Why Educate Our Kids? Dystopic Reality Burning Down Our House

17 06 2010

Do you love America?

Here’s a Thinking Parents’ introduction to America’s real power of story now that as a country, we collectively miseducate our kids about value (as in the value of college, competition, hard work, health, free markets, firearms, friends and family.)

Speaking of the value of family, it offers a whole new perspective on “family values” — how valuable in literal economic terms is your family to your children, and just how valuable is our American family to all the children? Do those answers reflect what Americans consider “family values” and what Howard Gardner describes as a curriculum of “truth, beauty and goodness” and if not, our own education couldn’t have been very valuable no matter how much we paid for it or can collect from it:

None of this is any news to anybody who works for a living. But almost nobody thinks about — or really wants to know — where this is taking us as a nation. . . . if those hideous expenses are what it takes just to give your kid a shot at a professional career so they can afford an increasingly expensive “normal ” life, whose kids are going to get those professional careers?

Rich kids, that’s who. And without picking on kids who were born into rich families through no fault of their own, going forward, all this boils down to an America with fewer and fewer career jobs parceled out to more and more people with better and better backgrounds, while more and more people have to make do with less and less.

It leads, in fact, to an America with a handful of people living what we now consider a “normal” life in gated communities with armed guards, and millions of people cast out of the corporate world and left to shift for themselves; a sort of sci-fi dystopia right out of RoboCop.

Politically, this is firewood stacked under the whole idea of America — a place where you’re judged by what you can do, and not who your grandparents were. And the worst part? This has nothing to do with left/right politics . . . we need to find ourselves a solution that allows most Americans to live like, well, Americans.

This will have to be a conversation that avoids comfortable bromides about the can-do American spirit, the greatness of the American People, or sneering at people “who won’t take jobs they think are beneath them”. We have to acknowledge the problem, find common ground, focus on practical solutions — and make them happen.

If we don’t, it will all go up in flames, eventually. That’s what happens when you’ve got a few people with everything, and millions with nothing to lose.

So the question is: Do you love America?

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37 responses

17 06 2010
JJ

Billionaire Living is “Highly Private Decision” for Only What They Personally “Are Passionate About — They Won’t Do It Otherwise”:

Only because in America we always defer to Big Money even when it isn’t American, never the “small people” even when they ARE American. Nobody from anywhere wants to be forced but most of us are, most of the time. By the Big People.

“We care about the small people. I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies, or greedy companies, don’t care. But that is not case in BP, we care about the small people,” said Svanberg in an emotionless drone reminiscent of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime.

Unsurprisingly, assurances from the tall Swedish millionaire that he will take care of them did not go down well with the small people themselves and instantly eroded the goodwill BP had just purchased at a hefty $20 billion price tag . . .

17 06 2010
17 06 2010
JJ

Time for Progressives to Stand Up Proudly for Government:

Government is not always the solution, any more than it is always the problem. But in many cases, progressives know that it is more efficient, more effective and more consistent with the values of a democratic society for all of us to do something together – through our government.

. . .the most important thing for us to remember is that the anti-government ideology is not simply a set of ideas that emerged whole cloth from scholars at the CATO Institute or the mind of Rush Limbaugh. It is not simply an alternative view of what’s good for the “public interest.” It is the creation of those who use it to justify their own private gain.

. . .The anti-government forces have always wanted to prevent us from doing things together through a democratically accountable government, so they can do things privately to enhance their own wealth and power – often at the expense of everyone else.

17 06 2010
Crimson Wife

I’m not buying it. While it’s certainly easier for a kid born to an affluent family to become successful (the proverbial kid born on 3rd base), that doesn’t mean that there’s no hope for kids from low-to-moderate income families. Do they have to work harder for it because of their relative disadvantage? Yes. But because they are more “hungry” for it, they can often wind up outperforming their wealthier peers who had everything handed to them on a silver platter.

I see this quite a bit in the financial services industry where my DH works. There are a lot of folks who got in the door through relying on Mummy and Daddy’s connections. But the ones who got where they are through their own merits are the ones more likely to advance through either internal promotion or being poached by another firm. They are more ambitious and more willing to work hard to achieve those ambitions since they cannot merely coast on family connections.

17 06 2010
Nance Confer

Family values are in trouble in the US? I wonder why.

