Moral Priorities


    The extra tax cuts for the rich (they collect the same tax cuts as everyone else on their first $250,000 of income) will cost about $68 billion next year alone. Extending unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed will cost about $65 billion.

    Those words are from Katrina vanden Heuvel’s weekly Washington Post op ed, this morning titled The GOP:  Gobbling up our Blessings which I recommend that people read.

    This diary is not exactly an examination of that column, although I will make reference to a few other items of interest she offers.

    Rather, it is a meditation on our priorities as a nation, and what they say about us.

    I believe that our nation, our society, lacks a moral compass.  Our priorities are screwed, and as a result, so are an ever-increasing number of our people.

    In the paragraph immediately before what I began with, vanden Heuvel informs us

    The basic support of the families of more than 3 million workers will begin to expire at the end of this month. So much for holiday cheer.

    But if our concern is the economy and jobs, our refusal to address the economic distress that many face is sheer economic idiocy – remember how many businesses make a large portion of their income through holiday spending.  Think how many of them may fail as a result of reduced spending.  Think of all those whose income depends upon sales commissions.   Consider the downward spiral of economic distress as it continues to spread across the nation.

    My AP students yesterday had a guest speaker, a fairly prominent lobbyist for non-profits.  He mentioned that his home county in the Southwest US now has an unemployment rate of 31%.  Of course, that is U3.  The U6 number is pushing 50%.  Think of the catastrophic impact that has upon the entire community.

    Monday I attended a representatives’ assembly for the teachers union for our school district.  Many of us have already suffered pay cuts approaching or in some cases exceeding 10%, between the loss of stipend and four furlough days.  Next year may be worse.  Our district is looking at an additional shortfall of more than $70 million.  That presumes that house values do not continue to fall, further depressing the revenue stream from real estate taxes upon which our county, like most local governments, depends heavily.  That translates to possible additional furlough days, and the elimination of perhaps 500 or even more jobs –  80% of the costs of our school system are personnel related.  There are young teacher married to one another who might both lose jobs for next year.  Meanwhile our class sizes will expand.  Yet we will continue to spend more and more money on testing, on data collection, even as the conditions necessary for proper instruction and learning continue to deteriorate.  If we say that education is important, how can this be happening?  

    There were 2.9 million job openings in September, but the total number of unemployed workers was 14.8 million, with half of these workers jobless for 21 weeks or more.

    And yet some argue that extending unemployment benefits takes away the motivation to look for a job.  Wrong.  This kind of ratio works to the advantage of employers who, given the oversupply of possible employees, can then pay even less for the candidates they wish to hire.  This kind of condition represents a downward pressure on wages.

    A downward pressure on wages.  Increasing unemployment.  At a time when corporate profits are at an all-time high.  When corporations are sitting on over a trillion dollars of cash.  When corporations can spend huge amounts to influence elections to their benefit:  

    Secret donors spent more than $138 million in the last election, with 80 percent of the money going to Republicans.

       We know from Wendell Potter how aggressive the health insurance industry has been.  To that information, add this:  

    The Chamber of Commerce, Bloomberg reports, pocketed more than $86 million in secret contributions from the health-care industry last year – 40 percent of the chamber’s spending. This year, the chamber spent nearly $33 million in secret donations on the elections, virtually all for Republican candidates vowing to repeal health-care reform.

    We continue to spend billions, or as Joe Stiglitz and some fellow economists have noted, accumulated trillions, to kill people in Asia, ostensibly to “stop” terrorism, even as our increased use of drone attacks merely creates more hostility, makes it even easier for those opposed to us to justify attacking US interests.

    We have one attempted underwear bomber.  We now spend huge sums on technology and further violate privacy and decency to prevent against a subsequent attack, thereby, as Keith Olbermann noted, creating a situation of opportunity where a suicide bomber does not have to have even entered the security perimeter and s/he can kill more people than s/he would on a plane.  

    Education.   Health Care.   Jobs.   Profits.  Security.  Military Action.

    I have heard many times that the best way to judge what is important in a man’s life is to examine his checkbook when he dies –  on what did he spend his money?  Perhaps that is too simplistic:  after all, many of us spend most of what we do on things that are pretty basic, like food, clothing, shelter, and transportation.  Oh yes, and on education, which is increasingly priced beyond the means of many.  And on health care that somehow does not seem to get covered by the expensive insurance some of us are able to get, usually through our employment.

    Certainly the priorities of a nation can be seen in its spending priorities.  Our spending priorities display a callous disregard for the wellbeing of far too many Americans.

