thereby, frees us to realize our dreams, “the pursuit of happiness,” as edited in by Benjamin Franklin in" Thomas Jefferson's original version of the Declaration of Independence. (The same year, 1776, that The Wealth of Nations was published.)
But deep-rooted biases, alas, are hard to change. Which brings us to Group 3. Folks in this group believe that the truth, if there be such, lies somewhere between the extremes of the other two groups. It is for these folks—call them free-thinkers, skeptics, cynics, mavericks, fence-straddlers, whatever you wish—that this blog is written. Comments and contributions, pro, con and neutral, are welcomed.
The above part of the blog blog pertains to current events. The second
part is written for future generations, as an account of what things were like, in the opinion of the author, in 2011 America.
(From Substitute Teaching in Alexandria, Virginia)by C.F. Navarro
When I was a college student in the 1960’s, school-of-education courses were notorious for their lack of academic rigor. Professors in other departments mocked them, and liberal arts students looking for easy credits took them as electives. "Mickey Mouse” was what everybody called those courses.
Though I never enrolled in an education course, years later, as a professor and supervisor of student teachers at three universities, I did sit in on several that my students were required to take, and I saw for myself that the disparaging things said about them were largely true. I recall, for instance, one three-credit course on how to ventilate a classroom, arrange bookshelves and operate an overhead projector. The widely held notion that public school teachers go into teaching because they are incapable of doing anything else, no doubt originated with former college students and professors in other fields who remember those "Mickey Mouse" courses. And from what I hear, not much has changed since.
Back in the 1960’s, and in the good old days before that, the level of instruction dispensed by school-of-education-trained teachers in the U.S. may have been good enough for the majority of students who upon graduation from high school could readily find steady and life-long employment in semiskilled trades. Many did not even need to graduate. A rudimentary knowledge of the three R’s, if that, was all then required. But times have changed. Teachers bound to the traditional school-of-education “Mickey Mouse” fare lack the intellectual range and depth to prepare students for today’s, high-tech job market. And the same goes for the principals, administrators, counselors, and the slew of specialists running our public schools
The problem is especially bad at the elementary level. Elementary school teachers have to take so many education courses--40 percent of their total undergraduate credit hours on average--that most come out of college no better educated in the core academic subjects than community college graduates. Less gracious critics claim that on the average the educational level of elementary school teachers is no higher than that of a middling high school sophomore. Most, to be sure put in long hours nights and weekends preparing classes and do a great job decorating their classrooms. But intellectually speaking, very few measure up.
Consider the trouble so many American high school students of normal intelligence are having learning math. On average, only 25 percent of Alexandria public school seniors score at a proficiency level on national tests, and that despite all-out effort by schools to teach them, not math, but how to take the test.
Our school officials attribute this mass failure to the fact that our schools nowadays serve a disproportionate number of disadvantaged students A lame excuse. The truly disadvantaged are exempt from taking the tests. It's the average student who are making those low scores. The root of the problem really lies in the fact that most of our elementary school teachers do not know their math well enough to give their students the foundation and encouragement they need to master the subject in the higher grades. With few exceptions all the ones I know openly confess that the reason they majored in education (as their low SAT and GRE math scores reflect) was they were never any good at math. They so fear and hate math that they subconsciously, or perhaps deliberately, project their bias onto their students by watering down the subject under the guise of making it “fun.” Predictably, by the time their students reach middle school a good many likewise fear and hate math.
And pretty much the same holds true for science, (only 18 percent of high school seniors in the U.S. score at proficiency level) and, though to lesser degree, for language arts and social studies as well. It’s a no-brainer that if elementary school teachers were better versed in the core academic subjects, many of the learning problems and educational deficiencies plaguing school students today would not exist.
Our Aexandria schools have tried to patch up the problem with "resource teachers," specialists to whom students are sent for instruction that their regular classroom teacher cannot provide them. Thought this is better than nothing, it's not good enough, for much of the kids’ school day is wasted day shuttling back and forth between classrooms. Most of those resources teachers, moreover, are not all that knowledgeable, having received but a superficial, cursory training in how to teach their subject, rather than taking legitimate college-level courses in the subject itself.
That as many as half of engineering and science students enrolled in American universities are foreign born and educated because our high school graduates lack the interest or cannot make the grade, is not only a national shame, but a major detriment to our economic competitiveness and, possibly, to our national security. Some of those students will remain in the U.S and become loyal citizens, but many others will return to their home country, taking their skills with them, and, in short order, developing their own universities, continue on its downward spiral vis à vis the rest of the world. But the fixing cannot be entrusted to those who created the mess in the first place and have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
Our public education offering, not just here in Alexandria, but everywhere in America needs fixing, and soon. The so-called improvements served up every couple of years are but rehashing of failed policies and strategies harking back 60, 70 years under a different jargon.
Time has come to scrap the "Mickey Mouse" undergraduate education program and require the new generation of teachers to earn a bona fide B.A. or M.A. degree. The art of how-to-manage a classroom can best be learned on the job and through informal consultation with experienced colleagues. “Operation Phoenix” would be an apt name for the radical change needed.
There is solid historic proof that free-market capitalism is the greatest known engine for economic growth and social prosperity. But the usual portrayal of corporate founders and CEO’s as risk-taking drivers of free-market capitalism is bogus. Private owners and partners of business enterprises are, without question, risk-taking entrepreneurs in the true sense of the word. If their businesses tank, their creditors can lay claim to their personal assets—home, car, bank account—as well as to their physical plant, equipment and inventories. They stand to lose the proverbial shirt off their backs.
Corporations were invented to avoid such risks. Constituted as separate legal entities, their creditors and investors, should the enterprise go belly, cannot lay claim to the personal assets of their founders or CEO’s, no matter how inept or imprudent they might have been. So, in effect, they take no risks, and lose little except, perhaps, their jobs and professional reputation, which can be easily regained if they had cultivated the right connections, which is often the case. Not surprisingly, most business, gigantic, small and everything in between, tend to be incorporated. Free-market votaries who deem Socialism a dirty word, might considered that the low risk, government-protected corporations that rule the world today are, at bottom, Socialistic enterprises under a different name.
The United States of American is the only nation in the developed world that burdens employers with providing health care for their employees, a practice that harks back to World War II. Because most young able-bodied men and women at the time were serving in the military, there was a severe shortage of labor throughout the nation, particularly in the manufacturing sector. So to attract workers business came up with the idea of offering health coverage as a perk. After the war ended the labor force came home, but the health insurance perk, by now an un-negotiable item in labor union contracts, had become too entrenched to be discontinued.
The high cost of private health insurance in the United States—the premiums plus the loads of paperwork involved--can be relatively easy to cover by multi-million dollar corporations. But for small business it can be a killer. Even in the best of times, much less in today’s protracted economic recession, most small business (1 to 100 employees) just can’t earn enough to keep up with the ever rising premiums exacted by insurance companies , employ the extra clerical staff needed to do the paperwork, and still cover the normal cost of running their business. Stats show that some 50% to 70% of small business in the United States fail or close within five years, and though no official explanation is given for it, one obvious reason is the health insurance burden placed on them.
Western Europe, by contrast, abounds with small businesses, some mere mom and pop shops and eateries, which have been around for decades, largely because their owners don’t have to worry about health insurance for their employees or for themselves. That cost is covered entirely by their governments. Sure, they have to pay taxes for it, but their tax burden, shared as it is with millions of their fellow citizens, is miniscule compared to the cost of private health plans in the United States.
Free-market advocates never tire of reminding us that small businesses are the main source of employment in this country. Well, one sure way to help our small businesses thrive and bring down the nation’s high unemployment rate would be by unburdening small businesses of private health insurance and adopting socialized medicine like the rest of the developed world.
