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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Headed Toward second-Class Status?

Have you signed-up to be a "Counter-Revolutionary" yet?  Yes, I know -- it's not easy.  Perhaps we need to think a bit more about where this country is headed under the elite Plutocracy it has become. 

I read one article recently by a naturalized American citizen, living currently outside the United States, who was musing over some of our social problems that seem out-of-control.  Her lament was that the U.S. is likely to become a second-rate power in the next 50 years if we don't straighten out most of these problems.  She senses the probability that those who do not take a longer and wider perspective from another point of view, may end up being the very reason we fail to see where we are headed.  Or, to be truer to the author's perspective:  if Americans keep burying their heads in the sands of our homeland, pretending that we are the country we have always been, then we will be passed over, left behind and relegated to a second-grade status, as countries of Asia, for instance, gain momentum.

The author lists ten reasons for an impending fall into second-grade status.  Since I agree fully with  fewer than that, I will concentrate on just five.

1)    Our Health system is the most expensive in the world.  In terms of the cost of procedures and machines, the cost of insurance plans, and the costs borne by the insured for the burdens placed on the system by the uninsured, I think she's absolutely right.  It is expensive, and we haven't done much about it until recently when President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act.  Granted the Law is not perfect, but it is aimed in the right direction attempting to bring down overall costs, to change the insurance system's flaws, and to bolster the benefits available to every citizen.  That's something we have needed for a good long time.  Despite the irrational opposition of the Right-wing, it is beginning to accomplish many of the things it set out to accomplish, and now that radically conservative crowd is saddled with over 6 million people who are glad they have what Obamacare provides, since they never could afford it before! 
   
    However, there is a further point to be made.  We are still shy of a system that does what so many do: cover health care as a right and not a privilege.  The rest of the industrialized world understands this; we do not.  We must eventually find our way to a single-payer system that covers health care costs for everyone who is born or naturalized into citizenship in this country.  "Medicare for all" is more than a slogan.  It is a system waiting to be be implemented.   Employer-based health insurance is totally unworkable; private-payer insurance has always left out a significant portion of our population, and when that happens, we all end up paying higher cost for everything - equipment, hospitals, tests, insurance, emergency medicine, public health -- you name it.  It is past time to get over the "socialist" epithets and join the rest of the industrialized world in providing free health care to our citizenry - so that every new citizen - born or naturalized - is given at that particular defining moment, a social security card, and a health care card so that both retirement and healthcare are insured for life.
 
2)
    The U.S. Education system falls short of the rest of the developed world.  Perhaps a bit over-stated but not far from the truth when certain items like grade-level competency testing, math & science competition, drop out rates, graduation rates, college entrance and college graduation rates, plus costs of maintaining an out-moded 19th century system are figured-in.  All one has to do is look at some international rankings in these categories to understand that the United States' education system is not number One  in the world.  Nevertheless, most of our citizens probably believe otherwise (head-in-sand response), having bought the nefarious argument that everybody is trying to get here to go to our colleges!  Not any more... 
    I like what Senator Bernie Sanders says in response to the human ostriches: "From child-care and pre-school education, to elementary school, high school and college, we need major reform.  There was a time, not so many years ago, when the United States was the best-educated nation on earth.  Not today.  Now, we lag far behind many other countries in areas ranging from quality child care to the percentage of people graduating from college.  Every person in this country is entitled to high quality education, regardless of income.  In a highly competitive global economy, it is insane that we are wasting the intellectual capabilities of millions of our people." 
    If the Tea Party, and their henchmen like the Koch brothers, have their way, we will have private-for-profit schools for the rich and those who can afford  it, and left-over run-down public schools for those who can't.  We are headed there right now, and the Koch-heads are leading the charge.

3)    The American attitude of "exceptionalism" leads to arrogance, ignorance, and war.  Although not said in exactly those words, the author does excoriate the United States for it's attitudes toward foreign countries.  She asserts that the world is less safe because the US went to war in Afghanistan and Iraq.  She reminds us that war debt is a big part of our deficit problem that is affecting more economies than ours, and she points out our lack of  diplomacy and friendliness with other countries.  She blames us for not learning the lessons of history in Korea and Viet Nam. She claims that the US is a bully, telling everyone how to behave, and forcing its will on other countries.  Her conclusion: "the world is now truly global, and if the US can't play well with others, it will be the one suffering the consequences."
    It might be well to consider the author's concern about "believing that everything American is always better."  She says: "Over 80% of Americans don't even own a passport, so most of them have never left the country.  If they had, they would see that many other countries are far-advanced beyond the US in many areas -- healthcare, technology, living standards, social services, public transportation, environmental issues", etc.