Unemployment benefits are being allowed to lapse.

School doesn’t start for weeks and weeks. A long time for some — http://crooksandliars.com/karoli/rush-limbaugh-thinks-hungry-children-should

[JJ adding from the link: “Rush Limbaugh’s ongoing assault on family values continues. “]

Even the President — I’m a fan — is disappointing and helpless looking in the face of our local family-values-threatening disaster.

But work hard kids. You too can get your house behind gates and big car. Whoopee.

Or probably not but what the hell else are we going to tell you.

Nance

17 06 2010
COD

//Do they have to work harder for it because of their relative disadvantage? Yes. But because they are more “hungry” for it, they can often wind up outperforming their wealthier peers who had everything handed to them on a silver platter.//

You are kidding right? The rich kid can fail, fail, and fail again, comfortable in the knowledge that his family wealth will cover his ass. The poor kid, if he is lucky, gets one shot.

17 06 2010
JJ

CW, what you say sounds exactly like the miseducation he meant when he warned us we needed to stop with the fairy tales about making it in America:

This will have to be a conversation that avoids comfortable bromides about the can-do American spirit, the greatness of the American People, or sneering at people “who won’t take jobs they think are beneath them”. We have to acknowledge the problem, find common ground, focus on practical solutions — and make them happen.

If we don’t, it will all go up in flames, eventually.

ALL go up in flames. For the rich folks too. It’s like what is happening in slow motion to my gulf and coastline, and if it does get into the loop current and heads up the east coast, it will get Rush in his five-mansion gated compound down near Nance, not just her.

17 06 2010
JJ

And surely this isn’t the time and place to be teaching children about hard work and merit in the “financial services industry!”

18 06 2010
JJ

I’d like to see if we could help illuminate dfifferent storylines and ethical systems for each other, really start to have the conversation above:

we need to find ourselves a solution that allows most Americans to live like, well, Americans.

This will have to be a conversation that avoids comfortable bromides . . . We have to acknowledge the problem, find common ground, focus on practical solutions — and make them happen.

Most of us somewhere absorbed the “southern sensibility” in our own life education (except CW?) and also the religious — especially Catholic — sensibility (except Nance?) So this morning I’m thinking about Scarlett O’Hara (fictional truth) whose unexamined life took both traditions and mashed them up into unhappy human incoherence . . . yeah, like Sarah Palin’s lie of real life.

Required readings and conversations to review:

Sarah Palin to Play Scarlett O’Hara in Remake

War war war fiddle-dee-dee

It occurs to me based on all this incoherence if not insanity, that universal public education was the right war. We need to win it at all costs, hope it’s not too late.

18 06 2010
JJ

Which evangelicals love America?

Leaders of a group that encourages evangelical Christians to care for the environment say the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico raises moral challenges for the country.

The Revs. Jim Ball and Mitchell Hescox, leaders of the Evangelical Environmental Network, are visiting southern Louisiana to pray with people who have lost jobs because of the spill. Joining them is the Rev. Galen Carey of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Ball says they took a boat ride off the coast Thursday and were saddened by sights of oil-spattered marshes where birds were nesting.

He says the oil spill is a stain on the nation’s stewardship of God’s creation, and should inspire people of faith to embrace cleaner energy sources. Ball says how the nation responds to the disaster is a matter of values.

I found education examples (such as children’s sermons) at their website:

Example B (oceans emphasis)

Ask the children if any of them have seen the movie Finding Nemo. Where do Nemo and his dad live? (in the ocean) Tell them that lots of God’s creatures live in the oceans. What else lives in the oceans (dolphins, whales, fish, turtles).

Do they know that most of God’s creatures live in the oceans? (Over 90% of all life on earth lives in the oceans).

The Bible tells us we are to take care of God’s other creatures. How can we can help take care of all the creatures in God’s oceans? (not throw litter on the beach or in the water, don’t dump trash in the creek at home, ride your bike instead of ask your parents for a ride – auto pollution causes global warming, which threatens the existence of coral reefs and other oceanic species) . . .

I’d like to hear the “ninety percent of all life is in the ocean” brought into every single pro-life conversation, for starters.

18 06 2010
JJ

End of the Free Market: Who wins the war between states and corporations?

Listening to the author Ian Bremmer right now on cable . . .

Hmmm, if the “states rights” teapartiers really mean it, maybe they will turn against their default effect to date, of global corporations as government without representation, and get on the right side of the real fight?

Firedog Lake poses some good questions in its book review:

. . .before we debate the solutions to the problem he identifies, we should probably consider his premise. To wit:

1. Are there no cases where state capitalism is an appropriate system for a developing country, for example, when the country is large and difficult to govern, or when the country is at an early stage of economic development?

2. Is there a viable alternative to state control of natural resources, which Bremmer identifies as a crucial component of many state-capitalist models, in most developing countries?

3. Where should countries like the United States be on the spectrum of market control? Though the financial crisis and BP oil spill have spurred calls for greater regulation, the Tea Party supporters want to move in the opposite direction. Are we too close to a command economy, or too close to a laissez-faire economy?

4. Can state capitalism abroad really distort the politics of countries like the United States and its European allies?

5. Is neocolonialism – often achieved by the foreign investments of sovereign wealth funds and state-run industries – an inevitable result of state capitalism?

But the tea party politicians apparently DON’T mean that states should govern instead of corporations, for example take yesterday:

Indeed, despite saying he was speaking on his own accord (and not on behalf of the Republican Party) but Barton was far from alone. The Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative members of the House, was even less diplomatic with a statement describing the Obama administration’s actions as a “Chicago-style political shakedown.”

“These actions are emblematic of a politicization of our economy that has been borne out of this Administration’s drive for greater power and control,” wrote chairman Tom Price (R-GA).

Price was echoed later in the evening by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who said during an appearance on CNN that the president appears to be using BP as a “permanent ATM card,” with eyes on taking over “private industry.”

None of the critiques, however, matched the more philosophical pushback offered by Mississippi Governor Hailey Barbour, who objected to the idea of forcing BP to invest money for the purpose of paying out claims when the company could simply use that money to expand offshore drilling so that they could make money to pay out claims.

“If they take a huge amount of money and put it in an escrow account so they can’t use it to drill oil wells and produce revenue, are they going to be able to pay us?” Barbour told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

For certain, Barton, Bachman, Price and Barbour’s comments represented some of the more extreme remarks aired on the issue. But they aren’t isolated within the GOP tent, nor are they far removed from the sentiments of party leadership. . .

18 06 2010
Crimson Wife

When I read comments like Nance’s and articles like the HuffPo one, I’m reminded of what I learned in my college psychology classes about “learned helplessness”. If you wallow in pessimism, then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we tell our young people that only the affluent have a shot at success, then the natural reaction is going to be “so why bother trying?” But looking at the data shows there’s still a fair amount of upward social mobility in the U.S.

This graphic from the New York Times is a great visual representation. A decent percent of folks who started off in the bottom 2 tiers moved up the ladder and those in the median tier were particularly likely to move up.

Is working hard a guarantee that someone will move up? Of course not. But he/she has basically NO shot of making a better life for himself/herself without hard work. Sitting around feeling sorry for oneself and/or being angry at the unfairness of society isn’t the ticket out of poverty.

18 06 2010
JJ

Psychology is like bible verse, handy to prove even contradictory points and usually to close down thought rather than open it up. From where, for instance, do you suppose the let-em-eat-cake, “feeling sorry for oneself” red herring arises as a kneejerk slapdown (can one slap with one’s kneejerks, hmmm)?

It has to be from something in your own mind’s storyline because it isn’t in any of the articles or comments here. Really.

And why does it arise every time the subject comes up, repeatedly, to the exclusion of any of the other directly relevant issues begging for discussion? Not to help make sense of all the complex factors facing America in crisis, nope, the opposite. To advance one simplistic open-and-shut storyline that keeps everyone’s ending the same so the privileged win again, and again, and again, amen. And get to write everyone’s else’s story too.

Psychology teaches us that we rationalize our own circumstances as the inevitable result of how the world works — the rich and powerful tend to believe they earned it all and deserve it while those who have less deserve only what they’ve got, if that! Sadly, so do the disadvantaged themselves, more often than not. Abused women and children are more likely to believe that they deserve it, than to understand they couldn’t possibly deserve their misery, that no one does.

18 06 2010
Nance Confer

I don’t want the focus to be moving up a tier. I want dry wall installers AND stock brokers to be able to live nicely.

18 06 2010
Nance Confer

Nicely — not focused on things as a measure of anything. Focused on relationships and doing good in the world. Realizing you can always give even when others have more things.

The security provided by a government that works, a healthcare system that cares for all, an education system that features thinking over test scores, the systems we can set up to motivate toward goodness instead of greed — these are some of the things we need to promote the values our family finds valuable.

19 06 2010
Crimson Wife

But it ISN’T only the privileged who win. I look around my family and can see a bunch of examples of folks who went from dirt-poor to middle class and from lower-middle to upper-middle class. And I have a lot harder time feeling sympathetic towards arguments that blame society and downplay individual responsibility as a result.

I look at somebody like my paternal grandfather who had to drop out of school at 13 in the middle of the Great Depression to support his mom & younger siblings after his dad died. Talk about a disadvantage to overcome! Unemployment was more than double what it is today, and there weren’t the kind of government safety net programs like Social Security survivor’s benefits, food stamps, Medicaid, etc. Yet he was able to pull himself up by his bootstraps into a solid middle-class life as a lawyer by the time he was 30.

19 06 2010
JJ

My paternal grandfather too, and my dad was actually born during the Depression, dirt-poor southern and used the military to get a career/education, so he could help us get the same. But that was then, don’t you get it? Sometimes you sound very very old — I have a 102-year-old lady across the street who everyone humors as she pinches pennies in her mcmansion and cheats the poor entrepreneurial 30-year-old building his lawn business because he can’t get hired anywhere. Nobody ever did anything for her, no siree, and look where she is now (living on a golf course with medicare, social security and around-the-clock caretaker. The EMTs and fire trucks have been there three times this year for her already, taking her to the hospital for fully covered care.) At the expense of me and the other neighbors with kids, one of whom has been foreclosed on and had to leave (she has multiple prop tax exemptions because she’s so old and has been there so long, and we haven’t reformed this broken system in too long.)

I can’t be her in another 50 years. The system may not sustain me through my sixties even. Heck, I can ‘t afford to be her NOW, but I still won’t cheat the lawn kid or a thousand other things her mind tells her she’s earned the right to do. And my dad who put me through our local university on a shabby-chic professor’s salary, has been dead 15 years already — and when he went, the estate tax (meant to level the playing field between generations) took well more than half of everything he had built and saved for the three of us kids to help OUR kids, so now we can’t, because the logical consequences of a few who have and millions who don’t are playing out. Your grandfather and mine both would be screwed by current corporatism if they were starting out now, and your children and mine will be even worse-served by century old teachings that can’t work anymore either.

Calvin and I were more than a little dismayed to learn that the Great Evil of credit cards and the Great Good of college were strolling off arm-in-arm into the sunset.

. . .As it turns out, the University I’ve revered since childhood has taken to giving Bank of America their students’ names and home addresses so as to more easily market FSU themed credit cards to them.

I can’t get past how sleazy this is. It’s beyond cavalier indifference to the students’ well-being, it’s something much more sinister, much more wicked and hypocritical. To make videos alerting college kids to the dangers of credit card debt and to then turn and sell them to those very creditors?

19 06 2010
Nance Confer

And good for him. And if people in his situation had the same opportunities today, that would be fine. But they don’t.

And most people are not looking to be lawyers. Or have white collar jobs at all.

And, yet, they’d still like to live decently. Nice house, OK car, decent schools, safe neighborhood. Surely these are things that even non-lawyers are entitled to. Yes, entitled. Not to riches and gates and all the trappings of the wannabe richies. Just a decent life.

It can happen. People go into business for themselves. Hit some craft at just the right time. Etc.

But it’s not something that seems as sure a thing as it did when I was a teen in the 70s. I knew I was going to college even though we had no money. I knew I’d find some kind of job and any job would be enough to pay my rent.

Now, not so much. The economics of the whole thing has changed. Not in the favor of the “small people.” There’s no sense of security and little sense of hope.

And let’s look at that “pulled himself up out of the Great Depression” story. I’m sure your Grandfather was a fine man. But let’s just look at that time.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Depression

1929 until the early 1940’s — that’s what Wikipedia says. Hard to put an exact date on these things, I think. Hell, we couldn’t even agree that the Great Recession had begun until long after most of us knew it was under way.

So, he’s 13 in, say, 1930. By the time he’s 30, it is 1947. What was the economy like in 1947? I’m thinking — growth, new social support systems in place, security, etc. A good time to start a new career.

So, yes, like everyone of that generation, he went through very difficult times. But there was a reason to be hopeful.

He capitalized on it. Good for him. Many others did too. GIs went to college. Families bought houses. And cars. Things they never could have dreamed of earlier. And then we had the 50s. Not a bad time to be a middle-class striving lawyer. Good on him for taking advantage of good timing.

What about the kids not fortunate enough to live in a time that offers the hope that hard work and diligence will get you somewhere because now we aren’t all that sure there will be another time when good timing pays off? When the very social safety nets that made some of the success possible earlier are being threatened or taken away. I wonder how much debt a law student ends up with now as compared to the early 40s.

The news is very doom and gloom. I get it. I know I hear too much about oil spills and I’m digging my way through an 80-year-old woman’s house — another Great Depression survivor but one who ended up being a hoarder because of it — and I’m not in the most positive state of mind. But really? Can you blame me all that much? DH’s work is spotty, the car needs a new starter and the washing machine is on the way out. I don’t care about things but, if enough of them break, you are in a pickle.

So upbeat lectures about bootstraps just don’t have the ring of truth to me. Now less than usual. And, like harkening back to the founding fathers, I am relatively unimpressed with post-Depression era success stories. There’s a lot of wishful interpretation in relying on either one as a guide to today.

And what about the poor farmers and workers and businessmen and, yes, lawyers who were pulling themselves up by their bootstraps but were there 10 years earlier. The ones wiped out by the Depression. The ones who had sick and malnourished and dead children because they didn’t survive the worst times. Were they just not trying hard enough?

I guess unemployed manufacturing workers now are just not trying hard enough. Or 15% of them just have bad timing.

19 06 2010
JJ

Young lawyers are dropping like flies btw (it is DH’s field) in no small part because the older, more experienced ones can’t make a living now either and will do anything for less to keep THEIR kids in college. Almost no one gets good health care coverage paid for, out here in the real world of the third millennium. No one is too cut up about the young lawyers because their own problems and their own kids are so desperate (Before our very state got poisoned by corporatism, what about the hard work of the fishing families and restauranteurs here, hmmm?)

If you’re still untouched in your time warp of privilege, you ought imo to be incredibly grateful and trying to help others, if not for family values and the golden rule then to bank some karma points for when your DH gets canned and you have several young children and are possibly pregnant again in a newly purchased house with a mortgage and no more health insurance — not inviting disaster by being smug in your own insulated comforts as if you earned them and no one else has.

19 06 2010
JJ

I wonder how much debt a law student ends up with now as compared to the early 40s.

Something I know a lot about — it can top $100K easy and that’s at a public (taxpayer supported, that’s you and me!) university. AND the good jobs aren’t out there to sustain repayment of those loans yet the for-profit corporations who made the loans with govt guarantees get their cash anyway, from the government.
Just like all the other too-big-to-fail criminals milking what’s left of American can-do bootstrap hard work until every drop is gone and they can exploit the next population . . .

[UPDATE] Doctors too, unable to pay their crushing education debt from the hardest work within the increasingly dysfunctional corporate medicine money machine.

19 06 2010
JJ

Apparently this needs to be repeated:

The anti-government forces [Dick Armey e.g. and his BP paymasters] have always wanted to prevent us from doing things together through a democratically accountable government, so they can do things privately to enhance their own wealth and power – often at the expense of everyone else.

GONE YACHTING — BP CEO Leaves Gulf To Attend Glitzy Yacht Race In England; Spokesman Defends: ‘One Of The Biggest Sailing Events In The World’ “ and do I hear unanimous consent that the elitist cliche putdown of the poor is morphing as of today, from “let em eat cake” to “let em yacht off to their own regatta” . . .?

Oh and guess what amoral (arguably evil if you prefer) corporation just got ANOTHER big government contract, after its employees were expelled from Iraq as an alternative to arrest, and while federal prosecution of other employees goes to appeal? ACORN otoh wasn’t guilty and was itself the victim of liars and conspirators rather than the culprit, but was summarily disqualified from federal funding and put out of business — if our kids are well-educated with open hearts and eyes, they’ll learn that helping poor folks for almost nothing has less value in the current America than shooting, killing, and stonewalling for the big bucks. . .

19 06 2010
JJ

Cock of the snook to Nance for this transcript of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse on the floor Thursday:

We must act in defense of the integrity of this great government of ours, which has brought such light to the world, such freedom and equality to our country. We cannot allow this government – that is a model around the world, that inspires people to risk their lives and fortunes to come to our shores – we cannot allow any element of this government to become the tool of corporate power, the avenue of corporate influence, the puppet of corporate tentacles.

. . .business as usual is no longer enough to stem the tide of corporate influence, insidious, secret corporate influence in agencies of the United States government.

It is an institutional problem: relentless, remorseless, constantly grasping and insinuating corporate influence; it will never go away; it will only worsen as corporations get bigger and richer and more global; and there has to be an institutional mechanism in place to resist it, so that it no longer takes a catastrophe to call the failure of governance of an American regulator to proper attention.

20 06 2010
COD

A note about the 50s. It was not the small government capitalistic utopia that conservatives present. The economy was almost single handily driven by the cold war. Military spending was still 15% of the economy, and that does not account for all money spent building facilities to churn our enriched uranium, etc that didn’t come out of defense dollars. A good quarter of the economy was government directed. It was practically socialism, or fascism, or something other ism that conservatives can’t define, but know is bad because they heard it on Glen Beck last week.

20 06 2010
JJ

That’s all true, good point. The John Birch Society was ascendant in the GOP back then — think McCarthy — before being (wisely, soundly) denounced and repudiated by the likes of Bill Buckley (who was as elitist as they come.) Bad omen for America that JBS is rising again now, not only its rhetoric and ideology but also the actual, same-named group regaining its respectable facade and grip on the vague fears of folks who aren’t given the time and information to realize that Reagan’s trusim about a rising tide lifting all boats is just as true in reverse: a receding tide grounds ALL ships, and a dying Gulf is not pro-life or pro-America or even pro-individual, no matter which party better exploits it for political gain.

And even without reversing it, it had a caveat: no boat, no ticket to rise.

20 06 2010
Crimson Wife

On the contrary, it would be WAY easier for someone in my grandfather’s situation today. He wouldn’t have had to drop out of school to go to work at 13 if his mom & siblings had received Social Security survivor’s benefits, food stamps, Medicaid, and the like (which is a very good thing IMHO). Then when he went to college, he could’ve gotten Pell Grants and Mass Grants and had he gotten accepted to a school like Harvard (as his son did), it would’ve been free tuition. Law school he attended on the GI Bill and today JAG offers $65k in loan forgiveness. UMass Law is $23.5k per year, so that would just about cover the cost. You don’t make a ton of money as a JAG officer but my grandfather didn’t make a ton of money at his 2-man small-town law office either.

If I had to choose between being in my grandfather’s situation in 1931 and being in the same situation in 2010, that’s a no-brainer.

20 06 2010
JJ

You don’t get to choose, much of anything any more. That’s the whole point.

But if one cannot see the problem, one won’t be of much use in a conversation about how to understand and solve that problem. Fortunately attendance and participation are never compulsory here! 😉

20 06 2010
NanceConfer

Just a silly aside — when DH bought a used van two or three vans ago that had a John Birch sticker on it, he left it on. He figured people would think he was a nut and leave him alone. 🙂

21 06 2010
JJ

For when you have time to fall down the rabbit hole and get creeped out by just how convoluted are America’s populist delusions: Damnation Outside a Tea Party: Mongrel Politics and the American Mind

21 06 2010
Crimson Wife

Is that a polite way of telling me to shut up & go away? :-p All right, I can take a hint…

21 06 2010
JJ

For this conversation. Because the part where everything focuses on your objections to the very premise on which it is based, needs to wrap up.

21 06 2010
JJ

To refocus from the OP:

Politically, this is firewood stacked under the whole idea of America — a place where you’re judged by what you can do, and not who your grandparents were. And the worst part? This has nothing to do with left/right politics . . . we need to find ourselves a solution that allows most Americans to live like, well, Americans.

This will have to be a conversation that avoids comfortable bromides about the can-do American spirit, the greatness of the American People, or sneering at people “who won’t take jobs they think are beneath them”. We have to acknowledge the problem, find common ground, focus on practical solutions — and make them happen.

22 06 2010
JJ

Any Robert Pirsig fans here — “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” — who might have read his subsequent novel, “Lila”, delving into our deepest inchoate meanings for moral “value” and “quality” in our real human lives?

I didn’t realize it came close to a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction until I looked up the link just now, but I’m not surprised. I read it when it first came out more than 15 years ago, newly home with young children from a career about Other People’s Children, trying to resolve human and family values in my transformed reality. I was reading a LOT then yet this book made a singular impression on me.

So please speak up if you’ve read Lila too; I can’t recall discussing it as it deserves, had pretty much put it out of mind until this morning.

19 07 2010
JJ

“Wealth Worship” is literally bad for America, not good —

Surprise! Income Inequality Bad for Your Health. And the Nation’s

We all know what inequality in wealth and income means when it comes to political clout. And for weathering economic adversity. And for the kind of lifelong head start or hold back that can be given to offspring. The effects are gigantic and extend everywhere.

In more economically equal societies, as British epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett point out in their new book, The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, people do better on every metric, much better, whether it’s drug addiction, teen pregnancies, homicide or life-span.

. . .Sam Pizzigati, a senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and proprietor of the online website Too Much:

“If you want to know why one country does better or worse than another,” as Wilkinson and Pickett note simply, “the first thing to look at is the extent of inequality.”

The United States, the developed world’s most unequal major nation, ranks at or near the bottom on every quality-of-life indicator that Wilkinson and Pickett examine. Portugal and the UK, nations with levels of inequality that rival the United States, rank near that same bottom.

Japan and the Scandinavian nations, the world’s most equal major developed nations, show the exact opposite trend line. They all rank, on yardstick after yardstick, at or near the top.

And we see the same pattern within the United States. America’s most equal states — New Hampshire, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Vermont — all consistently outperform the least equal, states like Mississippi and Alabama.

People in more equal societies simply live longer, healthier, and happier lives than people in more unequal societies. And not just poor people in these societies, Wilkinson and Pickett emphasize continually, but all people.

If you have a middle class income in an unequal society, you’re going to be more stressed and less healthy — mentally and physically — than someone with the same income in a more equal society.

. . . in 2007, the most recent year for which we have full data, the ratio of CEO pay to the average paycheck was 344 to one. Because of the recession, it’s estimated that the ratio will decrease to 317 to one in 2010. In the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, the average ratio fluctuated between 30 and 40 to one.

The slight decrease in inequality we’ve seen during the Great Recession will be only temporary unless significant changes in regulations and progressive taxation are imposed.

And that won’t be easy given the brainwashing visited on America by right-wing think-tanks that have propagandized us for three decades with soothing talk about the benefits of deregulation, privatization and what Pizzigati so aptly calls “wealth worship.” . . .

Inevitably, any attempt to curb executive compensation will be decried
as class warfare, that all-purpose charge never invoked by the
powers-that-be when we’re talking about the destruction of poor and
middle-class Americans. Reversing the inequality ratio by means of
regulation and progressive taxation, however, will not only help curtail
the risky behavior that ran the economy into the ground, it will be
healthier at every level for our entire society, even those now pulling
down those 11-digit compensation packages.

That makes it not only the
wise thing to do, but patriotic as well.

25 07 2010
JJ

Rep. Bernie Sanders on America’s dystopic reality: as Nance says, it’s all about the money, isn’t it?

No to Oligarchy:

. . .During the Bush years alone, from 2000-2008, median family income dropped by nearly $2,200 and millions lost their health insurance. Today, because of stagnating wages and higher costs for basic necessities, the average two-wage-earner family has less disposable income than a one-wage-earner family did a generation ago. The average American today is underpaid, overworked and stressed out as to what the future will bring for his or her children. For many, the American dream has become a nightmare.

But, not everybody is hurting. While the middle class disappears and poverty increases the wealthiest people in our country are not only doing extremely well, they are using their wealth and political power to protect and expand their very privileged status at the expense of everyone else. This upper-crust of extremely wealthy families are hell-bent on destroying the democratic vision of a strong middle-class which has made the United States the envy of the world. In its place they are determined to create an oligarchy in which a small number of families control the economic and political life of our country.

The 400 richest families in America, who saw their wealth increase by some $400 billion during the Bush years, have now accumulated $1.27 trillion in wealth. Four hundred families! During the last 15 years, while these enormously rich people became much richer their effective tax rates were slashed almost in half. While the highest paid 400 Americans had an average income of $345 million in 2007, as a result of Bush tax policy they now pay an effective tax rate of 16.6 percent, the lowest on record.

Last year, the top 25 hedge fund managers made a combined $25 billion but because of tax policy their lobbyists helped write, they pay a lower effective tax rate than many teachers, nurses, and police officers.

As a result of tax havens in the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and elsewhere, the wealthy and large corporations are evading some $100 billion a year in U.S. taxes. Warren Buffett, one of the richest people on earth, has often commented that he pays a lower effective tax rate than his secretary.

But it’s not just wealthy individuals who grotesquely manipulate the system for their benefit. It’s the multi-national corporations they own and control. In 2009, Exxon Mobil, the most profitable corporation in history made $19 billion in profits and not only paid no federal income tax — they actually received a $156 million refund from the government. In 2005, one out of every four large corporations in the United States paid no federal income taxes while earning $1.1 trillion in revenue.

But, perhaps the most outrageous tax break given to multi-millionaires and billionaires happened this January when the estate tax, established in 1916, was repealed for one year as a result of President Bush’s 2001 tax legislation. This tax applies only to the wealthiest three-tenths of 1 percent of our population. This is what Teddy Roosevelt, a leading proponent of the estate tax, said in 1910.

“The absence of effective state, and, especially, national restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. The prime need is to change the conditions which enable these men to accumulate power which is not for the general welfare that they should hold or exercise…. Therefore, I believe in a … graduated inheritance tax on big fortunes, properly safeguarded against evasion and increasing rapidly in amount with the size of the estate.”

And that’s what we’ve had for the last 95 years — until 2010.

Today, not content with huge tax breaks on their income; not content with massive corporate tax loopholes; not content with trade laws enabling them to outsource the jobs of millions of American workers to low-wage countries and not content with tax havens around the world, the ruling elite and their lobbyists are working feverishly to either eliminate the estate tax or substantially lower it.

If they are successful at wiping out the estate tax, as they came close to doing in 2006 with every Republican but two voting to do, it would increase the national debt by over $1 trillion during a 10-year period. At a time when we already have a $13 trillion debt, enormous unmet needs and the highest level of wealth inequality in the industrialized world, it is simply obscene to provide more tax breaks to multi-millionaires and billionaires.. . .

28 07 2010
JJ

NYT columnist Bob Herbert explains this week that our economic problems are getting systematically worse and worse, aren’t in our personal control and haven’t been since, oh, probably since CW’s grandfather actually could make it up the ladder unexploited.

29 07 2010
JJ

Edge dot org has posted provocative science thinking from biological approaches to the psychology of human morality. I suggest much of it can be applied to the politics of excessive capitalist competition, such as:

[Harvard psychologist and evolutionary biologist Marc D. Hauser]

When our desire for personal gain combines with our capacity for denial, we turn to excessive harms, aimed at eliminating, effacing, humiliating, and obliterating those who stand in the way.”

And:

[Yale experimental philosopher Joshua Knobe’s recent research]
” . . .people’s ordinary way of understanding the world is actually infused through and through with moral considerations. He is arguably most widely known for what has come to be called ‘the Knobe effect’ or the ‘Side-Effect Effect.’ “

And:

[Cornell psychologist David Pizarro)]
“. . . emotion that plays a large role in many moral judgments. His lab results have shown that an increased tendency to experience disgust . . . is related to political orientation.

20 08 2010
We Need to Sing Our Epics or Lose Them « Cocking A Snook!

[…] Frank Schaeffer, the situational ethics of Philip Zimbardo and his Lucifer Effect, Harvard’s Howard Gardner on educating kids to love truth and America instead of fighting over it, Don Beck and Ken Wilber’s memes, Richard Florida and his “creative class” plus […]

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