Wednesday, January 21, 2015

1436 The Real State of the Union

Okay, maybe you heard the presidential spiel, maybe you didn’t. But you don’t need this space for a recounting.  The president touched on many important points.  But he never quite got to the actual state of the union.

Let’s do that little chore for him.

It’s pathetic. It’s twisted out of shape. It’s under attack from the outside and suicidal from within.  We’re a nation of liars.  We lie to ourselves and to others.  

We lie about the weather. We lie about the economy. We lie about race relations. We lie about health.

And we lie about what once made us a great country. It was smokestacks and farms and mines. It was a government that knew when to meddle and when not to. All with a well paid and productive (usually unionized) workforce, now called the “middle class.”

It was a nation that didn’t put a higher value on paper pushing Wall Streeters than people who actually produced  something.

Who makes the big bucks today?  Trust fund babies, financial finaglers, the hedge funds, the private equity funds, the banks, the pharmaceutical makers and the oil tycoons.

We talk a great deal about these types “paying their fair share,” and income redistribution.  No present or former wage earner cares how much the Koch brothers or members of the Walton family have.  They just want an honest buck for an honest day’s work.  

But they should care. Not because they lust for part of those fortunes, but because so much money and power in so few hands means the average person has no control of his own life, present or future.  Maybe the Oxfam report on wealth distribution will light a fire under some of us.  Maybe.

Factories don’t have to pollute.  But they have to make things and people have to be able to buy them.  Even Henry Ford recognized that. He understood that his production workers needed a living wage, else “...who will buy my cars?”

Ford was anti-union and wanted to be seen as a great benefactor who could set the tone for the lives of his workers.  But he understood there were limits.

To some extent, the rest of the 19th century robber barons understood that, too.  And when they forgot, there was always the United Whatever Workers to remind them.

Megafarms don’t need GMOs to supply more wheat and oats and tomatoes and potatoes and guava melons to feed the nation and half the rest of the world.

Mines don’t have to be minefields. Mine safety has been an oxymoron since the first Hopi tripped over the first chunk of coal more than a thousand years ago.

It’s right to ask “do we still need coal?” The answer is yes.  Even in an age of wind power and solar power coal still does much of the heavy lifting behind the scenes.  Can we make it pollution-free?  Probably, eventually.  In small steps.  And we must.  
Are we going to continue to needlessly lose lives underground and spit out miners with bad lungs? Yes, but we can reduce the number. And keep reducing it.

We lie about the weather, or more properly, the climate.  There no longer is any doubt about climate change.  We can’t stop it. We can’t reverse it and we really don’t know what part of it is man made.   But SOME part of it is and we have to do what we can to reduce our share -- yes, even while burning coal and oil.  And we can.  But we don’t.

We lie about education by substituting technology for teaching.  Every kid has an iPad or a laptop computer. The entire world’s knowledge is on the internet. But who is to teach them how to use it? Educrats are forever coming up with new schemes for “improving” the classroom.  But there’s only one scheme that works and that’s teaching and learning.

By the time a kid graduates from high school, he should have the basic knowledge of what came before him, what’s going on around him and how to balance a checkbook.
The president wants junior college free for all.  Ridiculous.  They should have a working education before that.

Four year colleges shouldn’t have to teach incoming freshmen how to read or add a column of figures.

Worst of all, we lie about and with statistics.  Our math-phobic millions accept anything wrapped in arithmetic as objective truth.

The literacy rate, the unemployment rate, industrial production, the GDP, the budget at any level of government or business, crime, foreign aid, television ratings, market share, productivity... You name it, you can fake it.

Sometimes it’s because we just can’t get the sets of figures right.  Sometimes it’s on purpose. But statistics don’t tell the stories of people, they tell the stories of the people. And that itself is an artificial construct.

We get crazy about religion, race relations, guns, “freedom,” taxation, health care, social security. We get crazy about homeland security, we alienate our allies. We embrace our enemies and reject our own people.

The state of the union is not only pathetic, twisted out of shape, under attack from the outside and suicidal from within.  The state of the union is sorry.

And the first step toward changing that is to recognize it.

I’m Wes Richards. My opinions are my own but you’re welcome to them. ®
Please address comments to wesrichards@gmail.com

© WJR 2015

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