Saturday, January 1, 2011

Facing the Music

It was observed in passing yesterday, and probably not just here, that as a day of reckoning, today---New Year's Day---is a bit scary and never painless. The Jewish version of the new year adds the little "book of life contest"---who gets to be in it, and, ummmm, who not, but the secular version, with its resolutions and such, could drive a person to drink, which explains a few things. At least it is not the occasion a decade ago when we all had to consider how we managed to waste a whole millennium.

Rather than look backward, then, it might be a good time to look ahead. Loudon Wainwright III, singing about the beginning of the school year as summer ends described a time when

the hiatus is ending
the lax living has to stop
get rid of that beer belly
do wind sprints til you drop

and this seems to be as good a time as any for us to follow the President's invocation as he took office almost two years ago

We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history;

To do that, we need to face facts, yes the actual things themselves, not to pretty pictures painted for us. We need to understand this

And the Congress will push me to raise taxes, and I'll say no, and they'll push, and I'll say no, and they'll push again, and I'll say, to them, "Read my lips: no new taxes."

is what inevitably leads to this where streets remained unplowed in a major city two days after a storm:

or bridges begin to collapse near another metropolis

or coal mines, no longer subject to rigorous inspection or regulation, explode.

By the way, how did that whole deregulation of the financial industry work?

While we are at it, did you hear this one? You can cut taxes without any cost to our government:

Surely Congress has the authority, and it would be right to -- if we decide we want to cut taxes to spur the economy, not to have to raise taxes in order to offset those costs. You do need to offset the cost of increased spending, and that's what Republicans object to. But you should never have to offset cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans.

An entire political movement has been built on pretend, and its purveyors make no secret of that. Indeed, as frequently mentioned in these parts, it was some senior member of the Bush II administration who explained to Ron Suskind, writing for the New York Times Magazine that those in what he called

the reality-based community, [defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from ... judicious study of discernible reality' don't understand that t]hat's not the way the world really works anymore...We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do

But now it is 2011, and we need to get back to reality and put away our fantasies. Let's start with some truths, not subject to serious debate:

1. Nothing is cost free.

2. Taxes are how government has the means to do what only government can do. Yes, there is some sense of community in this process: we pool our resources to most effectively do what needs to be done, whether it be picking up the garbage (or the snow) or educating our children.

3. The progressive income tax, where the tax rate increases for those with the highest incomes does have a little Robin Hood aspect to it, but it is hardly a radical idea eighty years after its inception and reflects an ingrained view that the better off one is, the more he or she can be expected to help the community which allows them to make all that money.

Of the many falsehoods we have been sold (the estate tax as a crushing burden on our citizens, for instance, when it effects only the most wealthy among us), the idea that taxes are bad and cutting them the true calling of any decent politician, as well as the answer to every problem, is, perhaps the most pernicious. It sounds good to everyone---who doesn't want to pay smaller amounts of tax---but is simply a way for the wealthy to allow everyone else to fend for themselves. It is a foolish goal even for the rich, since the economy that feeds their wealth cannot survive on solely what they have, but depends on as many people as possible having as much as possible to spend, but there are no slogans or sound bytes to capture that idea.

It is so much easier to just rail at things which inanities such as a pox on both their houses, as if there are forces beyond control that makes our lives so miserable. But the easy answers, the ones that tell us it is not our fault, are almost always wrong.

For instance, we were sold a bill of goods all summer long in the form of a movie called Waiting for Superman, which apparently said (according blather that surrounds it) that it is not that we have chronically underfunded our public schools that we have all but given up educating broad swaths of children, it is ust that malicious bureaucrats and unions have protected poor teachers at the expense of great ones.

These unions do their dirty deeds, apparently, only in districts where the poor live since everyone else's children seem to get educated. And, the only way to tell whether children have been educated well is how they do on standardized tests.

It's magic. Sell education to private forces which call what they do "charter schools" and all our problems go away.

A career teacher, one whose insight on historical moments frequently inspires some of the scribbling that appears under the name Barth, does his own blogging under the name Teacherken. He is just one person---a teacher, and a defender of teacher's unions to be sure----(though he quotes Michael Martin at length, which makes two people) and maybe all that is wrong. What
Teacherken and Mr. Martin say, though, seems to make more sense than any hill of beans for a beanstock and what it amounts to is this:

The American people are being sold a bill of goods about educational policy. The media is complicit, as anyone who paid attention to the atrocity of NBC's education summit learned.

So let's try to make 2011 the year we grew up.

No comments: