Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Death Of American Civilization

Cartoon by Sean Delanos on page 12 of today's New York Post and on its website.
The first man to see an illusion by which men have flourished for decades surely stands in a lonely place.
---Gary Zukav
The wind is cold;
through the torn paperscreen
the moon of February.
Empty-hearted in society,
How deeply moved I am
By the snipe calling
In the evening marsh.
Fortune calls Rupert Murdoch the second most powerful person in the world of business. He owns the New York Post, the London Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Fox TV network, he owns MySpace---oh heck, check Wikipedia for the rest of it. He may be the 109th richest person in the world...but who knows these days?
The chimp referenced in the cartoon was a personal pet of someone in Stamford, Connecticut, whose friend came to call, and was torn up by the animal and almost killed. Police were called, came, and shot it to death. The chimp, or anyone involved, had nothing to do with any kind of stimulus package. Maybe it had implanted brain cathodes? Otherwise, whatever stimulus moved it to attack the friend remains a mystery.
So what stimulus package is Murdoch referring to? And who would offer it to Congress, and who signed it into law also yesterday? Who would find the cartoon funny? To what underbelly of this society is Murdoch trying to sell his papers? His political views? And is a thing thing like this still even in the realm of politics? Is the obvious reference so horrible in this 21st century as to constitute some new crime about which we need to invent laws? Or is it a crime as old as time?
When I went to school I learned plenty about America the Beautiful. And I learned about "mistakes" we made. I learned about slavery, and I learned about the great accomplishments and contributions to our nation those people made almost immediately upon emancipation. I learned those things 60 years ago.
Is the measurement of success of our public education to show steady advancement? Or is it a constant catchup with a continuous decline of this culture's mentality? Are there more powerful educational influences out there than the teacher of American history to tell kids what we're all about? At one time those influences were aligned with education. They appear to be no longer.
A couple of years ago, I encountered a student in a school for physically challenged young people who nevertheless seemed to have the potential to achieve a driver's license. I went to the Motor Vehicle Bureau and got him a booklet of the laws of this state and instructions of what to do to learn to drive a car. I told him to take the book home and have his dad go over it with him. He came back the next day and said his father had thrown it away. The man had said, "No government is going to tell me what to do!"
That dad may find Rupert's cartoon funny. I say, if this mentality rules the day, we're finished.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Recovery Or Stimulus?

. . . wars might be avoided by: universal disarmament; limited national sovereignties; provision for all people of the world: of a rising standard of living, better education, more contact with and better understanding of others; and equal access to the technical and raw materials which are needed for improving life. . . .
--- J. Robert Oppenheimer, 1946

What experience and history teach is this -- that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles.
--- George Wilhelm Hegel

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.
--- Ralph Waldo Emerson
The photo, by Anthony Suau for Time, shows Detective Robert Kole making sure all residents of this house in Cleveland are gone. Their mortgage was foreclosed March 28, 2008. The picture won the World Press Photo of the Year last Friday.
Maybe I'm discovered lying on the sidewalk. Concerned passersby summon help for me. A medical emergency team arrives. One member says, "This man looks exhausted. We should take him to a facility where he can receive tender, loving care." Another member says, "What he needs is a jumpstart. Let's give his heart a jolt." What should they do?
I'm not an economist. Nor a sociologist. I tried community organizing a while back, but wasn't very good at it. I might be better now. I read, I write, I'm interested in words. So when I hear one spokesperson call the Package "stimulus" and another refer to it as "recovery," I have to wonder. Am I alone in thinking we may not know what we're doing? All that's certain is it's going to cost another ton of money---which is a bit like you feel when you check into the hospital. Will you survive the procedure...whatever it is?
If I'm sick, does it matter what the diagnosis is? Just give me a pill, I don't care what it is. That blue one looks good. We're told doctors always write a prescription of some kind because people expect it. If you don't go to the pharmacy from the doctor's office, he couldn't have been much good.
Am I just being pedantic...or does it matter? We should have learned from the last Administration that what you call something matters a lot. Liberals rushed out to buy a book telling us about the importance of "framing" your proposition. Everybody said, "Gee, we have to learn how to do that." OK, here we are. What is the frame? Do we need a jumpstart immediately so GM doesn't go bankrupt---or is recovery a slow, deliberate process that will take years. Is it both at once?
What I do know is the Package has passed and the President will sign it tomorrow, the day after this federal holiday. The whole world's watching. The money will be available, money that's being loaned to us I guess. I don't know where it's coming from. But wait---isn't that how we got into this mess? Spending money we didn't have, betting the gamble will pay off? We'll have enough to give the creditors and a profit left over for ourselves? I can't run my household that way.
Be that as it may, here comes the money in search of projects. Is your community ready? Are you organized? Does your neighborhood know what it needs? You can be applying for grants now. Who's doing it? And once the money arrives, do you know what to do with it? Can you account for the expenditures? Can you demonstrate the progress?
We've been through this kind of thing before. I was there. I remember it. Thirty-five, 40 years ago there were community agencies, more than now. There were workers paid with federal funds. The workers spent a lot of time going to meetings at each other's agencies. People walked around the agencies with coffee cups in their hands and sat on each other's desks. Too much of that went on. A Hollywood and TV actor came along and got elected President campaigning about inflation and government spending. A history teacher named Gingrich got us hating the word "bureaucrat," and eventually the whole country decided government is the enemy.
It's clear there still are lots of people around who believe that. Their sketicism is hardened. Republicans are not cooperating with any of this...despite extended hands of friendship. They are hovering everywhere, just waiting for mistakes. Conservatives and fundamentalists are good at organizing. They know if liberals have disagreements, all they do is splinter off and set up another reform group. Liberal towns are full of groups in opposition to this and that...but are they ready now to take command and control of these problems? Are they talking to each other and planning together how to avoid repetition and waste? Do they have a constituency that wants help and will cooperate?
I'm hopeful the President knows about the 1970s, and how a lot of community action went down. He has a history of organizing and America was impressed with his campaign. Clarence Page posted yesterday his account of talking with the President on Friday~~~
Asked whether his experience had changed his expectations of winnable Republican support or how he might win it, he responded sagely. "You know, I am an eternal optimist," he said. "That doesn't mean I'm a sap."
As our laughter subsided, he described his goal? "Assume the best, but prepare for a whole range of different possibilities."
Good advice. We already should be prepared. Time is short.