Robert Borosage is asking the question a lot of us have been asking since we elected Tricky Dick, Ronnie Rayguns, and The Chimp twice each.
Congress is about to pass an additional $32 billion to pay for the war In Afghanistan. It will have overwhelming bipartisan support, with legislators eager to display their fealty to the troops in an election year.
At the same time, the Congress is struggling with a $23 billion bill to forestall the layoff of nearly 300,000 teachers next year, championed by Sen. Tom Harkin and Rep. George Miller. This faces a Republican filibuster and the opposition of many blue Dog Democrats, who argue that it shouldn't be considered emergency spending. (Harkin has now given up on passing it in the Senate directly. The only hope is that the House will pass it as part of the military supplemental and perhaps then the Senators will swallow it.)
What kind of country are we? In the worst economic recession in 70 years, competitive industrial nations must choose their priorities-what gets saved, what must be sacrificed. No sensible leadership would choose to make children-particularly the children of working and poor families-pay the cost of the downturn.
The damage is already being done. Hawaii has gone to a four-day school week; districts in Kansas are headed there. Detroit is closing more than 40 schools. Kansas City wants to shutter more than 50% of its school buildings.
Indiana and Arizona have eliminated free all-day kindergarten. One third of districts are considering eliminating summer school this year. Nearly two-thirds anticipate increasing class size next year. Classes may reach 35 students in Chicago elementary schools.
The difference in our attitudes toward war and education may be primarily the spin of a political culture so corporatized that it has lost all sense of a larger community but it is at the same time a symptom of the larger dysfunction in a society that has always hungered for simple answers, easy solutions, and slogans instead of substance. It shows up everywhere, not just in the anti-intellectual bias of a people who no longer think education is worth sacrificing their discomfort for. Dave Johnson thinks we're all suffering from IDD - Information Deficit Disorder.
Some say that "government can't create jobs." Others respond "unemployed people can't create votes." Meanwhile, conservatives, whose policies put so many people out of work, now say unemployed people are lazy and should not be collecting unemployment benefits.
Washington, DC is the center of a strange Information Deficit Disorder. The restaurants in DC are humming, the median income is really high, the Pentagon contracts are flowing. Seriously, pick a DC-area zip code, say 22314, and go to this site: "Dollar Amount of Defense Contracts Awarded to Contractors in this Zip Code from 2000 to 2009: $7,086,397,848." Even better, scroll down the page and look at some of the contracts and amounts awarded. So-and-so Consulting, $54,024, 204. So-and-so Associates, $1,698,274. Even better, see how many have the same address. This is just one zip code. There are pages and pages and pages like this for DC-area zip code after zip code. Clearly it is really, really good to be part of the military industry.
So from DC's viewpoint things are doing mighty fine. One Representative from Pennsylvania actually said the other day, "businesses back home complain that they want to start hiring but are getting few applicants because Congress has repeatedly extended unemployment benefits." Her district has 10% unemployment. There appear to be 14,900 people unemployed just in the city of Erie, which is in her district. Here are ALL 99 jobs advertised in the local paper.
The problem lies here. With us. Too many of us have been way too willing to listen to and believe obvious conservative lies and buy into conservative appeals to our vanity, our greed, our intellectual laziness, and our childish desire for simplicity. The result isn't just the looming crippling of our educational system or the ongoing and single-minded dismantling of the planet we live on.
Essentially, it is a suicide pact.
I can think of no other explanation that so comfortably fits the facts. Ever since the Viet Nam War, we as a people have made decisions that can only be rationally interpreted as Death Wishes. We act like people who want to die but only if they can take the entire country with them. The question is: Why?
We could have had it all. No nation in the history of the world has been as rich in resources, space and time to develop them. We could have had - and almost did have - the kind of practical utopian society dreamed of by generations before us. In the past 40 years we have squalled like spoiled babies rather than have to learn to curb our appetites and empathize with others who are struggling to achieve some equity. We have learned to despise each other and have created the kind of dark, constricted society you'd expect when both generosity and empathy are absent from community values.
In effect, we took an enormous fortune and used it to plug up the sewers. We took a bright and shining future and turned it into a dystopian hell of barbed wire and torture chambers.
Why? What kind of country are we?
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