In promoting the measure, its advocates could not call it socialized medicine, of course, for the word socialism has an undemocratic, unpatriotic, un-Godly ring in the ears of true-blood Americans. They would at first have to give it a different name, with an easy to remember acronym, like, say, Subsidized Medical Assistance (SUMA), or some other, vague, non-offensive moniker, until voters embrace the idea and have no reservations about calling it by its right name.
Macroeconomics 101 texts warn students to guard against the post hoc ergo propter hocfallacy, the false assumption that because one event occurred before another event, the first event caused the second event. The notion that the economic prosperity of the 1980’s was triggered by the Reagan’s tax cuts offers a good example. After the cuts went into effect, unemployment did indeed fall, from 7.6% when Reagan took office, to 5.5%, and the GDP grew 32%, from $4.1 trillion to $5.4.
But what really made that possible were the strict Keynesian measures implemented by Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volker to check the 13% inflation triggered caused by the Vietnam War and the Great Society spending of previous administrations. By raising interest rates and drastically reducing the money supply, by creating, in effect, an inflation-busting recession, at the height of which employment reached 9.7%, Volker brought inflation down to a sound 2.2%, thereby setting the table for Reaganomics.
Another factor that Reagan votaries neglect to mention is that while cutting taxes on the one hand, Reagan disproportionately increased spending on the other. During his eight-year term in office, the national debt grew 18%, at a greater rate than under any president since (though under Barack Obama the debt is on course to break that record.) So the other side of the ledger shows that the economic growth attributed to Reagan’s free-market boosting tax costs was in large measure financed by government deficit spending.
As governor of California, Ronald Reagan was notorious for his propensity to tax and spend. During his eight-year term as governor (1967-1975) the sate budget was balanced, not by cutting taxes and spending, as he had promised, but by promoting the highest tax hike in California history. Not until he was elected President and came under the influence of his supply-side economic advisor, Arthur Laffer, did Ronald Reagan became a true believer in advocating for tax cuts.
Also unfounded is the notion that Reagan won the Cold War. His famous “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” speech was all theatrics, a performance worthy of the Hollywood actor that he had been before entering politics. Gorbachev had already informed Reagan, months in advance, that he was planning to dismantle the Soviet Union, which had long been deteriorating under its own dead weight. So Reagan did not make history that day. He just happened to be in the right time and place when history was being made, and seized the moment to aggrandize his image.
Nor was Ronald Reagan the God-fearing man that conservative Christians think His occasional church attendance was also an act. (As was the case with Bill Clinton and many other politicians.) And unlike the “buck-stops- here” Harry Truman, the arm-twisting Lyndon Johnson, and the micromanaging Jimmy Carter, President Ronald Reagan tended to relegate the grind of governing to his advisors and staff. Actually, he was more of a figurehead, a ceremonial presence, than a chief executive—which explains why he was able to distance himself from the many scandals that marred his presidency. Though over 130 administration officials were investigated and many convicted for violation of national or international law, Reagan in each case was absolved from blame by swearing under oath that he was unaware of what his underlings were up to. Not for nothing did the news media dubbed him “the Teflon President.”
Egregious among those scandals was the illegal sale of weapons to Iran, an enemy nation, under the pretext of trading arms for American hostages, and the proceeds channeled to guerillas mercenaries, the Contras, fighting to overthrow the Communist regime of Nicaragua. One of the players in the covert deal, Colonel Oliver North declared years later that the Reagan had been duly briefed and given his approval. Another player in the scandal, Robert McFarlane, tried to commit suicide. Had Reagan been a hands-on leader and owned up to his administration’s failings, he would not be the mythical figure that he has become.
During his last year in office, at age 76, Reagan waxed even more aloof, often turning off his hearing aid and dozing off in cabinet meetings, a symptom of his advancing Alzheimer’s disease. But by then it didn’t matter, as the business of governing had been discretely assumed by his wife Nancy and his close advisers.
Ronald Reagan, to be sure, was a likeable, charismatic fellow, a poster figure of the red-blooded American. His upbeat press conferences and speeches were a welcome change from the negative moralizing of his Born Again Christian predecessor. But the notion that he was one of our great presidents, worthy of a place on Mt. Rushmore, is totally groundless.
But even if Ronald Reagan was the great man that his votaries claim, he is ancient history. The world has changed radically since he occupied the White House. In his day, Communist China and Brazil were still underdeveloped nations, the European Union did not exist, and, except for the surging Japanese auto industry, the American economy had no foreign economic competition or entanglements to speak of. Even if Reagan’s supply-side model worked wonders back then, in today’s global economy that model is not just wrong, it’s irrelevant.
The complex problems facing our nation in this new century call for fresh ideas and solutions, not hero worship.
Is the U.S. Crumbling from Within?
Since the collapse of the Soviet Empire, Russian professor Igor Panarin has been predicting that the 50-state American nation, a de facto empire of culturally and politically clashing regions, will likewise collapse, as it was on the verge of doing prior to the Civil War.
The concern that something like this might happened harks back to the very birth of the Nation. In making his case for a strong central government at the 1787 Constitutional Convention, New York delegate Alexander Hamilton, arguing against Virginia anti-Union advocate George Mason (who refused to sign the Constitution), held that a dissolution of the Union into thirteen independent states or three or four distinct confederacies, would not only result in inner strife, but also render the nation defenseless against economic and military aggression from Britain, Spain and France, the major powers at the time. Seven score and seven years later Abraham Lincoln preserved the Union, but only at the point of a gun. And judging by the deepening divisiveness throughout the nation in our day, it would appear that Lincoln's Union didn't quite take.
Consider the growing support for the Alaska Independence Party, the Hawaiian Independence Party, the New England Independence Movement, the South Carolina League of the South, the Free Texas Republic, the Free California Republic of northern California and Oregon, the Cascadia Republic of northwestern states and western Canada, among other lesser known yet equally serious secession movements troughout the country.
Witness further the growing number of reactionary militias, “common law” courts and street gangs; the lingering racial and ethnic divide; the mistrust of government at all levels; the losing war on drugs; the out-of-control influx of illegal immigrants; the costly, open-ended trillion dollar wars on terror; the twisting of the letter and spirit of the Constitution; the Tea Party discontent; the widening rift between Republicans and Democrats, and among Republicans and Democrats themselves; thecall for a second Constitutional convention; the claiming of Federal land by states; the dismal failure of K-12 public education; the virtual collapse of the financial system; the unbridled dishonesty and greed of Wall Street; the worsening unemployment; the bursting college tuition bubble; the deepening housing crisis; the disconnect between the global stock market and the national economy; the spiking of the national debt, the proliferation of parasitical lawyers; the sway of talk-show entertainers masquerading as sages; the increasing accusations of election fraud-- among other signs of political and social cracking at the seams. So maybe Professor Igor Panarin is not the crank that he appears to be.
Congressman’s Paul Ryan’ plan to privatize Medicare would not only relieve the young and healthy of the burden of subsidizing the spiraling health costs of the old and frail, but it would spawn a new free-market, job-producing, economy-boosting service industry.
Mr. Ryan’s plan, in a nutshell, is as follows: Starting in 2022 eligible beneficiaries would receive a subsidy to purchase health insurance in the open market. Though the subsidy would cover only about one fourth of the cost, the rest would be covered out of pocket by the beneficiaries themselves. However, by negotiating with competing insurance companies, the beneficiaries could significantly reduce their share of the costs.
But because many elderly folk are not physically or mentally hale enough to spend long hours poring over the daunting legalese of insurance contracts, nor would family or friends, even if they were willing, have the spare time to help out, trained specialists would be need to do the negotiating for them. The income-tax-preparing business would serve as a good model for this new industry. When problems become too complex, create a new breed of experts to deal with them.
Of course, the elderly ill, many of whom are at or near poverty level, would somehow have to scrape up the money to pay for the services of the insurance experts, in addition to their regular insurance premiums. Maybe they can borrow the money, if they can find a lender. Some would just have to suck it up and learn to live out their short lease on life with their illness. But that’s another issue.
