Saturday, February 19, 2011

We're Number One?

 We have all seen the people at sporting events with their faces and bodies painted green, purple or red, thrusting their index finger into the air, screaming “We’re number one!” even though their team eventually loses the game.  NY Times columnist Charles Blow published a piece today (Sat. Feb 19, 2011), “Empire at the End of Decadence,” writes “Not only are we not No. 1 — “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” — we are among the worst of the worst. Yet this reality and the urgency that it ushers in is too hard for many Americans to digest. They would prefer to continue to bathe in platitudes about America’s greatness, to view our eroding empire through the gauzy vapors of past grandeur.”  Fellow Times editorial page writers Paul Krugman and Thomas Freedman have expressed similar concerns. 
Being number one at something involves more than proclaiming it to be the case.  The US has had the largest redistribution of wealth to benefit the top few percent of its population of any country in the industrialized world over the past 30 years.  Money that should be going for jobs for working middle class Americans is being outsourced all over the world so the rich can get even richer.  Money that should be spent on rebuilding American infrastructure that was at one time the envy of the world, is going to line the pockets of the wealthiest few percent of the American people who refuse to pay their fair share of taxes.   The US built the first national railroad and interstate highway systems, created hydroelectric dams to provide electricity for entire regions of the country, developed some of the most important cutting edge medical breakthroughs to improve the lives of Americans.  Today our highways are severely out of date, our railroads are laughable compared with high speed rail services of our European counterparts, or Japan or China.  Our sophisticated medical procedures are accessible only to the most affluent Americans.  The rest must go without.  Outrageous personal and corporate greed has been reified as meritorious.
Every once in awhile we actually do something that continues to be the envy of the world. The US is one of the only countries that provide extensive access to intensive early treatment services for young children with autism.  Though there are many parts of the US where such services are limited or non-existent (especially in rural areas, in the south and mountain states), compared with most of the world, the US truly is number one.  These services became available because ordinary people, parents of children with autism and professionals joined forces and aggressively sought redress from their government, demanding reform.  Continued pressure will eventually bring those essential services to most areas of the US.
It is time Americans reared up on their hind legs are said, “Enough already!” It’s time the rest of us benefit from the wealth of the nation, not only the very richest few.  Those wealthy bankers and hedge fund managers who almost brought the nation to its knees leading to near financial collapse in 2008 are seeking even more ways of fleecing the American people and avoiding taxes. They learned nothing from the Great Recession of 2008. 
 The teachers, police officers, fire fighters and other union members in Wisconsin are doing just that, they are telling their radical governor that undermining collective bargaining will not be tolerated. They are standing up for what is right.  That is one of the only tools ordinary Americans have to assure that they have access to their piece of the national pie.
While the Tea Party members of the House of Representatives are pursuing a slash and burn approach to funding for fundamental social programs that provide the safety net for middle and other working class Americans, and programs to which they object on political grounds (like Public Radio and Television and Planned Parenthood) and have expressed no interest in rebuilding American infrastructure.  Indeed, they plan to cut critical infrastructure spending.
They seem to have no ability to see that without investment in American infrastructure, education and adequate health care for all Americans, our place in the world will continue to slide.  The American Society of Civil Engineers 2009 Report Card for US Infrastructure, which covers areas such as bridges, dams, energy, rail, roads, schools and transit, gave the US a an overall grade of D for 2009.  The highest grade was for solid waste, earning a C+ while drinking water and wastewater earned grades of D-.    Highways, bridges and rail earned Ds.   America invests 2.4% on infrastructure compared with 5% for Germany and 9% for China.  Talk about priorities.
 I have given up on the idea that any adults remain in the Republican Party. I would like to see a modern day Lowell Weicker or Jacob Javits emerge to play a leadership role in the party.  Instead we have John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, throwbacks to the likes of John Tyler or William Henry Harrison of the Whigs, who would make welcome additions to the Tea Party caucus.    

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