4)    Racial problems.  She asserts that the US has always been a racist country and continues to be so (in spite of electing a black President).  She reminds us that studies show that by 2015, the majority of people living in major cities will be non-white, and wonders what kinds of reactions and responses this will bring, and fears more social problems will arise. 
    We are reminded that we have made some progress in race relations, but that does not release this country from an obligation to seek civil justice and equal rights for all, including women, gays and minorities.  This is a never-ending quest, because until we get it right, we cannot claim to have an exceptional nation.  The working out of a flawed beginning, with a constitution that protected slavery and demeaned as unworthy certain groups within our society, we are still on a journey to the "Promised Land."  We have not yet arrived, and we won't if certain elitist elements of our society have their way in the next few elections.  All they want is the power to reverse civil rights, to reverse governmental social programs, to reverse the extension of the right to vote and the right to non-discrimination, and the right to marry someone of the same sex, and the right to attend a quality school for education and advancement.
    We are on the brink, or at a crossroads (take your pick).  Either way, a step in the wrong direction and we will reap a whirlwind of regressive change, going back to the days of voting tests and poll taxes and intimidation.  We will revert to a nation that discriminates in every way it can.  But, at the same time, we will reap the condemnation and the disgust of much of the rest of the world for our hypocrisy and our false ideals.    We will then be the very essence of a second-rate power, unable to bring a moral foundation of justice and equality and freedom to the table of nations. We will have reduced ourselves from the beacon-on-a-hill to a dim reflection of past glory.  Racial enmity and injustice and discrimination has been our lodestone for ages.  It will finally drag us under the waves if we cannot throw it off and realize the Dream of equality and justice for ALL.

5)    Violence in our society.  In Thailand, she says, they have only had one school shooting, EVER, and that was part of a terrorist separatist movement in southern Thailand.  They don't fear gun violence.  In fact, as a country, we have made it clear in poll after poll that we don't like gun violence and we want expansion of background checks, and less ammunition in gun clips, and some attention to our mental health system.  Nonetheless, the violence goes on because a recalcitrant Congress will not act; a powerful gun lobby opposes any control of guns and ammunition, and our mental health system simply protects the confidentiality of patient records. 
    Of course, it has been said quite often that the issue of violence in our society goes far beyond the unrestricted ownership and use of guns.  It is something ingrained in the American psyche, say some.  Perhaps.  We know about the Wild West; we know we are one of the most bellicose nations on this planet; we glorify war as a means toward achieving peace and freedom, but we under-value diplomacy as being of equal value.  We have often tolerated bullying and hazing and police brutality. We can't make up our minds about other forms of violence, like sexual harassment and domestic violence or sexual assault within our armed forces.  We like to overlook more subtle forms like "act like a man" or "you're just an emotional woman" or flagrant discipline of children or the demeaning of a "Nancy boy."  We don't like to admit that violence plays a big role in our national life or in our home life.  (There's that ostrich again - head in the sand).  But others see it, and they re-coil; some have even eschewed the opportunity to come to this country because they are afraid of the violence.

     But most of all, perhaps, we have failed to understand the violence that is being done right now to our children and our grandchildren by the lack of care and attention given by our governmental entities to all of the things of which we have just spoken, and more. Their chance at a better life, a better society, a better future is fading fast under the vicious assault of the radical right-wing that has taken over the Republican Party.  This is not a game we are playing.  This is a country's heart and soul at stake.  Our American citizen author in Thailand has one last thing to say:

    "America should start to learn from other countries, where the standard of living is better, where people have more of their money left over after taxes, and where the government provides a social services net for those who are less fortunate.  Not everything about America is better.  Believe me. Instead of learning from what other countries are doing better, the U.S. continues to pretend they're not.  An attitude like that, the proverbial sticking your head in the sand, is a recipe for disaster, but Americans don't see it.  Sad."