Public education her in Alexandria, Virginia and throughout most of America is hopelessly broken. For the past 30 or so years everything imaginable has been tried and retried to fix it, but nothing has worked. High-sounding titles and jargon is all we have to show for the billions of taxpayer dollars thrown at the problem-- No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, special ed., bilingual ed., English as a second language, mainstreaming, inclusion, differentiation, reading specialists, resource teachers, whole language, cooperative learning, integrated curriculum, flexible groupings, the new math, the new grammar, conflict resolution, state standardized testing, magnet schools, charter schools, talented and gifted programs, afterschool programs, preschool programs, free lunch program, rubrics, and so on and on.
Yet according to the latest international rankings, American middle-schoolers came in 31st in key subjects like math and science, about the same as 30 years ago. The students ranked were representative groups from the top of their classes in their respective nations. Had students in general been included, our representative group would have ranked even lower. Many, in fact, graduate from high school unable to read and compute above a fourth-grade level, if that.
So what can American parents do to assure that their kids get the basic education they will need to compete in today’s global job market? One option is to enroll them in private schools. But not many parents could afford that. Besides, the quality of education offered in most private schools is not that great either. For the average American family the best option by far is homeschooling.
Now it’s no surprise that the growing popularity of homeschooling has elicited vehement opposition among public school teachers, education professors, teacher unions, school boards, state, local and Federal educrats, and others with vested interests in maintaining the status quo.
Their usual anti-homeschooling tirade goes something like this: Homeschooling is a sham, inferior, unnatural, off-the-wall kind of do-it-yourself instruction loosely stitched-together by religious recluses and social misfits incapable of coping with the traditional, time-tested, offering of public education. Common sense alone shows that in order to learn, develop and become socialized to their full potential, children must be taught by certified teachers in resource-rich schools and classrooms where they can interact, cooperate, and exchange ideas with large groups of peers.
Well, to begin with, the pro-public school folks, got their historical sequence backwards. American public schools as they exist today are a relatively recent development. Conceived in the 1880s to acculturate working-class immigrants and prepare them for factory employment, the schools were modeled like assembly lines in which students were grouped by age, instructed according to a regular, prescribed schedule, and processed uniformly from grade to grade. And to this day, nothing has changed.
Before that time, the typical American school was a small one-room affair serving no more than 20 students of mixed ages, the older ones helping the younger, each learning at his or her own pace, under the supervision of a single teacher independent of administrative higher-ups. The school master or mistress on those days was usually the best educated and highly respected member of the community. In sparsely populated rural areas kids were taught at home by itinerant tutors or, if none could be had, by family members or neighbors. Among the wealthy, the usual form of education for children under 12, and often into adulthood, was homeschooling.
Notable homeschooled Americans, to name but a few, include: William Penn, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, George Mason, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Robert E. Lee, Clara Barton Susan B. Anthony, Theodore Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson. The lives and works of these great public figures soundly debunk the pet socialization argument of the anti-homeschooling advocates. Surely none can be accused of having being timid, reclusive, misfits.
The notion that unsocialized kids sequestered all day in a classroom with other equally unsocialized peers will somehow socialize one another, is ludicrous. And the same goes with the notion that such kids can enlighten one another by thrashing among themselves opinions on subjects of which they know nothing about. Much like those notable homeschoolers of past generations, homeschoolers today tend to spend much of their time listening to adults who know their stuff, running errands with their parents, helping out in the family business, interacting with people of all persuasions and ages, as well as with peers. All the ones I’ve met are active in the Boy Scouts, athletic teams, bands, theater, and other peer groups. None that I’ve heard of are locked up in closets or otherwise cut off from the real world. Though I have no hard stats to prove it, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that incidents of violence, drug addiction, bullying, rape, depression, unwanted pregnancies and other such pathological problems are on average, far less prevalent in homeschools than in the best of public schools.
Also self-debunking is notion that only certified public school teachers are qualified to educate children. Elementary public school teachers in America generally are not much better educated in the core subjects than a high school sophomore. Most of their formal college education consists of courses in crowd control and teaching methodology. In effect, they are a throwback to the 1880’s when a rudimentary knowledge of the three R’s was all they needed to instruct future factory workers. Though, sad to say, many certified teachers today don’t even know their Three R’s.
Teaching a child one-one, adjusting to his or her learning rhythm as the instruction progresses, comes quite naturally to any parent, relative or neighbor of normal maturity and intelligence. A legitimate college education is preferable but not necessary for homeschooling children. A year’s worth of educational materials and background information for the tutor can be had for less than the cost of a NFL game ticket, or once the tutor gets the hang of it, from the Internet or the public library as the need arises. And baby-sitting for the kids when not being tutored usually poses no problem as most homeschooling families either have a stay-at-home parent or guardian, take turns with the kids, or share baby-sitting time with other homeschooling families. They don’t need the all-day baby-sitting service of public schools.
Another advantage of homeschooling is that much more can be accomplished in one hour of distraction-free individualized instruction than in six hours of fits and starts in a typically crowded and often disruption- prone classroom. The reason why public school students are assigned homework is that the only way most can learn is by working alone or, if necessary, with someone’s help in the privacy of their room. In effect, by homeschooling.
Note also how the jargonized programs listed at the beginning of this blog—flexible groupings, differentiation, integrated curriculum, talented and gifted, special ed.—betray the fact that the powers-that-be in public education are aware that the assembly-line model designed to mass-produce interchangeable factory workers in the 1880’s, doesn’t work with modern-day kids of diverse abilities and backgrounds. To their credit, the powers-that-be have tried to correct the problem, but hidebound as they are to that obsolete model, they can’t.
To clinch the point I wished to make, I close with a partial list of other notable homeschoolers in American and world history: Andrew Carnegie, Walt Whitman, Louisa May Alcott, Mark Twain, Willa Cather, Robert Frost, the Wright Brothers, Thomas Edison, Willa Cather, William Blake, Charles Dickens, John Stuart Mill, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Blaise Pascal, Leonardo da Vinci, King James I, Alexander the Great, Socrates, Buddha, Moses. The proof is in the pudding.
Signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935, the Social Security Act was one of the cleverest Congressional decisions in American history. The Act not only offered a measure of confidence to a nation in the throes of the Great Depression, but also provided the Federal Government with a politically safe way to finance other unrelated and less popular programs.
As the dean of capitalism, Adam Smith, explained: Every new tax is immediately felt more or less by the people. It occasions always some murmur, and meets with some opposition [The man was a master at understatement] . . . To borrow of a sinking fund is always an obvious and easy expedient for getting out of the present difficulty. The Wealth of Nations Book Five, Chapter Three.
The U.S. Social Security fund is that kind of expedient sinking fund. By setting the cash-in age at 65, when the life expectancy of the average American worker was 62, assured that at least one half of contributors died before they could claim benefits, and the other half would die soon after. So there would always be plenty of money in the fund to pay benefits and also for the government to garner money without having to raise taxes .
But now that the life-expectancy of the average American is 76, the cash-in age of 65 is bankrupting the fund. To replenish the fund so it can continue to pay benefits and also for the government to continue “borrowing” from it, the cash-in age must be raised, not to 70, as re-election sensitive members of Congress timidly suggest, but to 80. Moreover, either the payments or the borrowing or both will need to be trimmed back until the fund is adequately replenished.
Problem is that contributors to the fund will be compelled to keep on working until well into their 70’s, which few will be able to do, not necessarily for health reasons—many at that age still being capable of holding a full-time job—but because most employers are reluctant to retain workers, or hire new ones, once they reach middle-age. Though technically illegal, age discrimination is standard practice in the American workplace. Barring a stroke of genius on the part of our leaders, the only viable solution at this juncture is to privatize Social Security, as some economists have been suggesting for the past ten years. Let the worker buy his or her individual retirement plan, and the Government create another slush fund to covertly finance unpopular programs—bribes to friendly dictators, for example—without having to raise taxes. The poor who can't afford an individual retire plan would have to find some other way of coping.