    We are unwilling to provide basic sustenance for those who cannot find jobs.  How do you find a job in a community with U3 unemployment is a third of the adults?

    We are willing to let some make obscene amounts of money without having to pay a fair share of the costs of the society and economy that allow them to so profit, while pushing ever increasingly unfair costs of society upon those who can least afford them.  

    We privatize the commons –   criminal justice, in for-profit prisons and private security and even military services;   education;  health care;  public sanitation;  soon it will be even the very water we need to survive.  We have resorted to private toll roads, with the Governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels, who sold that state’s toll road considered by some a credible candidate for the Republican nomination for President.

    We have a Supreme Court willing to read the Constitution in a way that would have shocked Madison and most of those who sat in Philadelphia during that hot summer of 1787.  They seem to have forgotten that the likes of George Mason were unwilling to support the original document because it lacked sufficient protection for the people against their government.  The justices see nothing wrong with giving corporations all the protections intended for natural persons while protecting them from the social responsibilities of natural persons –  a corporation cannot vote, cannot be sent to jail, cannot be made to do national service in the military, and is allowed tax breaks denied to ordinary natural persons.

    The issue of the moral decay of the nation is not that same sex couples wish to get married, any more than it was when people of different colors (because we are all the same race, homo sapiens sapiens,) wanted to get married –  something that has enriched our society with the likes of my wife’s niece, half-Native American, my great nieces, half-African American, many of my students (here I think of one young lady whose father is Dutch and her mother is from India, but I could think of just about every possible combination of what we might consider different colors), or even our President, who like my great-nieces is of parents of two different colors.  Of course, we know that is part of what infuriates some of the dimmer bulbs in our society, but why should their protests be able to outshout the rest of us?

    There is an issue of moral decay.  Or if you will, of skewed moral priorities.

    We spend more to incarcerate young African American males than we do to educate them.

    We spend more to kill people overseas than we do to rebuild our decaying national infrastructure.

    We have effective tax rates that are higher on people whose only source of income is low wages than on those who already have great wealth.

    We are willing to give unfunded tax cuts to those who already have too much and not willing to extend unemployment for those who have no jobs for which they can be hired.

    We complain that our children are not being properly educated, then diminish the education of many by reducing it to narrow instruction for the purpose of passing tests sold by for-profit companies, such impositions often imposed buy those unwilling to subject themselves or their own progeny to the same conditions.  

    I will not say we are immoral as a society.  Too many individuals do have a deep personal moral compass.  The American people, if we do not unnecessarily scare them, are caring and generous.

    Which is why we scare them – with lies and distortions about threats domestic and foreign.  

    Which is why we do not allow them to learn our real history.

    Which is why it is important for the powerful to demean and destroy those institutions which could provide a balance to their power –  the unions, the public schools, public services.

    Too many in positions of power and influence are not held to moral accountability, be they abusers in the White House, the military and CIA, religious bodies, or business.

    The “rules” do not seem to apply to some.  We hear that they have “suffered enough” or “might not be able to get a job” if they are the likes of hedge fund managers who are allowed to plead to a misdemeanor when they should be convicted of felony hit and run, or they served as chief of staff to a Vice President who is a war criminal.  We are told not to look back, which only emboldens similar wrong doing in the future.

    Tomorrow we are supposed to give thanks.  For what, I wonder?  Do we know the history of the first real Thanksgiving Day, for the slaughter of the natives of New England?  Somehow that is not part of the mythology of Squanto and the Pilgrims, is it?  

    Should we be thankful that our national unemployment rate is officially ONLY around 9.7%?   Are our dreams and aspirations supposed to be limited by a sense of how lucky we are, how much worse it can be?  Does not that merely affirm the destructive path we are on as a society?

    I do not know.

    I have today and four more before I return to my classroom.

    I will be doing some thinking.  I have some writing to which I am committed.  I do not know that anything I can do will make a difference.

    My words may be as ineffective as if I were spitting into a gale-force wind.

    My actions by themselves seem to have no impact.

    Neither does the falling of single drop of water onto a rock have any visible impact.

    But there are millions upon millions of Americans.

    There are multiple billions of people in the world.

    If we do not give up hope, we can be many drops of water, perhaps even a stream capable of carving great canyons into the petrified souls that now dominate our national discourse.

    What are our moral priorities?

    How can we prevent further moral deterioration of the society and nation in which we live?

    What kind of people are we?

    I wonder.


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