Have you ever stopped to wonder how much effort is being invested by political and commercial interests into creating a bubble of ignorance in which the naive can dwell while being fleeced? The objective is to divert your attention as an individual from real issues by playing up situations which have little or no bearing on true priorities. One could call it life in virtual reality on a real planet.
Take for example a regular 5 p.m. news broadcast on your favorite TV station. Each half-hour segment of content could be squeezed into thirty seconds or less of essence. First there are the commercial announcements – we could write them off as a means of paying for the “free” programming. The rest, however, is structured to ensure that you will remain glued to the screen for several segments, without realizing how little benefit you will have derived.
Have you noticed that the anchors are trained to project knowledge “vital” to your existence? Mostly trivial news is gathered by “News Teams” whose breathless reports are spread out over several segments, interspersed with repeated and often stale pictorials. One is supposed to imagine tremendous amounts of activity being invested into the reports. Even the frequently misleading weather reports are dribbled out; in the excitement, the anchors sometimes even contradict the weathermen. It is almost like listening to charades. Now and then we are treated to a “radar report” showing it may be currently raining on some street in some distant town, as if this were of tremendous importance to the millions of people within the broadcasting radius.
The real issues, truly important to the nation, are frequently manipulated to the forefront in order to mask questionable operations. Let’s consider Social Security. For decades the administrations in Washington have known that the system was flawed and would have to be dealt with. Nobody wanted to touch it. Why now? Would this administration have touched the third rail if we did not have the fiasco in Iraq, huge international debts, economy and energy problems?
Successive administrations have exported American jobs abroad, constantly depleting the pool of workers paying into the Social Security fund. The money from the fund has been wasted on hare brained political projects and replaced with worthless IOUs. Millions of illegal immigrants have been allowed into the country and subsidized by the very same administrations, while politicians and private interests reaped enormous profits on cheap labor. Admittedly, we have all benefited from it, because paying union wages, even if enough Americans could be found to do the menial work, would have jacked the produce, meat and other prices sky high.
For decades Americans have contributed to the Social Security fund, being told “not to worry”. Banks have promoted credit card debts, charging as much as 18% interest or more, while offering 1.5% or even less on savings. Crazy investment schemes, amounting to daylight robbery, have been tolerated, further eroding any trust in saving for the future. And now, all of a sudden, our current administration wants to promote a system in which the younger, debt ridden generation would be expected to “invest” a portion of their Social Security contributions in “private retirement accounts” ! Can you imagine the investment scams being cooked up in preparation for the day the “new Social Security” will go into effect?
While national headlines proclaim the alleged concerns of the administration, billions of dollars are being spent on covering up their errors in Iraq and Afghanistan. Only a tiny fraction of this money trickles back into American industry through defense orders. The big American companies allowed at the “reconstruction trough” do not seem to be bound by any “Buy American” restrictions. Judging by how little the French, German, Russian and Chinese manufacturers are complaining these days, I must assume that orders for rebuilding the Iraqi economy must be flowing into their pockets. I wonder how many “civilian” products, such as private cars, trucks, earth moving equipment and other large ticket items does the American industry employing American workers actually supply?
The attitude of media toward these issues may be illustrated by the presentation in our daily paper (April 22, 2005). A large headline on page 1A proclaims, “Generation Rx popping pills”, A tiny paragraph on page 8A of the same issue, entitled “Senate approves funds for Iraq”, informs the American taxpayers of $81 billion “overwhelmingly” approved for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which, “would push the total cost of combat and reconstruction past $300 billion”.
The Iraq predicament alone has revealed the legs of clay of our system. We wield the world’s greatest destructive power, but have proven ourselves ignorant and undermanned in durable administrative situations. Our enemies are watching and biding their time, while our government would rather have us look the other way.
In the sense of global economy, our status has been allowed to decline to that of the greatest debtor. Harvard professor Niall Ferguson analyzes our situation in an article entitled “Our Currency, Your Problem” (New York Times Magazine, 3/13/2005). According to him, “between 70 and 80 percent of the American economy’s vast and continuing borrowing requirement is being met by foreign (mainly Asian) central banks”. In political terms, as he explains, the Bush administration’s tax cuts and the Global War on Terror are being financed by overdrafts on the People’s Bank of China.
Ironically, China is also holding an economic tiger by the tail. If it would stop accepting our IOUs, their export financed growth of economic and military power would suffer, with possible severe complications for the Communist regime. As professor Ferguson states, “A fall in exports would almost certainly translate into job losses in China at a time when millions of migrants from the countryside are pouring into the country’s manufacturing sector”. Considering the vast difference between the cost of labor here and in China, the latter can afford to be very flexible in maintaining attractive profit margins for greedy American importers and our politicians dancing to their lobbyists’ tune.
Recent spikes in oil prices are yet another example of government double dealing. Growing global demand has been forecast for years. If our politicians had been honest, they would have clamped down on the production of SUVs, the gas guzzling behemoths and pushed economy vehicles and public transportation. This would have panicked OPEC into slashing prices and keeping them low. The automotive and oil lobbies, however, would not have it. Thus, we shall now see a spin away from reality, such as drilling for oil in Alaska, building new refineries on discontinued military bases etc. Meanwhile, the rich would grow richer and retire rich, leaving the taxpayers facing a situation which will grow progressively worse.
It is high time that our labor unions take a realistic look at what is looming over the horizon. Squeezing higher wages out of the employers may sound great but is not practical in view of the global competition we are facing. Unless the unions negotiate job security for American workers, higher wages will not benefit them. Being employed for less beats not having a job.
Thomas Friedman, the well known writer and political analyst, has drawn some comparisons of our status vs. that of India and China. In , “It’s a Flat World, After All” ( New York Times Magazine, 4/3/2005), he quotes Microsoft’s Bill Gates, “In 2001, India graduated almost a million more students from college than the U.S. did. China graduates twice as many students with bachelor’s degrees as the U.S., and they have six times as many graduates majoring in engineering”. Considering the population sizes of these nations, it may not sound impressive. However, you must consider that those students are oriented toward specific objectives, rather than frequently seeking worthless degrees as often happens in our country.
On the subject of education, Friedman’s article quotes Bill Gates’ remarks on the sad situation in our country. Gates says, “When I compare our high schools to what I see when I’m traveling abroad, I am terrified for our work force of tomorrow. In math and science, our fourth graders are among the top students in the world. By eighth grade, they’re in the middle of the pack. By 12th grade, U.S. students are scoring near the bottom of all industrialized nations.”
The answer to the latter might be traceable to lack of challenge and obsolete curricula. Consider as an example the attitude to the idea of “academy” schools, often promoted locally by F. David Corbett. An academy type school would admit students based on their accomplishments and offer an appropriately challenging curriculum. This is an anathema for many educators and politicians, who perceive it as a “segregation” of sorts. They would rather see bright students dragged down by the slower ones, get disgusted and, if their parents could afford it, leave the public education system. I was not surprised reading an article in the Rep-Am of April 14th 2005, entitled, “School chief says ‘academy’ bad idea”, which quoted our school superintendent Dr. David Snead. In his opinion, if top students transfer to the academy school, there won’t be enough bright students left to fill honors courses at the other schools.
How many recall former mayor Phil Giordano vetoing the “school within school” idea of placing some 100 “bright” students in separate classes at Kennedy (Rep-Am of 3/22/1997)? To quote from the Yvonne LaFave’s article, “Giordano said he objects to focusing so much energy on such a small group, which some teachers said they feared would become a brain drain, drawing the smartest and most motivated students from Waterbury’s other two high schools”.
Deja vu, Dr. Snead! In this fashion we will not even have to export American jobs – we shall kill them right here and now.
Yet, instead of adapting to new realities, our school authorities appear bent on distracting the public by demanding more money for new schools. Never mind the maintenance of current facilities, control of teacher absenteeism and mediocre performance of the system. Successive city administrations have played along, since it conveniently deflects public concerns away from equally serious issues, such as the lack of a realistic economic development plan.
Waterbury has become a magnet for land developers because of our relatively low real estate prices. This rush draws the attention away from our deteriorating infrastructure. New schools alone would not satisfy the needs of added population. We have an aging water delivery system, crumbling roadways, fire and police departments in organizational transition and last, but not least, an unstable tax rate. Our budget is being kept slim to suit current political priorities , but this does not change long range obligations. We taxpayers did not complain about the prolonged lack of revaluation in the past, but now we are over $440 million in the red. Just look at what the state owes! Like it or not, we all must admit that we are facing a different caliber of problems against which the old political methods are of little use.