Why did we let Osama Bin Laden escape when we had him trapped in Tora Bora in 2002? And why didn’t we capture or kill him when we always had intelligence of his whereabouts? Because we needed him to justify our open-ended “war on terror.”
The Al Qaeda, or "Foundation," organized by Osama bin Laden from a force he led of foreign Muslim volunteers fighting on the side of the native Afhan Mudajideen against the Soviet puppet government of Afghanistan in the 1980's (and supported by the U.S.) operates as a network of small, mobile cells, ideological united but strategically disconnected from each other. Capture members of one cell and no amount of interrogation can extract from them reliable information on the whereabouts or the next move of other cells. And because their weaponry and methods of combat are so simple—roadside bombs hidden in trash, brainwashed, adrenalin-drugged suicide bombers—their fighters could just as readily be trained in Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia, the jungles of Bolivia or in abandoned warehouses in Gary, Indiana. Recall how two homeless misfits terrorized Virginia, Maryland and DC for weeks with nothing more than a deer rifle and an old car.
Recall further that none of the 9/11 terrorists were Iraqi or Afghan. Of the 19, 15 were citizens of Saudi Arabia, a staunch U.S. ally. They got all the training they needed by taking a few classes in commercial flight schools in California, Florida and Arizona. None could be called a professional soldier in the true sense of the word. The alleged architect of the attack, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is a Pakistani engineering graduate of North Carolina State University. That the terrorist managed to bring down the Twin Towers and murder nearly 3,000 Americans was for them a stroke of luck, an achievement far beyond their capabilities and expectations.
So had Osama Bin Laden been captured or killed early on, some other charismatic figure waiting in the wings would have taken his place, and the conflict would have raged on, in Afghanistan, some other part of the world, or here at home. We then would have been compelled to admit that we have taken on a hydra monster that cannot be destroyed militarily, as we did Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in World War II. Absurd though it may seem, a healthy, mighty Osama Bin Laden, real or imagined, was a key asset in our war against terror. Fidel Castro and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might have had a point when they jested that Bin Laden was a CIA agent.
So why did we wait until now to kill him? Because our leaders have finally realize that the ten-year war in Afghanistan is going nowhere; that the average American has grown sick of the war; that we can't continue squandering trillions of precious dollars on a lost cause; that it's high time to declare whatever it was we accomplished in Afghanistan a victory and bring our troops home; that in these hard, divisive times we need a some heartening news to re-unite the nation; and, reversing the logic of our earlier policy, that a dead Osama Bin Laden is more valuable to us now than a live one.
Yet, by nearly bankrupting America, as he did the mighty Soviet Union, his game plan all along, it was Osama bin Landen who won in the end.
With all due respect to you Mr. President, the surge of your so-called “good war” in Afghanistan has degenerated into a chaos of bloodshed that can only get worse. Your apologists' excuse that most civilian casualties are being inflicted by local insurgents may be factually correct, but it's not convincing. Were these local insurgents killing each other at such an alarming rate before the surge started? No. It was the surge that fueled the violence. Small wonder that war-weary civilians, the great majority of the Afghan people, loathe us Americans. Time to cut and run, Mr. President. Time to bring our troops home, and with them the billions of dollars and all the other valuable resources we are squandering in that tragic corner of the world.
Why did we invade Afghanistan and Iraq to begin with? Why don’t we declare the killing of Osama bin Laden a victory and bring all our troops home from both fronts? Why continue sacrificing our brave soldiers, displacing and killing tens of thousands of innocent civilians, inciting sectarian violence, shoving our cultural values down other people’s throats, wasting billions in bribes to corrupt foreign officials, incurring the anger and disrespect of the rest of the world, when it is obvious that our so-called War on Terror cannot be won militarily? Haven’t we seen by now that the only way to fight the low-tech, small-cell terrorism waged by Al Qaeda and other such groups is to turn over the problem to the FBI, Homeland Security or, more effective yet, to local police departments?
On the face of it, it would seem that our leaders in Washington are either crazy, blind or very stupid. But that’s not likely. There has to be logical explanation why they insist on fighting the War on Terror indefinitely. Savvy thinkers throughout history have noted that, stripped of all political, ideological, patriotic, religious and such high-minded rationalizations, the real reason behind wars is economic: The powerful want something that the less- powerful have but are unwilling to relinquish by diplomatic means, bribes, or threats, so the more powerful find some pretext, or create one if necessary, to take what they want by force. You can wager, then, that there are powerful people, or groups of people, in the U.S. and abroad, who stand to profit hugely by our “staying the course” in Afghanistan and Iraq. So instead of racking our brains trying to make sense out of those seemingly senseless wars, we might do as the savvy suggest and simply follow the money.
Take a close look at the videos of Osama Bin Laden wielding a K-47. The 12 lb. weapon is heavy in his hands, the image of a big but frail man, suffering from kidney failure, some sources say, not at all the guerilla warrior who, ever on the move, scaled mountains and lived in caves, as Al Qaeda propagandists, following his directions, portrayed him. The only hiding place for a man in his condition was a fixed facility with basic material comforts and ready access to medical assistance. And being the wily man the he was, the location he chose for his hideout was next door to Pakistan’s elite military academy and a short driving distance from the nation’s capital, a place too conspicuous to arouse suspicion (a ruse reminiscent of Poe’s detective story, “The Purloined Letter”). When our Navy Seals stormed the hideout, it was unlikely that the frail Bin Laden would put up much a fight. He knew he was marked for killing from the start, and was ready for martyrdom.
So, why then, was he so valuable to Al Qaeda? He did found Al Qaeda when he was a young and hale fighter against the Soviets in Afghanistan 25 years ago. But why didn’t he, for the good of his organization, later cede power to an equally zealous but physically more imposing leader? Because the organization needed his financing genius. Not only could he raise more than enough funds to support terrorist cells throughout the world, but, most important, he had learned how to bankrupt a military superior enemy into defeat. When leading the volunteer Afghan Arabs, later re-organized by him as Al Qaeda, foreigners who had come to Afghanistan to fight on the side of the native Mujahideen rebelling against the Soviet puppet government in the 1980’s, Bin Laden saw the cost-benefit of frequent, well- orchestrated hit-and-run attacks. For every thousand rubles spent on an attack, he reckoned, the retaliation would cost the Soviets millions. After nine unrelenting years of such attacks, the Soviets finally went bankrupt and were forced to quit the war. Bin Laden was said to boast later that it was he, not Ronald Reagan, who caused the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Fast forward to 9/11 and its aftermath and it is obvious that the tactic devised by Osama Bin Laden to defeat the mighty Soviets is being employed today against America, and will continue to be employed by his Al Qaeda disciples after his death. Do the math. The few millions spent by Al Qaeda on its 9/11 attack, on its suicide bombings in Iraq, Afghanistan Pakistan, on the failed Christmas Day, Times Square, and Shoe Bombers at home, is a miniscule sum compared to the trillions squandered by America on her open-ended wars against an elusive enemy, on bribes to corrupt fair-weather allies, on ever-growing and over-lapping security agencies, not to mention the incalculable costs to our economy and loss of prestige abroad. Tallying up the costs on both sides it is clear that we have thus far been on the losing side, big time. Whether the 2008 economic meltdown in America was caused by Bin Laden, as some of his admirers claim, is debatable. But that he played a significant part in it is undisputable. We finally killed him, yes, but in the end he won his war.
For an eye-opening book of the subject we refer you to Hunting bin Laden: How al-Qaeda is Winning the War on Terror , by Rob Schultheis.
The acknowledged dean of capitalism, Adam Smith (1723-1790), was by profession a moral philosopher, not the amoral dog-eat-dog economist that he has been portrayed to be. His moral philosophy was straight-forward enough: Given the fact that the primary concern of human beings was individual survival, then the natural way to assure social stability was by allowing them to freely exchange labor, goods, and services for profit: If you have something that I want and I have something that you want, and if no king or deity prohibits us from trading what we want from each other, and if whatever those wants are, are not harmful to society, then despite our religious and political differences, whether we personally like each other or not, we can live in harmony. And if others approach us with better deals, then, to maintain our trading relationship, we would have to trump our competitors with even better deals.
Taken at a mega level, it was clear to Smith that this natural competition, as if guided by an "invisible hand," would greatly benefit the whole of society (“Book four, Chapt. Two, Par. Nine”). The main, if not the sole, role of government, therefore, according to Smith was to assure that the competition was free and fair, and, moreover, that the competitors were imbued with an ethical conscience, for otherwise the competition would degenerate into self-destructive law of the jungle.
In his calm, philosophical voice, Smith noted how in his day overlong terms of apprenticeship (a form of slave labor), restrictions against laborers from outside communities (forerunners of today’s undocumented workers), excessive tariffs on imports and tax subsidies to favor domestic industries, collusion among wealthy owners of land and capital to set prices (cartels), banning the start-up of competing industries too close to home (monopoly creation), the stashing by bankers of gold deposits in their private coffers and covering withdrawls with unsecured paper notes (stealing the gold, in effect) were, among other ruses, preventing the "invisible hand" from working its magic.
Smith devotes one-third of his iconic The Wealth of Nations explaining how free-markets can work for the good of society, and the other two thirds how its abuse has had the opposite effect.
In modern-day America and comparable nations, free enterprise as envisioned by Adam Smith is largely alive and well among proprietors of shops, restaurant and other small business on Main Street. But the convoluted collusions between big government and Wall Street tell an entirely different story. The name of the game at this level is not to enable a free, fair marketplace but to manipulate it by whatever means necessary. And if the collusions at times take illegal twists, you can wager that laws will be enacted to make the twists legal. And morality, of course, never enters the picture.
Overpaid CEO's, high power lobbyists, corrupt politicians for sale, and others of their ilk have plunged America, and much of the world with it, into a deep, protracted recession. It may be argued that in some mysterious, elliptical way that only they have the brains to comprehend, these so-called champions of capitalism are contributing to our long-range economic wellbeing. Maybe the crumbs they drop after gorging themselves on shareholder and taxpayer money is reward enough for us ordinary folk at the bottom rungs of the pecking order. In the real world, after all, the losers are many and the big winners few. But those who buy that argument cannot invoke Adam Smith for support. That was not at all what he meant by the “invisible hand.”
Adam Smith, for the record, was a man of modest tastes and means. Financially, he was well-off, living comfortably from a lavish pension and royalties from his books. But the fabled guru of capitalism was himself no capitalist. He never owned a business or held a private sector job as such. His last employment was in the public sector as Commissioner of Customs in his native Scotland.
(Introduction to Gadfly's new blog, Substitute Teaching in Alexandria, Virginia--http://alexandriasub.blogspot.com )
Having retired from academe and in a need of a break from my solo home improvement business, I tried my hand at substitute teaching, with the intention of gathering material for a book, the first draft of which I introduce in this blog. For two years (2001-2003) I subbed in all thirteen Alexandria City Public Schools, my local school district, covering classes from Kindergarten to AP calculus, from social studies to ESL, from physical education to life-skill for the mentally impaired, and everything in between. Friends had forewarned me that subbing in our public schools had far more negatives than positives, and they were right. Save for a few rewarding experiences, much of what I witnessed from day one was downright appalling. And from books, newspaper articles and e-mail correspondence with knowledgeable critics, I subsequently learned that the conditions in Alexandria were par for the course in most public schools throughout America. If the American taxpayer only knew the full inside story of our public education establishment, they would demand their money back. Hopefully, this blog will open some eyes.
On the discrimination against undocumented workers. (Spellings of the original text are preserved.)
“To remove a man who has committed no misdemeanor from the parish where he chuses to reside, is an evident violation of natural liberty and justice . . .There is scarce a poor man. . . I will venture to say, who has not in some part of his life felt himself most cruelly oppressed by this ill-contrived law of settlements.”
On the abusive and counterproductive practices of business owners and the justification for labor unions.
“When masters combine together in order to reduce the wages of their workmen, they commonly enter into a private bond of agreement . . . Were the workmen to enter into a contrary combination . . . the law would punish them severely.”
“If masters would always listen to the dictates of reason and humanity, they have frequent occasion rather to moderate , than to animate the application of many of their workmen. It will be found, I believe, in every sort of trade, that the man who works so moderately, as to be able to work constantly no only preserves his health the longest, but, in the course of the year, executes the greatest quantity of work.”
“That men in general should work better when they are ill fed, when they are disheartened than they are in good spirits, when they are frequently sick than when they are in good health, seems not very probable.
On the unfair advantage of owners over labor.
“The masters, being fewer in number, can combine more easily; and the law, besides, authorises, or at least does not prohibit their combinations, while it prohibits those of the workmen. . . The masters upon these occasions , , , never cease to call aloud for the assistance of the civil magistrate, and the rigorous execution of those laws which have been enacted with such severity against the combinations of servants, labourers and journeymen.
On the overall benefits of public welfare and health care.
”Servants, labourers and workmen of different kinds make up far greater part of every great political society. But what improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconvenience to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part is of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, clothe and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labor as to be themselves tolerably well fed, cloathed and lodged.
”The liberal reward of labor . . .is the natural symptom of increasing national wealth. The scanty maintenance of the laboring poor, on the other hand, is the natural symptom that things are at a stand, and their starving condition that they are going far backwards.
On labor being the true measure of value and the key economic resource of a nation, more important than capital, land, management and money.
“Labour alone, therefore, never varying in its own value, is alone the ultimate and real standard by which the value of all commodities can be all times and places be estimated and compared. It is their real price; money is their nominal price only.”
On the frivolous spending and parasitical nature of the ruling classes.
“The latter species of expence, therefore, especially when directed toward frivolous objects, the little ornaments of dress and furniture, jewels, trinkets , gewgaws, frequently indicates, not only a trifling but a base and selfish disposition.
“Such are the people who compose a numerous and splendid court, a great ecclesiastical establishment, great fleets and armies, who in times of peace produce nothing, and in time of war acquire nothing which can compensate the expence of maintaining them, even while the war lasts. Such people, as they produce nothing, are all maintained by the produce of other men’s labour.”
On the folly of expecting that private business, financial institutions in particular, can self-regulate.
“. . . companies of merchants have had the address to persuade the legislature to entrust to them the performance of this part of the duty of the sovereign, together with all the powers which are necessarily connected with it. These companies . . . have in the long run proved, universally, either burdensome or useless, and have either mismanaged or confined the trade.
“Though the principles of the banking trade may appear somewhat abstruse , the practice is capable of being reduced to strict rules. To depart upon any occasion from those rules, in consequence of some flattering speculation of extraordinary gain, is almost always extremely.
dangerous, and frequently fatal to the banking company which attempts it.”
Who said all that? No, it wasn’t Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels or Robert Owen, the godfathers of Socialism. It was Adam Smith, the acknowledged dean of Capitalism, author of the iconic An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, later shortened to The Wealth of Nations(1776). Right wing politicos and pundits have latched on to the part in Smith’s book where he convincingly explains that the closest thing to harmony in any society can be achieved only when the “invisible hand” of free markets, the basic law of supply and demand, is allowed to work its magic. But the other part of the book, the greater part, in fact, where Smith explains that when custom, corruption, dishonesty and other such factors intervene, the magic of the “invisible hand” backfires, and then book then reads more like a treatise on Socialism. That part, right-wing politicos and pundits tend to overlook, or maybe they haven’t taken the time to study the whole book. Next to the Bible, The Wealth of Nations is probably the most quoted out of context book in ultra-conservative America.
(The above passages were taken from Book One, Chapters 5, 8 and 10; Book Two, Chapter 3; and Book Five, Chapter 1.)
At the same time, at the very same instant probably, that The Lord was telling President George Bush to invade Afghanistan, He was telling Christian Zionists Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell to raise funds for Israel. He was also, at the same time, telling my drywall man to quit his job and start a church; a Pentecostal preacher across town to ask his congregation to double their tithing; a chronically unemployed neighbor to invest in a new suit and go looking for a steady job; an arthritis suffer to consult a certain faith healer featured on national television—and all the while The Lord was dispensing instruction and advice to thousands, millions, of individual believers simultaneously all over the World, He was able keep the machinery of the entire Universe running without a glitch--proof definitive, I suppose, that The Lord does exists and is omnipotent.
Something is definitely out of whack. America abounds in natural and human resources. The Stock Market is surging. Corporate profits are the highest in years. Yet, the 20%+ unemployment rate--the official 8.8% stat plus the unofficial one of people who have stopped looking for work, taken on menial part-time jobs, retired early, or have dropped out of the labor market to go back to school--remains unchanged. Moreover, the cost of living is rising faster than household income, an ominous sign of inflation. So what gives? Where is the economic recovery that politicians and bullish talk-show hosts keep talking about?
The jargon-rich explanations proffered by professional economists on the news media only confound the issue. For an intelligible clue as to what is happening in our economy a better source would be the dean of Capitalism himself, Adam Smith. In “Book 2, Chapter 4” of his iconic The Wealth of Nations (1776), Smith explains how in an open free market economy increased productivity requires a corresponding increase in labor, even when the increase is due in large measure to technological improvements. Machines could replace manual laborers, but only up to a point, because as production increases, workers would be needed to run and maintain the machines. High production and high employment, therefore, go hand in hand. But, on the side of the ledger, beyond of certain point the costs to the owners begin to rise in ever greater proportion. (The law of diminishing returns), and eventually any additional investments in materials, equipment and labor would not be worth the cost.
Casting Adam Smith’s lights on today’s American economy, it would appear that a major reason why productivity is so low, unemployment so high, and wages lagging behind prices, is because the mega corporations that control the economy have, against all free-market principles, engineered it that way to maximize profits.
But even so, one might ask, how could productivity and employment so far below capacity yield high profits? Wouldn’t the big players need to produce a reasonably large volume of products, hire enough workers to make them, and pay them well-enough to buy them, so they can make at least a minimal profit? In other words, where is their money, their billions, trillions coming from if not from actual productivity?
From many sources--stock sales, low-interest borrowing, tax breaks and subsidies, foreign investments, outsourcing production to cheap-labor countries, mergers and acquisitions, derivative trading, default swaps, well-insured speculations--none of which translate into benefits for the average working American or small business. The mega-corporations that control our economy and, thereby, our government have surreptitiously nslaved us.
The larger insight that we may draw from Adam Smith’s 900-page classic is that the “private sector” so revered by conservative ideologues in America is not necessarily synonymous with free-market capitalism.
Every attempt to upgrade the quality of education in America has failed because the members of the K-12 public education establishment—Federal, state and local educrats; school of education professors; teacher union officials; superintendents; principals, administrators and teachers — are for the most part too poorly educated themselves to know what a real education is.
Particularly egregious are the educational deficiencies elementary school teachers. As much as 60% of the typical school-of-education curriculum for elementary education majors consists mainly of crowd-control courses. Further diluting their education is the option of meeting core academic requirements with watered-down courses designed especially for them, like how to teach math to first-graders, instead of the real math.
Ask elementary school teachers why they chose to major in education rather than earn a standard B.A. or B.S. degree, and most will confess that they dreaded the math requirement. Thus it is not surprising that later, as teachers, they invariably project their fears onto their students by making math sound so dreadfully boring and difficult that they tend to sugarcoat the subject beyond recognition. The main reason why so many American high school students have trouble mastering Algebra is not so much their Algebra teachers are inept, though more than a few are, but because their teachers back in elementary school failed to teach them the fundamentals of arithmetic. And much the same holds true with science, language skills and social studies.
So given the entrenched shortcomings of the public education establishment, there is no reason to assume that Barack’s Obama’s proposed Race to the Top program to improve the quality of K-12 will work any better than George Bush’s No Child Behind, Eisenhower’s National Defense Education Ace or any such other government plan. Try as you might, you cannot get seeds to germinate in unfertile soil.
Yet something must be done, and fast, for it is clear that without a well-educated labor force, this country cannot hope to compete successfully in today’s global economy. Many scientists and engineers employed in the U.S and half of students in those fields enrolled in U.S. universities at present come from foreign countries where a solid state-supported K-12 education is top priority. But we cannot expect this brain-drain to continue indefinitely. Some of those highly-skilled professionals and university graduates will settle permanently in the U.S., but just as many are likely to return to their home countries once economic and social conditions there improve, and when their universities catch up with ours, there will no need to for their students to come to the U.S. to complete their education.
Free market advocates--the late Milton Friedman, for one--have suggested that privatizing K-12 public schools and forcing them to compete with one another would compel them to provide their charges with an optimum education in order to stay in business. This free market approach might work if education were a tangible, easily measured product like, say, houses or automobiles. But success or failure in education takes years to asses. It would not show up in quarterly balance sheets. Much like national defense and law enforcement, education is one of those intangible social institutions that doesn’t lend itself to the "invisible hand" of capitalism.
And, rewarding good teachers with promotions and higher salaries, wouldn’t work either, because, by the same token, it would takes years for a teacher’s competence or lack thereof to manifest itself. Seemingly boring, plodding teachers may turn out to be better educators than perky ones who keep their classes entertained. Nor can end-of-year standardized test scores be relied upon to measure long-range progress. So what to do? Two suggestions for starters:
One, dismantle the entire K-12 public education establishment, from the U.S. Department of Education, (which Ronald Reagan had promised to do but never got around to it), to university school-of-education departments, to local school bureaucracies. Some members of the Libertarian Cato Institute have already made a similar recommendations. State governors of New Jersey, Colorado, Nevada, Mississippi and California, among others, have, in effect, started the dismantling process by drastically cutting the fat off their K-12 education budget.
Two, require that teachers earn legitimate undergraduate degrees from duly accredited colleges and universities. Some new hires, no doubt, will turn out to be poor educators. But those who do make the grade will, at least, have the intellectual heft to do right by their students. The nuts and bolts of classroom management they can quickly, intuitively learn on the job and from informal consultation with colleagues.
That done, other corrective measures will present themselves as the need for them arise.
Limit Specialization. Rather than solve problems as they arise, the usual practice in public education is to create specialists to deal with the problem. For example, if students are having trouble learning to read, a degree or certificate in "Reading," properly couched in the latest sociological jargon, is created, Classroom teachers then send their poor readers to the reading specialist, and though the students, predictably, come back as illiterate as ever, school officials, when pressed for an explanation, will argue that by implementing the program, scientifically proven to work over time, they are doing all they can to help those students. So al in all, the only ones who benefit from the reading program are the School of Education professors who concocted the program, classroom teacher who are spared the burden of working with underachievers, and, most of all, the reading specialist, whose class ratios are small, usually one-to-one, a cushy job, to say the least. Moreover, the specialists have no incentive to solve the problems, for if they did, they would be out of a job And the same holds true for math, Special Ed, Conflict Resolution, Diversity Counseling, Bilingual Ed and ESL specialists. (As I can attest from my personal experience as a 14-year-old Cuban immigrant, foreign students naturally pick up English from their American peers, not from ESL specialists.)
Eliminate superintendents and school boards. Public school superintendents typically are outsiders who bungle things in the district where they served, and then move on to do the same in a new district, usually in a distant part the country, where their record is not well known. In their first year in office, they tend to make all sorts of superficial changes—transferring teachers and principals from one school to another, rehashing old programs, issuing gilded press releases, holding public meeting, etc.—and by the time it becomes evident, four years or so later, that these changes were no more effective, or even worse, than those made by their failed predecessors, they resign and move on to their next job.
As for school boards members, too many tend to be aspiring politicians who use the board as a means of launching a career into higher office. Many mayors, state congresspersons, and governors started out serving on school boards. Others board members are in it for personal gain, like a building contractor in our district who has made a sizable fortune remodeling schools that needed not remodeling. Superintendents and school boards may have at one time served a useful purpose, but no more. The taxpayer money spend on them is largely wasted. Their traditionally job—approving the hiring of new teachers and staff, reporting to the city council, keeping the public informed, promoting fund-raising events—could easily be done by a revolving ad hoc committee of principals and teachers, at no extra cost to the taxpayers, provide, course, that the principals and teachers are well-educated professionals educators--which takes us back to the recommendation that the entire public education establishment must first be dismantled. Teacher unions and government officials beholden to them will, of course, raise a big howl, as they are wont to do when challenged do, but they must be told in no uncertain terms that their howling is no longer convincing.
Business folks swear by free market competition, in theory, that is, but in practice they actually fear it, hate it, and do all they can to avoid or eliminate it. Ideally they do this by providing a better product or service than their competitors: the “invisible hand” of the self-regulating interplay of supply-and-demand as prescribed by the acknowledged dean of capitalism, Adam Smith, in his 1776 classic, The Wealth of Nations. But when the “invisible hand” proves too difficult to maintain or fails altogether, many business folks are apt to resort to devious means of trumping their competitors—By lobbying government officials for subsidies and special tax-breaks; by gaining their favor, not to say bribing them, with campaign contributions; by filing nit-picking lawsuits; through false advertisement, fuzzy accounting practices, misleading information to prospective investors, and so forth. In The Wealth of Nations Adam Smith devotes a good three fourths of the book to the various ways by which the “invisible hand” was thwarted in the England of his generation. Remarkably, much of what he noted back then is still current in the U.K. and common in the U.S. and other so-called free-market nations.
As explained by Adam Smith, the acknowledged dean of capitalism, the value of labor in a free market is largely determined by the difficulty and training involved in acquiring and employing the skills in demand. Hence he deemed it fair that in his day a bricklayer earned less than a house carpenters, because carpentry entailed more ingenuity; that house carpenters earned less than coal miners, because coal mining was a dirtier and more dangerous; that coal miners earned less than bartenders, because dealing with drunks was even more dangerous than coal mining; and because hanging and beheading was the most unpleasant occupation of all, executioners were right in demanding the highest wages among manual workers. And so it went with the relative value of the work of physicians, lawyers, scholars, ministers and other professionals--The Wealth of Nations, "Book One, Chapter Ten." (1776)
Like Adam Smith in his day, We Americans in 2011 have no trouble accepting the fact that on average common laborers earn less ($24,000) than skilled electricians ($50,000); elementary school teachers less ($40,000) than engineers ($70,000); dentists ($120,000) less than heart surgeons ($300,000); and U.S. Senators ($174,000) less than the President ($400,000). Entertainment celebrities buck the general rule (Adam Smith regarded them as morally no better than prostitutes), as do sports stars, though, in all fairness, some allowances could be made for their often stressful and ephemeral careers.
Now consider the astronomical sums commanded by Wall Street financiers. In 2007, even as Lehman Brothers was verging on bankruptcy and on the brink on triggering a global financial catastrophe, the compensation package of its CEO was $121,000,000, more than 300 times the salary of the President of the United States, 400 times that of a heart surgeon, and 5000 times that of the hardhat guys who repair our roads.
So we may rightly ask. What is it that those Wall Street financiers actually do to make so much money? What do they actually contribute to the economy? What is so valuable about their credit default swaps, derivative packages, and other abstruse paper products? Now there is no doubt that commercial banks serve an important function by providing credit to local businesses and consumers. But those mammoth Wall Street financial institutions, Are they banks in the true sense of the word? Do they take risks with their own capital, as commercial banks and shop owners on Main Street must, or do they make their fortunes by gambling with their client’s money and, win lose, get their bloated pay nonetheless? Are they bona-fide private-sector enterprises, or are they, as mounting evidence suggests, a shadow parasitical cartel created to siphon off the nation’s wealth?
Their apologists argue that the millions—billions in some cases—that big-time financiers rake in are but a minute fraction of the nation’s aggregate salaries and wages. True, but what the apologists fail to consider is that so much money concentrated in the hands of few, rather than spread over a large population of business leaders, gives that small, tightly-knit group the means to buy off elected officials and civil servants in key positions, and, thereby, the clout to control, not only the national economy, but the entire government as well. The fact that government regulatory agencies saw the financial crisis of 2008 looming but did nothing about it, not even sound the alarm, speaks volumes.
Their apologists further argue that big-time financing is so complex a business that multi-million dollar compensation packages must be offered to attract and retain the rare few capable of understanding and running the business. This backward logic, of course, makes some sense: If the industry’s ruling cadre of insiders deliberately convolute, veil, obfuscate and jargonize their cultural lingo beyond the comprehension of outsiders, then it follows that only they are qualified to run their business, and being such a talented bunch, geniuses as some claim, they deserve nothing less than multi-million dollar compensations.
Though Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Bears Stearns went bankrupt in the 2008 crash, their former CEO’s are still hanging around, biding their time for the opportunity to get back in the loop. With Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, the two survivors of the big five, thanks to a taxpayer bailout, it’s still business as usual, as the $100,000.000 bonus awarded the Goldman Sachs CEO in 2010 will attest.
Adam noted that when an industry becomes so lucrative that its owners begin to make unusually large profits, competitors will get into the act, thereby increasing the supply of the product demanded and, by the Law of Supply and Demand, causing profits to come down to reasonable level. Unless, of course, competitors are prevented from competing, in which case, the profits of the original owners will continue to spike indefinitely. Obviously this is what tightly-knit Wall Street players have done. They have cornered the financial market, bought the necessary government influence, kept out the competition, and reaped all lucre for themselves. Why the fiscal conservative politicos bent on cutting benefits for average wage earners while lowering taxes for the very rich is cause for suspicion.
The iconic Revolutionary War flag of a rattlesnake warning “Don’t tread on me” (the Gadsden Flag) was inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s dig to the British Government that if they insisted on exiling their convicted criminals to America, then we should respond in kind by sending Britain our rattlesnakes. Perhaps today we can retaliate against the unfair trade practices of some of our economic competitors by outsourcing to them our Wall Street financiers.
Why the fear of closing the Guantanamo Detention Center and transferring its detainees to prisons on U.S. soil? Because the Jihadist terrorists detained there are far more dangerous than the worst of our home-grown criminals? Because they might sway fellow inmates by the thousands to join their cause? Because some or all en masse are likely to escape, regroup, take over law-abiding Muslim communities and terrorize the nation from within? Such fears, whether justified or not, could be easily precluded by sending each individual detainee to a separate prison. There are in the U.S. some 800 prisons—Federal, State, and private—and only 445 Gitmo detainees. With the group broken up and dispersed from Florida to Alaska, devoid of their mutual support, the Jihadists, however fanatical, would be rendered harmless. Why our leaders have not considered this simple solution makes no sense—Unless they are deliberately keeping us in the dark for some political reason, as it’s so often the case.
Had “Shoe Bomber” Richard Reid been just another criminal nutcase he would have merely been charged with the trying to blow up an airliner in flight, attempted murder-suicide, and given a prison sentence proportionate with the crime, probably with the possibility of parole after a few years if he showed he was no longer a threat to society. But Reid was no ordinary criminal. He was a self-avowed Al Qaeda terrorist. He wasn’t just trying to blow up an airliner. He was, as the sentencing judge took pains to explain, attacking America. For that, his due punishment was a life sentence without the possibility of parole plus another 80 years for good measure.
Now there is no doubt that Reid so hated America that he was willing to die for the satisfaction of killing a plane load of Americans. But to say that one not-too-bright fanatic intent on committing a single act of violence, which he failed to carry off, was by his lonesome capable of attacking the most powerful nation on Earth, is an exaggeration beyond all logic and common sense. The United States of American, an industrial and economic giant of 300 million people with the mightiest military force and most sophisticated national security agencies in history, cannot possibly be that attackable, not by any known foreign army in history, and certainly not a by a lone terrorist or a small group of terrorists. The nineteen 9/11 suicide terrorists may have succeed in bringing down the Twin Towers in New York City, damaging the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, murdering some 3,000 people and alarming the nation, but they couldn’t have boasted that they had literally attacked and wreaked any actual damage on the entire United States of America. The high-rollers of Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch did do considerable damage, not only to America but to much of the World, yet none have served a day in prison for it.
This is not to suggest that the wannabe terrorists in our midst should be taken lightly, but they shouldn’t be demonized to mythical proportions, either. To do so only aggrandizes their fanatical self-esteem and prestige among their group. Long prison sentences for them are a badge of honor. Regarding them as the losers that they really are would neutralize them.
Or is their demonization a ruse? Could it be that our leaders are deliberately creating super boogymen to scare us into supporting greater funding for national security, or to take our minds off our economic woes. If we were lied to about weapons of mass destruction as a pretext to invade Iraq, would it be then unreasonable to suspect to that we are also being duped into fearing a handful of misguided fools?
We have always been misled, duped and lied to. Nothing unusual about that. What’s remarkable is that since the turn of this century, the bull sh*t has been piling up so thick that it has become increasingly difficult to sift it from the truth. Below is a partial list. Note the contradictions.
The U.S. Constitution champions limited government, free market capitalism, and strong family values.
The U.S. Constitution champions a strong central government, an equable distribution of wealth, human rights, and social welfare.
The original Constitution established a one-man-one vote democracy.
The Constitution empowers the President to declare war, raise or lower taxes and control the economy.
The Declaration of Independence is a legally-binding document.
The “Creator” mentioned in the Declaration of Independence is synonymous with “The Lord” of modern-day Evangelicals.
The Founding Fathers were all devout Christians.
The motto “in God we trust” harks back to the Revolutionary War.
Religious leaders have a direct line of communication with the Almighty.
The Lord and I converse with each other. I know exactly what He expects from me and how His mind works; and He knows what I want and gives it to me for the asking.
If you tithe generously to your church, you will be recompensed tenfold.
Barack Obama is a born-again Christian.
Abortion is strictly prohibited in the Scriptures.
Homosexuality is an abomination in the eyes of The Lord.
Our relgion is the true religion. All others are superstions.
The underlying theme in the Bible is peace and brotherly love.
We don’t torture our political prisoners or send them to countries that allow torture.
Waterboarding is not real torture.
People who opposed the war in Iraq and Afghanistan did so because they hated George Bush
We are in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting for democracy, freedom, justice and women’s rights.
Our boys are over there building hospitals and schools.
The Bush- Obama Surge has brought stability to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now that elections were held and parliaments formed, Iraq and Afghanistan are well on the way to becoming full-fledged democracies.
Afghans farmers have abandoned their poppy cash crop and are now earning a good living raising tomatoes.
Our CIA had no clue where Osama Bin Laden was hiding.
We are winning the war on terror.
We are winning the war on drugs.
Smoking pot invariable leads to hard-drugs addition.
There is no recession in America, only a temporary correction.
The big Wall Street players--Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Bear Stearns, Countrywide—were not really responsible for the financial meltdown of 2008. The culprit was big government.
America is the envy of the world. Everyone wants to be like us.
The automobile and all other great inventions have come from America.
Our health care system is the best in world.
Americans enjoy the highest standard of living in the world.
America is a culturally diverse but strongly united nation.
Government regulations impacting on our personal lives are made by caring experts who know what’s best for us. They are rightly committed to save us from ourselves.
The solution to most problems is to turn them over to the private sector.
Cutting taxes for the rich induces them to invest in businesses, create jobs and grow the economy.
Reaganomics ushered in an era of prosperity.
Ronald Reagan brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Curtailing the power of teacher unions diminishes the quality of public school education.
Labor unions have undermined the American economy.
Illegal immigrants by definition are all criminals.
Terrorist posing as illegal immigrants are pouring into the country.
Hundreds of thousands of non-citizens have been issued false registration cards and paid to vote in key elections.
Barack Obama’s race was not a factor in the 2008 presidential election.
Israel is the bastion of peace and sanity in the Middle East. We are morally and politically bound to defend her at whatever cost.
Columbia is no longer involved in the drug trade.
Legality and Illegality are synonymous with right and wrong.
Adam Smith was a dog-eat-dog laissez faire economist.
Friedrich Nietzsche was an atheist.
Ayn Rand was a precursor of the Tea Party movement.
Karl Marx hated America.
Socialism and Marxism are the same thing.
Psychology is an exact science. It has developed therapies that can correct undesirable behavior and cure mental illnesses.
Juvenile offenders cannot be held accountable because their brains are too immature to distinguish right from wrong
There’s no such thing as evil.
All people are created equal therefore all are equally capable and intelligent. Stupidity is a meaningless word.
A college diploma is the only key to success.
An education from an Ivy league institution is in every way superior to one from a state university.
Liberals are enlightened humanitarians; conservatives, simple-minded bigots.
Conservatives are realistic doers; liberals misguided fools.
And as we speak the bull sh*t keeps piling up higher and thicker.
Though it has been ten years since the 9/11 attacks, we are continually warned by our government that it’s only a matter of time before the terrorist strike again, and on a greater scale. The terrorists, they warn, are making their move as we speak, some flying in from Al Qaeda training camps from remote corners of the world, others crossing the Mexican border disguised as farm workers, others already here in the U.S. holding regular jobs and attending our universities. The enemy host is everywhere and growing in numbers. We cannot let our guard down and lull ourselves into false sense of security.
O,K., the warning is loud and clear, but in order for us ordinary citizens to effectively guard against the terrorists threat, our government should share more of their intelligence with us. We would need to more about the enemy, the sort of people they are, the way they think and operate, their recruitment and infiltrating methods, their mannerisms, their cultural and religious ties, in short, how to recognize them.
Which takes us to the living sample of the Gitmo detainees. As of March 2011, there were 172 terrorists still imprisoned in Guantanamo (down from 750). By bringing them to trial in the U.S. and publicly airing the proceedings on TV rather than trying them in secret military courts, as some of our government officials insist (actually, since none of the detainees could be identified as members of a national armed force, but merely “enemy combatants”, they cannot be legally tried in military courts) then we would get a good idea of what these people are like, what exactly they did to merit the brand of terrorist. Were some simply firing at the U.S. invaders, blustering about their deeds to impress their superiors and peers, butchering non-cooperating civilians, actually planning and capable of orchestrating another 9/11?. Are they mostly stupid, brilliant, ignorant, well educated, rational, mentally deranged? What? As has been noted since time immemorial, the key to victory in any manner of strife is not superior force but greater knowledge of the enemy. Granted, there is much top secret information that our government cannot divulge without giving away their strategies or endangering the lives of our agents and collaborators abroad. But keeping us citizens entirely in the dark is not a good policy either. In democracy like ours, we the people, as the Constitution makes clear, are ultimately the ones who rule, and for that we should expect from our public servants as much information as is prudently possible.